Monthly Archives: April 2012

Confessions of an Alcoholic…Stove Addict

Hello. My name is Snottyragsdale, and I’m an Alcohol Stove Addict.

There. I said it.

My addiction began about 5 years ago.

I had a nice apartment, with two room mates. They didn’t pay their rent, so I kicked them out. All the bills were in my name. I got behind on my gas bill. The gas was shut off. All winter. I was paying the utility company back, but they wouldn’t turn the heat back on until the bill was paid in full. I got creative about how to insulate and heat my home. All the doors and doorways had blankets hung in front of them. All windows had weatherization plastic. I lived in one room, upstairs, with two electric heaters. It sucked, but I made it happy. You can’t kill the Rooster…He aint gonna die!

Now I live in a different city, with my best friend, his girlfriend, and three rugrats…I guess they might call them children, but I rarely pull my punches =) I live in the basement. Some would say that sucks. But I don’t. I love adversity.

You see, camping is my life. To say that I love camping would be an understatement. I incorporate camping into my mundane life. Being in the wild woods is my version of heaven. I just don’t have a connection with cities, society, or most of “humanity”.  This government of ours, America, is ….let’s just say this isn’t exactly what our founding fathers had in mind.

Why should I have to pay necessary utility companies the equivalent of my rent or more? $400 per month just for heat and hot water?!? Redonculous!

I don’t believe in living like most people do. “Normal” people. What’s “normal” these days anyway? It’s easier to be “normal” than it is to be yourself.  The question in this society, in my experience, is: “Why can’t you just be normal, be like the rest of us?”.

Please allow me to answer this standard question with this:

Perhaps that shouldn’t be the question that’s asked. Perhaps a more astute question is the answer. “Why do you have to be like everyone else? Don’t you have any originality in you?” I try not to let my philosophical side out in this blog, but it’s your life, be yourself, be happy. Anywho, back to my addiction.

Long story short: any chance I get to f*&% over utility companies, I take them.

And so for the past three years I’ve been building and experimenting with alcohol stoves. I do all of my indoor cooking with these things. I can cook for 3 months for $16. Kiss my gangly white ass gas company!!!

Incase you don’t know what alcohol stoves are…google them! But here’s a pic of a standard “penny alcohol stove” that I made.

Standard Alcohol Stove: the Penny Stove

Penny Stove side shot

These things are what most hikers use. They need to be primed before they’re lit. That is, you set them on some sort of vessel that will contain a small amount of denatured alcohol, pour some of the said on the vessel, and light it. Once the Penny Stove is warm enough, it will light. Jets of flame will be emitted from those small holes you see on the side. It’ll burn for 15-20 minutes.

These things work great, for (apparently) most hikers, but they don’t satisfy my needs. Penny stoves are pressure jet stoves, the flame is very similar to a standard gas stove in any home.

So I started making open jet stoves. Open jet stoves aren’t pressure stoves, and need no priming. Just fill and light. My first few sucked. Then I started filling them with sand. They burned for a long time, but wasted alot of fuel after they were done, as denatured alcohol evaporates after it’s warm, and most of my cooking doesn’t take 50 mins.

$16

And so I bought some Sterno cans.

Sterno.

Sterno Sterno Sterno.

These things work GREAT! That is, if they’re paying you money to say so. They start out ok, but as the fuel gets lower, so does the flame. So I got some, burned the sterno fuel, and filled the can with sand. It would burn for approximately 70 mins, 55 mins usable for cooking.

By the way, this kind of burn time is unheard of with alcohol stoves. Most last 15-25 minutes. And can’t be refilled until they’ve cooled off.

Which was the problem with the sand filled stoves. Because of their thermal mass, they stay hot enough to vaporize fuel for far longer than it takes for food to cool off. At least with the sterno cans, you can snuff the flame with the lid and seal it so no fuel is wasted.

So my girlfriend, Kitchenwyche, gave me a Norpro chafing dish. As I’m always up for trying to find a better way to cook,I filled it with sand, as was my standard operating procedure. Not impressive. Then I tried it with fiberglass housing insulation.

Norpro Alcohol Stove

This works well, it’ll burn for around 50 minutes, and has a cover to snuff the flame and conserve fuel. I’ve been using it for about 6 months to cook my breakfast of 3 slices of bacon and 2 chicken eggs. It takes half an hour.

Norpro Chafing cooker with Sterno Pot Stand

This served me well for a long time…until today.

I made my own pot stand out of an old food can with a sterno can alocohol stove…filled with fiberglass insulation. This male offspring of a firearm burned for over an hour and a half before I got bored and snuffed it out!

Sterno Can Alcohol Stove

To be clear, this is NOT STERNO FUEL! This is denatured alcohol!!! Sterno sucks monkey butt, this stuff is consistent!

It has the 3 rivets in it cuz the original lid had a slash in it for a wick, so it could be a liquid candle…for  a heineken keg candle heater.

Cook Set

Cook Set

This shows a 50 ml bottle that will be filled with fuel, to carry extra in the field. The nice thing about using a sterno can for an alcohol stove is it can be filled and capped. I left one of my sterno sand stoves capped for three months once, and none of the fuel leaked or evaporated.

