make a pop can alcohol stove

(Yep! It's Yet Another Article + Video About The Iconic 'Pop-Can Stove'!)

Since I first learned about backpackers making lightweight cooking stoves out of aluminum cans, I was hooked. And probably like other "stovies," the one that really caught my attention was the "Pepsi Can Stove."

No doubt the appeal is that it's not only ridiculously cool to be able to fit together a couple of recycled cans that way, but because the end result is so compact, lightweight, and burns exactly like the burner on your home stovetop!

While not one of the simplest alcohol stoves to assemble -- that honor will go to simpler open-flame stoves and the "SuperCat" Cat Food Can side-burning style -- it's also not one of the most complicated. Depending on which one of the several-dozen methods you choose, it's possible to have one made in 20-30 minutes.

In fact, this video could have been a lot shorter had I chosen the popular and dependable "crimping" method to fit the two halves together.

But I was interested to try a few methods I'd seen in videos that allowed you to very elegantly fit the two sides together perfectly, one inside the other, without any glue/epoxy and avoiding the slightly tedious task of crimping one of the halves neatly all the way around the sides so that it could fit into the other half. In the end, I eventually succeeded, but it took some experimenting with different fitting methods to make it work.

Conceptually, it's pretty easy to make and use a "Pop Can Stove."

Construction:

  1. Cut the bottoms off of two aluminum cans (about 3/4")
  2. Drill a small hole in the center of the "top" for refilling with alcohol
  3. Fit them together tightly
  4. Make tiny holes around the upper ledge

Lighting It Up:

  1. Fill with alcohol and plug the fill-hole firmly (ex. a screw or "penny")
  2. Prime the can by dripping extra fuel onto the top and bottom (using a priming pan or wick) and light the priming fuel
  3. Once the can is hot enough to boil the alcohol inside, the side burners will light themselves, and it will behave like a familiar stove burner.

From a birds-eye perspective, it's not too complex. But each of those steps has quite a few variations you could experiment with.

build an energy efficient camper fridge

Campers & RVers: Do you know how much of your valuable energy reserves are being consumed by your refrigerator?

Even if you happen to have a very efficient refrigerator, chances are that you are draining tons more than you really need to be.

Consider these questions:

  • Is your refrigerator running most of the day?

Especially if you're in a hot climate, it's probably running almost full time. Assuming you turn off the lights at night, and use the AC/Heating only when you need it, your refrigerator is the most energy consuming appliance in your RV, because it's intermittently consuming energy 24/7.

Camping Refrigerator

Wastefully Empty Refrigerator

  • Is your refrigerator packed completely full most of the time or is it half empty most of the time?

If you're like a lot campers, you fill your fridge with what you need when you leave and gradually empty it out until you're back in civilization to restock, when you'll find it either completely empty or half full of stuff you never touched. In other words, you're probably cooling tons more air than is really necessary.

  • Is your refrigerator front-opening or top-opening?

Duh. Of course your refrigerator is probably front opening like every other manufactured refrigerator. And like every other refrigerator, you dump out all that cold air every time you open the door. What a humongous waste!

Non Energy Efficient Refrigerator

Familiar family photo of cold air invisibly dumping out of a typical refrigerator when the door is opened. 🙂

What if you could make your own DIY custom RV refrigerator that fixes all of these problems? Sure it might not be among the easiest projects you've done, and may even be among the most difficult. But what if you could?

Let's start with the most wasteful part -- by stopping all the cold air from dumping out. The easiest way to keep the air inside -- even when you open the door -- is to create a refrigerator that operates "on it's back," like chest freezer. Since cold air is denser and wants to go down, a top-opening refrigerator can be opened up over and over without spilling out the air. This helps it stay cool for most of the day without needing to run the power.

It's so obvious that you have to wonder why they don't all do this already! It's because the front-opening refrigerator/freezer is way more convenient in your everyday household for just grabbing what you need off the shelf instead of digging around for it like you do with an ice chest style freezer.

But how about for an RV? Even though you're starved for space, a couple of things make a small top-loader really convenient. Think about this -- Do you already use a camping cooler in your RV to store your drinks and stuff?

