What's that? Oh, you want a good stove? Yeah, well that's just a bit more complicated. No worries. Let's talk about a few basics of alcohol stove design.
There are many, many types of alcohol burners, but for the purposes of this post, I'm going to limit the discussion to open type burners made from aluminum cans. Open burners are relatively easy to make, effective, and widely used, so it's not like we're limiting ourselves too much.
|Various alcohol stoves prior to testing
1. Lightweight. Hey, I gotta carry this thing, right? And if I'm going to give up the convenience of gas, then I better be getting something out of it -- like a lighter pack.
2. Efficient. So, what good is a light stove if it eats fuel like an old 450 V8 Chevrolet engine with a four barrel carburetor? Who cares if the stove is light if I have to carry four times the fuel?! The danged thing needs to save me weight, remember? I want a stove that will do the job with a minimum amount of fuel.
3. Effective. Yeah, it has to be light. Yeah, it has to be efficient. But it has to do the job. A stove that won't cook doesn't save me anything. It's got to work. Not negotiable.
4. Minimum "fiddle factor." If I need a degree in mechanical engineering and a Rube Goldberg mindset just to run the thing, then it's not the stove for me.
With me so far? Sure, we can think of more criteria, but those are the basics. Let's go with those and see what we can come up with.
|Preparing to test another set of alcohol stoves
Now here's where it gets tricky. There are 10,000 ways to slice and dice an aluminum can to make a stove. There are tons of sites out there on the net that list detailed templates. I may post something like that at some point, but that's not my purpose today. What I'd like to do is take a step back and look at a slightly bigger picture in terms of DIY alcohol stove design: What are some of the basic principles involved?
|Testing various open type burners
|An alcohol stove made from 23.5 fluid ounce/695ml drink cans
So, what's the problem with the above stove? Poor materials? Poor execution? Not really. It's a design issue. It just burns too darned fast. So how can we slow it down and make it more efficient?
It's hard to tell in the photo above, but that's a bigger than average stove. It's made out of 23.5fl oz/695 ml sized cans. What if we downsized a little bit? Take a look at this stove. It's made out of 7.5fl oz/222ml sized cans.
|An alcohol stove made from 7.5 fluid ounce/222ml drink cans
So is that the answer? Just use a small can? Take a look at this photo:
|Various types of alcohol stoves being tested.
Now, did you notice the brass burner in the photo above? That's no DIY burner; that's a Trangia burner. Trangia has been making alcohol burners since at least 1951, and they're pretty darned good burners. Can we learn anything by looking at a Trangia burner? Let's compare a Trangia burner to the stove we called inefficient in the first photo above.
|An alcohol stove made from 23.5fl oz/695 ml drink cans (left) and a Trangia burner (right)
OK, now take a look at this photo:
|Alcohol stoves of varying designs.
Now, take a look at the third stove from the left in the front row. Note how it too has an opening smaller than its width. It's a little hard to tell from that photo, but that's a very tall stove. Recall from lesson three that the height of the burner is important. So, let's fire that burner up and see how it works.
|Testing a tall stove with a small opening.
Height makes for a more efficient stove, but too tall and your water never boils. There is a relationship between height and opening size, so lesson five: For a practical stove, the optimal ratio between height and opening size is approximately 1:1.
What would a stove with a 1:1 opening size to height ratio look like? About like this:
|An alcohol stove where the opening size is approximately equal to the height of the stove
|A 1:1 ratio alcohol stove in use
1. Fast stoves are fuel hogs; slow stoves are more efficient.
2. The width of the burner matters
3. The height of the burner matters
4. The width of the opening is even more important than the width of the burner
5. For a practical stove, the ratio of the width of the opening to the height of the burner is about 1:1.
OK, there you have it, some basic design considerations for making a practical, efficient open type alcohol burner. There's more to it, such as exactly which template you want to follow, but in the interests of keeping this post shorter than the Encyclopedia Britannica or the New York City phone directory, I'm going to end things here for today.
Thanks for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving,
Appendix: Standards for DIY Alcohol Stoves
Below are some numbers for you to benchmark your stoves against. These are some fairly high standards. Do not be discouraged if your first couple of stoves don't hit all the numbers. Of course, these numbers are just my thoughts on the subject. Ultimately, your DIY stove must please you.
Weight: A lightweight burner should weigh one ounce (28g) or less. For example, the 12-10 stove from Trail Designs weighs 0.6oz (16g).
Efficiency: An efficient stove should be able to boil 500ml of 20C water using 15ml of alcohol or less in a plain pot (no heat exchanger in other words) with a lid at 1 Atmosphere (1013 mBar) of pressure. Use of a windscreen is permitted (recommended actually). You may vary the height of the pot above the burner as you see fit. About 2cm to 3cm seems to work well in my experience. YMMV.
With respect to to the above efficiency standard, atmospheric pressure is hard for most of us to control. Cut yourself some slack on the atmospheric pressure, but if you live at high altitude on the Tibetan Plateau, just don't crow too much when your stove meets the rest of the criteria.
Effectiveness: Your burner should consistently be able to bring the water to a boil in 10 minutes or less in a wide variety of conditions, e.g. differing air temperatures, wind velocities (within reason), altitudes, etc. Stoves that only work on your work bench at home do not qualify. Your stove should be able to work under typical, real world outdoor conditions. Generally, alcohol stoves work better when the air temperature is at least 40F/5C (that's actually pretty chilly for most alcohol stoves). If your stove continues to work well below 40F/5C, then you've got a real winner.
Minimum "fiddle factor:" Your stove should not require priming and should be able to be fueled from a normal flip top squeeze type bottle in the field without a separate funnel or any other external device. Your stove should light with a common match in one try, a normal Bic type lighter in about one or two tries, or a typical fire steel within about three tries. The point being that it shouldn't be a major hassle to get your stove to light.
Related posts and articles:
- Getting Started with Alcohol
- DIY Alcohol Stoves -- Basic Design Considerations
- Cold Weather Tips for Alcohol Stoves
- Is Ethanol Worth It?
- Caldera Cone Alcohol Stove Review (on Seattle Backpackers Magazine)
- Caldera Cone Review Supplement -- Additional Photos and Technical Appendix with Weights
- The Clikstand Alcohol Stove System Review
- Caldera Cone vs. Clikstand Alcohol Stove Tests
- Trangia 27 Alcohol Stove System Review
- The Caldera Cone's 12-10 Burner
- The Trangia Alcohol Burner
- What's the Best Alcohol for Stove Fuel?
- What Is Meths? (And how is that different than Methanol?)
- Going "Green" with Stoves: Alcohol and Biodiesel
Acknowledgments: I am indebted to many people who shared with me ideas about alcohol stove design. I'm sure I'll forget someone important, but when a debt of thanks is owed, better to remember to thank a few than to thank no one at all. My thanks to: James M, James N, Jon F, Kevin B, Tony B, Turkoker, and Zelph. Particular thanks to Will L. who patiently did the majority of the actual fabrication of the stoves (hey, I'm a blogger not a stove manufacturer. I'm really more of an "ideas" guy, see?). :)