Insulation

This set up worked almost 3 times  faster than the Norpro cooker for breakfast fixings. I should take another picture, after burning for a few minutes the flame gets bigger and covers the entire pan, coming up on its sides!

7/9/12 A word of caution: as the flame gets bigger as the alcohol gets warmer, I do not use this anymore. I noticed that while cooking bacon in my 8″ frying pan some of the flame came over the sides and just about into the grease. Now, while I enjoy the occasional grease fire just like everbody else, burning to death in my own home just isn’t cool. Keep an eye on this if you use it, and perhaps use a larger pan or one with a lid.

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Wood Stove Medley

I made a propane tank rocket stove. For the chimney I used 4″ ducting with a 90* elbow. I couldn’t get my hands on vermiculite, apparently there’s some law against it in my area. We can never have enough laws. I propose a law against sarcasm toward laws.

Propane Tank Rocket Stove

It’s insulated with perlite. The size of the tank? Standard. That is, I know they come in all different sizes, but this is the only size I’ve seen here in western new york. I can tell you it took 2 and a half bags of perlite to fill it, at 8 quarts/bag.

I am frustrated with this rocket. I can not get it to burn. I started the feed tube long. No draft. I shortened it, then shortened is some more. I even pushed the fuel elevation shelf in and out. I experimented with how far to push the fuel in. From what I’ve gleaned online, only the tips of the sticks should burn. I tried a little fuel, then alot. I even went from twigs to sticks. All of this to no avail. I’m not giving up yet, it’s just that I learned when you’re angry about something walk away until you find a sledge hammer…I mean cool off and try again.

Heiny Keg Rocket Stove

What’s even more frustrating to me is that I haven’t been able to get this little guy to fire. It was phenomenal the first couple of times…and now apparently the propane tank rocket has been talking to it, corrupting it. For some reason they’re both plotting to drive me insane.

And so today I decided to work on something that I know works, and does so easily.

Fuel Shelf

This was an easy experiment to see if elevating the wood could create a more efficient burn. It did. When I get more sheet metal, I’ll make a better grate. The only problem with this was that it requires draft holes in the door to let air in under the wood. No problem. Except that the draft cover I’d made pivots down…allowing air into the wood but covering the sub-wood draft. Barbara Streisand!!!

Draft Sollution

To solve the draft door problem I drilled out the rivet and re-riveted the cover on top. The four holes on the bottom are for the sub-wood draft. The reason I originally had the draft cover pivoting down was so the cover wouldn’t be in my way when cooking. But this design will work because of the way I’ve decided to mount the stove in the bicycle camper. To save space it will sit parallel with the longest wall, so the fuel door won’t be in front of me, but to my left. The curved side will face forward.

I’m sure it’s just user error with the rocket stoves, perhaps for the propane tank I should use 5″ or 6″ tubing. Or maybe my fuel shelf is too high. I don’t know. Nor do I know why the heiny hates me. These are my first rocket stoves afterall. If there’re any rocket scientists out there who are reading this, advice would be greatly appreciated!

Heiny Keg Rocket Stove

I had this heiny keg sitting around, it was a failed attempt at a wood stove, so I decided to try it out as a rocket stove. A rocket stove is a type of woodgas stove. I’ve built several woodgas stoves, and they’re a marvel, virtually no smoke and it burns small sticks. After about 20 minutes the wood turns into charcoal, making them dual purpose stoves. But that’s the problem, once that happens, if your food isn’t done, you have to put it out and reload with bits of sticks and start all over. I’ve never made a rocket stove, but as they’re fed differently, this is not an issue.

What “woodgas stove” means is that not only the wood is burned, but the smoke as well. This makes for high heat and fuel efficiency. If my woodgas stoves were marvels, the rocket stove is out of this world! It smokes for a few seconds after lighting, then only a wisp once in a while. It puts out even more heat than a woodgas stove, and burns for about an hour and a half before there’s too much ash in the bottom for it to function. I realize there may me some confusion, what with reference to woodgas stoves and saying the rocket stove is a woodgas stove. For now just google woodgas stove and that should clear things up. That’s a blog in itself.

Heiny Keg Rocket Stove

The front has that flattened 22 gauge steel on it because that was an attempt at creating a cooking surface for a tent stove. I couldn’t keep it airtight, so I made the stove out of a fresh keg.

Rocket Stove vs. Postal Stove. The Postal Stove just can’t go postal enough to win!

The postal stove uses WAY more wood to cook, and doesn’t get nearly as hot as the rocket stove. Don’t get me wrong, it works great, just not in comparison. I’ll prolly still use it in the camper, but for backyard cooking the rocket is my new go to. There are benefits to using both though, the postal stove is better for simmering, the rocket stove is excellent for rapid boiling and frying. The postal stove can be loaded and left to burn, which will keep food warm while you nap in your hammock tent, as I did yesterday. The rocket stove requires constant attention, as you’re feeding it twigs, and the fuel always has to be pushed in and more added as needed.

