Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The FeatherFire With a Caldera Cone

Well, time to get out of the darned house.  About time I got outside.  Where to?

One of my favorite local venues:  Winter Creek.
Along the lower Winter Creek Trail
And, of course, while we're out, let's take along a stove or two, shall we?  Today, I'd like to take a look at the FeatherFire alcohol stove, and, in particular, how it does with a Caldera Cone.
A FeatherFire alcohol stove (with the cap on)
I have a variety of cones at my disposal, so let's have a look.
Various Caldera Cone set ups.
L to R:  "Classic" Caldera Cone with 850ml Titan kettle, Sidewinder Ti-Tri with 1300ml Evernew pt, and "classic" Caldera Cone with 550ml BPL Firelite 550 pot.
Now, one of the reasons I like Winter Creek so much is not just that it's a lovely sylvan spot, but also because of this:
The hearth of an old, abandoned cabin
The hearth of this old, abandoned cabin is perfect for stove testing.  And, not only that, nearby Winter Creek provides all the water one could ever want.
A small falls on Winter Creek
Now, let's have a better look at today's set ups.
"Classic" Cones on either end.  Sidewinder Cone in the middle.

Note that the Sidewinder Cone in the middle of the above photo is shorter than either of the classic cones.  Why might this be?  Well, its name tells us a lot:  You wind it up, lie it on its side, and into the pot it goes.  "Side winder," get it?  A very nice option for packing up.
A Sidewinder cone, wound up, lying on its side.

And what is to be used inside our cones?  A FeatherFire stove, here shown alongside two 12-10 stoves.  A 12-10 stove comes standard with a Caldera Cone.
A FeatherFire stove (left) and two 12-10 stoves.
Now, take a close look at the above photo.  Note the cable extending down from the FeatherFire stove.  This cable is the simmer control of the FeatherFire stove.  Indeed, this is the feature that sets the FeatherFire apart:  The FeatherFire simmers easily and well.  See my earlier post The FeatherFire Alcohol Stove for further information.

It simmers well, that's good, but is it compatible with something like a Caldera Cone?  Let's see.

First, will the control knob fit through the vents of a Caldera Cone?
The simmer control of a FeatherFire alcohol stove extended through a vent in a Caldera Cone
Well, kind of.  I mean it will, but it doesn't quite fit.  You have to push and pull.  You have to tweak the cone a bit.  And after doing it a few times, your vent hole is going to look a bit like this:
Deformations in a ventilation port of a Caldera Cone caused by repeated insertion and removal of a FeatherFire control knob
Not very pretty, but unlikely to affect your stove in any functional way.  But, there's a more important issue here.   Those cones fit their respective pots pretty tightly.  Pick up the pot, and you'll more than likely pick up the windscreen.  Pick up the windscreen, and you pick up the stove and not in any controlled fashion.  
The FeatherFire, still connected to the Cone even though the cone has been removed.
Yes, that's right, you'll have an open vessel dripping flaming alcohol hanging by a thread.  Might I suggest that this could be a problem?

Actually, I think passing the control cable under the edge of the windscreen is the better protocol.  YMMV.  It's a little fiddly, but not bad, and now, if you bump the windscreen or pick up the pot, the flaming, open stove is not likely to follow.

All right, safety briefing out of the way, how does it simmer?  
A nice, low boil on a Caldera Cone using a FeatherFire alcohol stove
Quite well actually.  The FeatherFire is the best commercial simmering set up for a Caldera Cone that I've yet seen. Yes, I know there are a lot of DIY rigs out there, and we'll get to those in due course, but of the commercially available simmering set ups, the FeatherFire is the best that I know of.  Now, could you use a Trangia burner?  Well, yes, you could, but while the FeatherFire is of the same general class of stove as normally comes with a Caldera Cone (a chimney type stove), the Trangia is of a different class of burner (a semi pressurized or open jet type).  My experience is that the chimney type is the best type for use in a Caldera Cone and that other types suffer in terms of efficiency. 

