Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Campstove Experiment

When going on a long bike ride, it’s nice to stop along the way and enjoy a hot cup of tea or, if I’m feeling decadent, a hot chocolate. But who wants to pack a big, heavy stove?


My backpack stove, above, is relatively light and compact. The lid doubles as a pot and the little brass fuel tank is downright pretty. I’ve brought it on a couple rides, but doing so seems silly. If I’m going to carry something on a bike, it needs to be small enough so that I can tuck it away in a corner of my bag and not notice it. Not only must the stove be small, but so must everything else, including the cooking pot, fuel, etc. Space is at a premium. Oh, and so is money.

I began researching stoves on the internet and was intrigued by Esbit solid fuel tablets. They’re little squares made from some kind of alcohol substance. I went to buy some tablets. They cost about $7.50 for eight of them. Or, for $9.99, I could get eight tablets and a German-made Esbit stove. The Esbit stove is bigger than what I wanted, but for a couple bucks extra I figured I would have something for my survival kit. I’d use the fuel tablets to design and test out my own homemade, custom bike stove.

I came up with a neat concept – my stove should be so small that it fits inside a small mug. The mug would serve as a cook pot.

Homemade stove in bag

The tiny bag on the left contains the entire stove and “cook set.” Nearby is my retirement account and some other crap to give you a sense of its compact size.

homemadestove in pieces

Here’s the stove in pieces. I made it out of an old aluminum Sterno can. The Esbit fuel tablet is in the middle. To the left is a small metal stand that the fuel tablet sits on top of. I tried the stove Monday night and it didn’t work very well. So I added a foil “windscreen” with the idea that it would direct the heat upward and heat the sides of the mug.

homemade stove with mug

I filled the mug with delicious MCSD tap water, lit the stove and slapped everything together. After about 9 minutes, the entire tablet was burned up. The water was warm enough for tea, but it never boiled. That wasn’t every impressive, especially considering I used the stove under optimal conditions in my garage. Are Esbit tablets a crappy fuel source, or is there a flaw in my stove design? One way to find out was to test the German Esbit stove that came with the tablets.

blurry espit

Here’s the stove. It measures 4” x 3” x .75” and weights only 3.5 ounces.

esbit unfolded

Here’s the stove unfolded.

Esbit stove with pot

I placed a pot from my mess kit on the stove, filled it with water and lit the mother up. In about four minutes I had boiling water. I only burned about 10 percent of the tablet, which I was able to blow out. It can be reused. If this test is any indication, I could heat several pots of water with a single tablet.

So, the Esbit fuel is excellent and heats water quickly. My homemade stove is a disaster. Back to the drawing board.


Blogger Rose said...

When I was a kid we used to make hobo stoves out of a tuna can and a coffee can. You'd cut to fit and wind up a coil of cardboard in the tuna can, fill it with wax, then light it and invert the coffee can over it (the coffee can had holes punched in the sides for aeration) - it worked really well. Lightweight and free. (Though I don't know how we came by the wax, I guess you'd have to buy that. )

9:49 AM  
Blogger Fred said...

Seems to me we did that when I was in the cub scouts (back when I lived in Mexico City). Get a can and cut out one end of it with a can opener. Then get one of those other can openers with the triangular shaped punches on it and punch four or five holes around the top of the other end.

Seems to me we just used newspaper for fuel. We actually cooked hamburgers on those things after we made them.

Jack, rather than beat yourself over the head with this, maybe you should just carry along a thermos?

6:34 AM  

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