The survivalist movement is growing at great rate today. You only have to read some of the articles posted in this blog to know that. But with all the fancy accruements available today some of the more fun and lowly survival items are overlooked. Among them: The hobo and emergency pocket stoves.
These are so much fun to make, and so easy. I remember first seeing them in an ancient tiny camping book from the 1960’s. The book itself was a hoot. When I cracked the book open the faded and almost crunchy yellowed pages revealed what I thought was an amazing thing: a complete recipe section with everything from biscuits to roast beef, puddings, jams, and eggs, and all off it made by can stoves, can cooking implements, and can ovens.
There are several basic designs of the hobo stove. If you are cooking for multiple people and really want to test out complicated recipes, go for the large industrial sized cans. You can go all out and use metal cutters, hole punchers, and even a saw to make things nice, but I’ve also found that a rock and a nail or screw works just as well. With whatever tools you decide to use, there is a basic design among hobo stoves. First off, cut the top and bottom off the can. A can opener is great, but use what you have on hand as needed. Remove the two steel discs for a later use. Cut a door in the bottom of the can, in a square, and flip it up. It now looks like a little house with an awning over a door. Puncture holes around the top of your stove so the fire can breathe. If you want to cook a pot on the top take a wire hanger, straighten it, and thread the pieces of wire through the top holes to make a place for your pot to rest.
Now you are ready to build your fire. Please clear a safe area, free from extra debris. You can use whatever you like to build your fire. For a medium sized can a good fire should take about six to eight minutes to boil water. Your imagination is up to you as to what you would like to cook. My personal favorite is eggs. Missing a ladle? No problem. Take the leftover can top (or bottom); use a rock to bend it into a ladle shape, notch a stick, then thrust the “ladle” into the stick. Wa-la, you go yourself a ladle.
This basic hobo stove design is of the most simple. I’ve seen people do all sorts of different variations and they all have their merits. One variation is to use a wire hanger to make handles and attach them to the top of the can, omitting cutting the bottom out. Punch holes in this design on both levels of the stove, top and bottom. The advantage is that in case an emergency, provided you have heavy gloves, you could take your stove and run. However, the stove itself will be very hot and a safety hazard.
If it is windy consider building a fire screen attachment. For this example, start with the biggest size can for the bottom stove section. You may want to make bigger holes for this design. If you are down to basic equipment: i.e. a rock and nails, for example, try and find a sturdy piece of metal to widen the holes. Now take your smaller sized can. The best fit would be for the medium can to balance nicely on the larger bottom can, seamlessly, within the seams. Think of balancing a standard 15-ounce can of beans on top of a larger pasta sauce can. It would be an ideal fit. If that’s not possible line the two cans with tin foil when setting up the fire. Take the medium sized can to make the fire screen. Cut off the top and bottoms as well. Instead of holes this time cut a “V” notch in the can, the point of the V pointing down.
Now things are getting exciting and it’s time to build your fire in the lower can. For this design it’s okay to add bigger branches. The fire may reach all the way up through the screen with the V in it. Experiment with air flow to make your liquid burn faster. After the water is boiling an added egg should take about four minutes. If using a larger cooking device it may take a little longer.
Now let’s look at emergency pocket stoves. These are great devices, easy to make, tiny, and there are a bunch of different types you can make with materials easily found around your house. They are super inexpensive, and, therefore, disposable.
My favorite device is one that seems at first far too easy and simple to make. Literally just tear or cut 10-30 sheets of a paper towel into circles that just peek out from under whatever you want to heat up. It could be a soda can, a tin of vegetables, or even a coffee pot. Find a smooth fireproof surface. The top of an uncut can would be fine. Soak the paper towel sheets in91% Isopropyl alcohol. 70% may work directly and it should be "salted out." Fuels that float on water are not recommended. A ring of blue flame should surround the pot and then the pot should begin heating up. If the fuel burns up before the desired temperature is reached, no problem. Just remove the pot, replenish the fuel and put the pot back on followed by relighting.
Please be absolutely sure to replenish the fuel only after the flame is extinguished.
There are some very good web sites to examine this process step by step. Another favorite of mine is made from small tins, such as pet food and tuna cans. Take the smaller tin and puncture holes all around the top. Remove the top of the larger tin. Cut a hole in the bottom and remove, as best you can, with what materials you have at hand, enough of a hole so that you still have a perimeter existing around the sides of the can. For example, if you have a tuna can, make the hole about the size of a half-dollar. Now cut holes in the bottom of the can, the edge opposite of the hole. Next, take the small tin and place it upside down inside the large one. If you have it, take aluminum muffler tape to go around the can and split it up the middle. However, this isn’t strictly needed. Now, put a layer of fiberglass into the can so it’s loosely filled. The fiberglass will hold its shape after the first burn and it makes a reusable wick. Please note that you should use only alcohol based fuels. Gasoline could easily blow up if using fiberglass.
I’ve seen some pretty awesome “penny stoves,” that look spectacular but are somewhat short of practicality. They are are easy to make, but in an outdoor situation they fall short, due to wind factors and the length of time spent building one. It also worries me that online directions on how to make them always are sure to say that they may explode and kill you. Needless to say they are not my favorite.
The last idea I’ll leave you with is a mini grill made of a circular mint or candy tin. Take the bottom part of the tin (the belly), and remove a large circle out of the bottom. You can get professional and find the old fan part of a computer for the bottom grill, or go old school and fashion a grill from a coat hanger. You will need one grill to hold charcoal on the bottom and one for the top. Hold the grills in place by wedging them in, or, for a more pro look, use screws. Your mini grill will resemble a typical rounded grill. Create legs from either screws, additional lengths of wire hangers, or anything metal. If windy you will need a fire break for this grill, made of folded tin foil or whatever you can find to screen it. The advantage is that you don’t need an alcohol fuel, just a piece of charcoal.
All in all, it’s easy to make and prepare emergency stoves for just plain fun, camping and as cooking devices. Man’s ingenuity is endless and these simple designs can easily be mucked around with to create imaginative stoves best for your particular environment. The local weather, time of year, and altitude should all be considered in your personal designs, and also what materials you have on hand. Some of these designs are perfect if you find yourself in a disaster situation, and even if you decide on more professional equipment for your survival stash, I’d recommend practicing making these devices. No matter what the scenario, most disasters, natural or man-made, are inherently dangerous, and one of the number one dangers to us is lack of fresh water and possible contaminated water.
These simple and effective designs could very well save your life and the lives of your friends and family! I hope you have enjoyed reading about them.