While the FeatherFire simmers pretty well, it's still a bit of a trick to get a good simmer in a Caldera Cone.  Why?  Because those darned cones are so efficient.  The heat transfer is so good in a Caldera Cone, it's hard to not go into a roiling boil, even with the low flame of a FeatherFire.  In my testing, I noticed that it was easier to simmer with my BPL Firelite 550 pot which sits a little farther away from the flame than with my Titan kettle.

Speaking of distance from the flame, I noticed that the Titan kettle did not fit all the way down into the cone and instead rested on the pot supports of the FeatherFire.
A Titan kettle does not fit all the way down into a Cone when used with a FeatherFire
 By Contrast, the Firelite 550, fit normally into its Cone.  Fit or lack thereof caused no operational difficulties, but as I say, it was harder to simmer with the Titan kettle which sits closer to the flame.

How about efficiency?
Measured amounts of HEET (methanol)
I ran some boil tests with measured amounts of alcohol.  On high, the FeatherFire is less efficient than the 12-10 stove.  With the measured amount of alcohol (about 25ml of HEET), a FeatherFire was not able to hold a boil as long.  That was on high.  Want greater efficiency?  Turn it down.  There's no reason that the FeatherFire can't be just as efficient as a 12-10.  Just don't run it on high.  With the FeatherFire, you've got a really nice, adjustable stove.  So adjust it.  Make use of all that good functionality.

A couple of other notes:  The snuffer cap (2g in weight), is worth bringing along.
The snuffer cap of a FeatherFire alcohol stove
For simmering tests, I added nearly the maximum amount the stove would hold and fired it up.  When the test was complete, I closed the vents using the simmer control and placed the simmer cap on top of the stove.  Job done.

The simmer cap has a nice feature -- it has a little rubber grip.  Even if the cap is hot, it's unlikely that you'll burn your fingers because of the grip.  It's little things like the grip that show the kind of attention to detail that is the hallmark of PackaFeather.  They've really put together a nice alcohol stove here.

Of course there are ways to snuff a 12-10 stove, albeit not quite as convenient or as lightweight as the 2g snuffer cap of the FeatherFire.
Snuffing a 12-10 stove with a Ti Sierra Cup
After my simmering tests were done, I simply vacuumed up all the excess alcohol with the excellent PackaFeather cap, another nice product from PackaFeather.  The vacuum feature of the PackaFeather cap works well with the 12-10 stove, not just the FeatherFire.  I imagine the cap would work with most alcohol stoves, although it probably wouldn't work well with stoves that soak up alcohol with some type of wicking material.

A PackaFeather cap.  Highly recommended.
Another fun experiment was to try out the new MSR (made by Kovea) piezoelectric lighter on alcohol.
The MSR piezoelectric ignition
 It actually worked pretty well, but my tests so far indicate that it will only work when it's relatively warm, when the alcohol is vaporizing well.  In colder weather, when the alcohol isn't vaporizing well, the igniter struggles.

Well, there you have it, a further look at the FeatherFire stove and its ability to work with a Caldera Cone.  I hope you enjoyed it.

Thanks for joining me on another Adventure in Stoving,


FeatherFire Related Blog Posts


  1. Thanks for testing the stove with the Caldera Cone.

  2. Great test, answering a question I've always had about this setup. So here another test I'm interested in. I use a Mark Jurey penny stove because it's hot and conserves fuel. Would you speculate how this stove would work in a Caldera Cone? Good luck in your new job. I hope you can keep your great reports coming.

    White Pine

  3. It's hard to say how the stove will perform without actual tests. The inside of a cone is a high-heat, low oxygen environment. Some stoves really struggle with the low oxygen whereas others do fine. Some stoves in a high heat environment just get going too fast. Others do fine. So, I can't really say without doing actual testing.