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Volunteer: Alcohol Backpacking Stove Made from Tuna Cans

Roy Robinson is addicted. He'll never go back to the way he once did things. And this is for certain: alcohol will always be found in his backpack.Now don't jump to conclusions.
The alcohol in his pack will go in his tuna can stove, not in his mouth. And after using this homemade contraption on a 1500-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) trek from Donner Pass to Manning Park last summer, he's convinced he'll never use a traditional backpacking stove again.

Roy and his son, Brian, showed their stove to curious onlookers at the Pacific Crest Trail Association CrestFest at Lake Tahoe last month.

In addition to using it along the PCT, they also tested the stove during a snow camping trip on Carson Pass last winter.

"As a result of these experiences and extensive tests at home, I'm convinced that the Tuna Can Alcohol Stove deserves serious consideration by long-distance hikers, climbers and thru-hikers who are interested in reducing their pack weights," said Roy.

According to Roy, the Tuna Can Alcohol Stove weighs about 3 oz., will heat one pint of cold water to a rolling boil in 4 to 5 minutes using two tablespoons of fuel, has no moving parts, and is really cheap to build. "If your trail cooking involves little more than heating water to re-hydrate high-calorie dried stuff such as angel-hair pasta with spaghetti sauce leather and dried veggies, one of our favorites, then this is the tool for the job," he said.

The stove is designed so that air flows smoothly into and through the burner rather than trying to get in by the same path that the flame is trying to get out, he explained, ointing to the "sputtering Sterno can stove which has this basic design flaw.""Heat, which escapes from the sides of the burner, is returned to the burning chamber by the incoming air. The fiberglass insulation/wick also helps the fuel heat faster, though I consider it as optional; tests show that the time-to-boil is not significantly different with or without the fiberglass," he said.

Roy said some have told him he should patent the design and sell the stove.

"But how can I charge someone for old tuna cans?" he asks. So he agreed to share an explanation and description of how the stove is made:

BURNER: Made from a 3 oz. tuna can with an insulating liner/wick made from fiberglass and held in place with metal window screen. The wick material is 1/8 to 3/16 inch thick. After the stove is used once, the metal window screen can be removed. The insulating layer will stay in place. AIR JACKET: Made from a 7 oz. tuna can which has a 1.5 to 1.75 inch hole centered in the bottom and six tabs cut around the rim with a church key opener. This is inverted and pushed onto the burner. The tabs hold the burner centered. (The marketing gurus seem to have reduced the size of these tuna cans to 6 oz.; no doubt also increasing the price.) Find a size that will give you up to 3/8 inch gap between the outer and inner cans and about the same above the burner. The gap above the burner can be adjusted by sliding the jacket up or down on the burner. Please don't try to do this after it's lit.

BURNER/AIR JACKET (Alternate Design): Size of the cans is not critical, except that the air flow must not be obstructed. If your two cans are the same height, for example, so air cannot flow over the top of the inner one into the burner, then cut tabs around the top of the inner can with the church key from the inside out, to increase air flow. (Be sure you cut the same number of tabs in each can. Otherwise you'll have a devil of a time putting them together.) If you use fiberglass insulation, be sure it doesn't obstruct the air holes you've cut into the inner can. STAND: Made from 1-inch wire mesh bent into a circle. Bend the top wires in so the pot sits about 1 inch above the burner. Size the stand so it fits inside your pot, along with the burner/jacket.

WINDSCREEN (not shown): Make a cylinder from sheet aluminum. I used material cut from a disposable roasting pan. It's thicker than aluminum foil and holds its shape. Use a couple paper clips to hold it together. Cut plenty of air holes around the bottom with a paper hole punch. The windscreen should fit around your pot with about 1/4 inch gap, and high enough so the handle just clears. The windscreen can be rolled around your fuel bottle when not in use. I kept the bottle and windscreen rolled inside my sleeping pad while on the trail.

OPERATION: Using a 0.9 liter titanium pot, the stove will bring one pint of cold water to a full boil in about 5 minutes. Use no more than 2 or 3 tablespoons of denatured alcohol, and plan to let it burn out. I haven't figured out any good way to shut the thing off! With the pot on the stove, the stove will burn with no visible yellow in the flame. At night, you will see a nice blue glow all around the pot. Caution: In the daylight, you may not be certain the stove is lit, even when it's at full heat. Be careful you don't find out the hard way by getting part of yourself or any burnable material too close to the stove while it's burning.WEIGHT: 3 oz for jacket/burner, stand and windscreen. Alcohol fuel does not produce as much heat per ounce as white gas. However, because the Tuna Can Alcohol Stove is so lightweight, total weight of stove and fuel is less than a gas stove and it's fuel supply for a typical five to seven-day hike between resupplies.

FUEL CONSIDERATIONS: We used alcohol stove fuel which is available by the gallon at hardware stores and camping outlets. You can get alcohol paint thinners at most paint stores. One hiker was able to run his alcohol stove on fuel line antifreeze which he got at a service station. I suspect that a good 150-proof Puerto Rican rum would work quite well, though I haven't tried it. These are all alcohol-based products. Read the labels and don't try to use mineral spirits, kerosine or ethylene glycol. And, whatever you do, DON'T USE WHITE GAS, COLEMAN FUEL OR ANY OTHER GASOLINE FUELS IN THIS STOVE.

"I understand that alcohol fuel can be mailed, with appropriate precautions and labeling. Check the postal regulations," Roy said. "If you build and use this stove, you'll have to do it at your own risk. However, several Scout Troop Leaders have asked me for the design. They're interested in building these stoves because they are inexpensive, relatively safe compared to gas-fueled stoves, and well within the ability of even the kids' dads to construct! Good luck!"

For further information, you can reach Roy "TrailDad" Robinson at 539 Los Ninos Way, Los Altos, CA 94022. Phone: 650-941-7978. E-mail: ROYROBIN@AOL.COM

GetOudoors.com Feature
- Roy "TrailDad" Robinson

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