Dual Pot Stands, for frying pan or hiking pots

They aren’t pretty, but they work. Made from scrap 22 gauge steel.

Yesterdays Fixins: Ramps, potatoes, green beans and BACON!

This is my new favorite ramp recipe, what was made in the hikers cook pot was ramp soup with potatoes and mushrooms.

Ramps! On ulu cutting board!

Aforementioned ULU!

This knife is an excellent primitive culinary tool, used heavily by the Inuit, or Eskimos as most know them by. These razor sharp knives chop easily with a rocking motion, and are even so esteemed that Alaskans hold animal skinning contests with them.

Here you can see how little fuel is used

You can google how to make these insane stoves, I wish I hadn’t waited to make one. They require thermal mass (insulation) such as sand, cob, cat litter, vermiculite or wood ash. I used cat litter. The elbow was crafted from three coffee cans, 12 oz I believe. The fuel shelf was originally part of a coffee can, but I made one out of scrap 22 gauge steel, cuz I wanted it to be longer. This one was a prototype, I won’t jb weld any gaps or paint it. Most of the rockets I’ve seen are made from #10 cans, with soup cans for the elbow. I wasn’t sure it the larger diameter 12 oz coffee cans would work. My next model for backyard cooking will be done with an old propane tank and the same java cans. That one will be jb welded and painted, it’ll have a carry handle, be insulated with vermiculite, have legs, and an ash collector, for longer burn time.

Ramp THIS mutha f&%#$@

I just couldn’t resist the title! Do you know what the best part of spring is? Ramps! No, not the things you jump on bikes, skateboards or rollerblades. The food. Still don’t know what I’m writing about? Do you like onions? Do you like garlic? Do you like getting expensive, gourmet food…for free? Then RAMPS mutha f*%&#$!

This year ramps are $12.99/lb

Ramps are a plant in the leek family. They only grow in the spring, in deciduous forests. They’re highly yummy, and a versatile food.

Appalachians dedicate festivals to these treats!

A small patch of ramps

These treats of Nature are worth the wait and the work to forage! There is a small danger when harvesting this treat worth noting: carnivorous rabbits. Carnivorous rabbits have been the cause of death of countless foragers, miners, and dwarves (who are lifetime miners). While there are only a handful of these vicious creatures in the world, it’s good to know of them and be cautious, as they’re extremly voracious.

The other, less terrifying, but much more real danger are these buggers:

Lilly of the valley

This cheeky lil bugger grows with ramps, and is not edible. It will make you ill. (My advice if you decide to go out for ramps is to eat alot of carrots, until you turn orange, as this will confuse carnivorous rabbits, making them think you’re vegetable, not meat.) Ramps have green, smooth, thick leaves. Lilly o’ the inverted mountain has the same, but with purple splotches. Avoid them. Never eat what you’re unsure of, but always put salt in your eyes.

In all seriousness, ramps are delicious, they can be made as a soup of their own, I like to add ham, a little bit of vinegar, salt, and hot sauce. A classic Appalachian recipe that I tried last night is potatoes with ramps fried in pork tallow (bacon fat). I also tried (today) green beans with ramps…another traditional hill billy recipe, but I couldn’t resist adding some bacon and potatoes. Damn good eating. I cooked both using my postal stove and new rocket stove…blogs about the latter soon to be published.

Mailbox Fixins

The TRUE test of any outdoor stove is not boiling water, as most of these alcohol stove afficianados proclaim. MY test has always been no less than: drum roll…STEAK!

Mailbox Carne

Tastyisms

Steak, green onions and mushrooms…wood stove style!

Why pay $120-$250 for a tent stove? I made this for about $63 bucks, sure it’s not that cheap, but I made it. There’s something special about creating and using something you’ve crafted. There’s a satisfaction and pride that you just can’t buy. I believe this is something our forefathers experienced and fully understood. The old ways aren’t always disposable.

Mailbox Wood Stove

I’ve wrapped the mailbox in 22 gauge steel, all of it save for the door and the back end. It’s been painted with Rustoleum high temperature paint, it has ventilation on the door. There is no latch, but I added a handle to open and close it. A latch isn’t needed as once it’s installed in the camper the legs will be bolted to the floor, so pushing and pulling on the door will be sufficient. All I have to do now is finish the bicycle camper and take the wood stove in, determine the optimal height of the stove, and add legs. This thing works great, was easy to build, and minus the chimney, weighs about 7 lbs. (Afterthought) The chimney is made from steel beer cans, Sapporo Japanese beer. Because of the shape of the cans they fit together very snug, with no smoke escaping.

Note the reinforcing strips to add strength to the warming plate.

I had tried using a cover that had holes in it matching the holes in the door, but I injured my left hand fabricating it, so I did it this way. It doesn’t look that cool, but it works.

Draft half open

Draft Closed

A quarter for size reference

Pretty big for a little stove!

Burn Baby BURN!!!

I love this stove! It might not look as cool as the heiny keg stove, but it was easier to build, works better, and…………………………it bloody works better! What’s the point of having a wood stove that you can’t cook on?! It’s called a wood STOVE for a reason, and this one WORKS.