INVANTION: Alcohol Stove
The focal point of my kitchen, this is my homemade stove. Making this little burner was super easy and it’s a trick I’m glad to know for when the zombie apocalypse inevitably occurs.
Using only a sharp stanley knife, these things can be assembled in the space of five minutes. Years ago I first saw a video online - “How To Make a Stove out of a Can”. I was comfortably living at home with my parents and only camping infrequently, so it had little to no relevance to life back then. But it was just so ingenious, it triggered the doomsayer in me to say watch this video now Rolls, it just might be useful one day, and if it is, it will be very useful. I’m always amused by the subconscious; as ever, it was bang on in identifying the potentiality of this tool.
Sure enough, one van and a new lifestyle later I found myself sitting at beautiful Bawley Point on the south coast, itching for a post-surf coffee. I had tools, I had time, I had a nondescript variant of coke I found tucked under the driver’s seat when I bought the van. The opportunity was perfect. Such is my distaste for coke at the best of times, the liquid contained in the can went straight down the drain - from quite a height, perched atop my high horse - before I whipped out the stanley and got to work.
Reaching into the memory bank I pieced together the steps:
- Cut the can in half
- Trim the two halves so the height of the lower half matches the height of the upper half (before it angles inwards towards the top). The length of the burner will determine its capacity for fuel.
- Line the two halves up to double check they match, trim the wavy bits so the lines are straight.
- Take the top half and, without actually slicing the metal, crimp it into regular arcs using a fingers width as a guide.
- In the angled top, cut a pilot hole so air will be able to reach the flame (I ended up cutting a few as it was all too snug to allow the flame to burn properly, it would go out every time I put the kettle on it)
Not confident in the sharpness of either my knife or cognitive recall, I geared up for a long and surely frustrating tussle with this project. To my consequent dismay, less than five minutes later I was holding the finished product in my hands, equal parts proud and dubious. I tentatively filled it with about a centimetres’ worth of methylated spirits and lined up my lighter.
Watching that little burner catch alight for the first time was fucking magic. It hit every sense; watching the deep blue flame appear, hearing the swoosh from the first pocket of air it engulfed, smelling the burn of the alcohol, feeling the heat it emanated. Ok, I couldn't exactly taste it - although burning methylated spirits has an endearingly acrid gaseous aroma that I’m sure you can probably taste if you inhale aggressively enough. But I tasted something else - victory. Victory during one of the most profound caveman-moments I’ve ever had. Suffice it to say the coffee I had was definitely among the most satisfying of my life.
I’ve gone on to use my homemade stove to great success since its manufacture, everything from slow-cooking dhal on a low simmer to making kale chips on a hot frying pan. I’ve even made a few more to cook multiple things at once, including one particularly evil little fucker that nearly burned down my van the two times I used it. I thought maybe the first time was my fault, but after the second debacle, during which I saw my little home momentarily become the raging inferno of the devil, I crushed it into oblivion. Throwing it in the bin wasn’t enough - that thing was so evil that I couldn’t risk the potential misfortune of it falling into the hands of anyone else. I am loathe to attribute it to anything other than ‘accidents happen’, but it was made from an old maxi-size energy drink can I found littering the gutter along the Great Ocean Road. Veritably brimming with bad vibes, right? We all know how bad those drinks are for you, but this was a new and unexpected level of malevolence.
Anyway, no burner has been quite as consistent and/or effective as the original stevia-based coke I found under the seat. When they first released those poxy green cans and marketed it as healthy soft drink, I was furious. I’ve since made my peace with it. It boils a litre of water in about four and a half minutes and I’ve dialled it in to fit my needs perfectly. I’ve used it enough to know how long different amounts of fuel will burn for, and how much water to dilute it with to produce different temperatures. Usually I arrive back from the surf and get the water boiling straight away, and in the time it takes me to de-wetsuit, put my board away and grind some coffee the water is at a perfect 94 degrees ready for a brew. And by this time I’ve only used a tiny bit of methylated spirits; simple and cost-effective. I go through a bottle of metho every two months or thereabouts, so at about $2.50 a bottle from the servo its bloody good economy compared to the propane bottles required for a proper camp stove.
So that’s it! When the apocalypse happens and there’s nary a Jetboil to be seen, it’ll be Lucky Rolls dishing out all the hot water with his wee homemade alcohol burner.