When Evan was last home we tested out the woodgas camp stove I built.  He was thrilled that it worked so well.  Apart from the soot (which is a problem with any wood burning campfire), we had no complaints.  He cooked a genuine camp meal on it during the testing.  He packed it up and took it home with him.

His only comment was that he has been on several trips where there wasn’t any wood.  For example, he’s been above the tree line in Colorado as well as in the snow.  For that, he would prefer some kind of liquid fueled thing since the energy density is higher.  Even though he’d have to pack in the fuel, it shouldn’t weight that much as long as he doesn’t carry a week’s worth.

So I set about building an alcohol burner.  Instructables is chock full of these – I just picked one with the most detailed instructions and went at it.  They are all the same: take two soda cans, cut the bottoms off, stick the bottoms together, and punch holes in the top to make the burner.  This turns out to be a bit tricky since these are very primitive things.  There is no dispenser of fuel and no regulator of pressure so these walk a fine line between exploding and having puny flames.  As always happens with this sort of project, you have to read about it and then use what you have and improvise.  Nothing ever goes the same way twice when you’re building something from scratch whether it be woodworking, metalworking, or electronics. 

But simplicity goes hand in hand with low weight which is what backpackers relish.  I used trash as usual – that’s how most of these DIY builds go.  Waste metal is a treasure trove of building material for projects like these.  I used two soda cans, a couple of food cans, and the speaker grill from a broken iPod dock.  Recycling is a wonderful thing but most people never realize that they can build new stuff from old material.

I tested it last night and it works fine.  It burns denatured alcohol which is actually mostly ethanol – the drinking kind.  It has some methanol added to poison it.  I suppose that is either to avoid the taxation that goes with the adult beverage industry or to prevent little boys from buying it at the hardware store and claiming it’s for their Dad to refinish a table with and then going boozing.  Perhaps both.  At any rate, it doesn’t smell like booze for some reason; when it burns it smells like nothing at all.  (Although heating up repurposed metal at first yields some interesting smells – at least until the paint burns off.)

The thing that caused me the most trouble and which I’m still not happy with is the transportability issue.  I wanted to make the whole thing so the parts would nest inside each other which I mostly did.  But a pot stand is required and I couldn’t figure out how to fashion one out of thick wire so that it would hold up a pot of water and yet fold up into almost nothing.  My pot stand (speaker grills) will fit flat more or less and that will have to do.  The thing does not sit level for some reason but if you’re camping and cooking on the ground I can’t see this ever being an issue.

This works amazingly well.  One has to keep some safety in mind though but I guess that’s always the way with fire.