If you don't find that inconvenient to use, then small top-loading refrigerator (or a few of them) should be just as convenient. For a permanent installation, a good place might be under the fold-down "sofa" seats. You could even make a sofa out of the refrigerator! While it may seem a hassle to tell your buddy to get off the couch so you can check the fridge... honestly, how many times do you have to tell someone to get off the cooler so you can get a drink. Same thing, right?

Maybe you're wondering if a little fridge under the flip-down couch seats will give you enough fridge space. Well, how much space do you actually use? A good experiment might be to see how many coolers you need in order to store all the food you need for the next trip. Maybe you're camping with a family, and you find that a few coolers isn't enough, no matter how well you pack it... So you're kinda "stuck" with the big one you already have. But with some creativity maybe you can think up a handy way to keep the cold in when you open it -- maybe some kind of insulated "chest of drawers" design or even some of those clear plastic strips like they have in the back of the grocery store.

pot-in-pot refrigerator

Zeer Pot (Pot-in-Pot Evaporative Refrigerator)

But consider this: There are actually great ways to keep your food cool that don't require any non-renewable power at all. There's even an evaporative cooling device called a Zeer Pot that can chill food down near normal refrigeration temperatures in dry climates using nothing but water. Or if you're not living near the desert, maybe you can just use a modified camp cooler to handle the less critical stuff. Though making ice takes electricity, simply replacing a reusable blue ice pack in a super-insulated cooler every few days could really cut your energy costs.

So the question becomes...Is it possible that much of your fridge space is taken up foods that require only minimal cooling rather than full refrigeration?

While meats, dairy products, and cooked and processed foods will typically need full refrigeration below the FDA's easy-to-remember upper limit of 40°F (4°C), many raw fruits and vegetables don't require more than light refrigeration to stay crisp. (Just remember to wash them thoroughly as usual.) Many condiments, jam, salted butter, oils, and hard cheeses can also do fine with light "cooling." Check out this article for inspiration: 7 Foods That Can Survive Outside The Fridge.

Once you've (hopefully) downsized your full-refrigeration needs and moved some of it to a simple cooler, you can think about designing a more efficient refrigerator.

sucrets tin pocket stove

It's tough not to be totally enchanted by elegant simplicity of DIY Alcohol Backpacking Stoves!

For quite some time, backpackers and teenage troopers have been using these little devices -- made from assorted recycled cans configured in clever ways (like the iconic Pepsi Can Stove) -- as lightweight and clean-burning cooking gear, that despite their size, can cook up a meal as well as any full-size kitchen range. But outside of "ultralight" backpacking circles, it seems a lot of campers don't know about these amazing little stoves that you can easily make yourself.

While I love taking them on backpacking excursions, by far the bulk of my own interest in compact cooking isn't for out on the trail, but to completely replace the kitchen in my "tiny house", i.e. my homemade truck camper.

Unlike a full-size RV, I'm limited to the space in the bed of my truck -- about 5'x6' or 30 sq.ft.! Why take up that space with a "range" or even a relatively bulky "Coleman stove" type setup? By using my backpacking cook kit, I can condense my entire kitchen to fit in a large camp mug!

This video explores a variation on one of the simplest alcohol stove designs. Essentially, it's nothing more than a "tin can" filled with alcohol, with an absorbent wicking material to hold it in place and regulate the burn, and a screen to hold it all in place. (The Starlyte (by Zelph Stoves) is a really nice implementation of this idea.)

This project is a quick-and-dirty implementation of the same concept. 

The main variations I used in this project are:

  • a Sucrets tin (compare to an Altoids tin)

  • mineral wool (aka "rock wool") as the wicking material (instead of fiberglass or Perlite)

  • a simple pot stand made from a coat hanger, cut and bent into shape

 

While not as ridiculously simple and elegant as the SuperCat stove design (which doesn't even require a separate pot stand), the Sucrets Stove is about as simple as it gets. It also has the benefits of stowing its own pot stand and being easily "turned off" by shutting the lid.

You could just as easily use an Altoids tin (or any other similar candy tin), but depending on the size of your cook pot, the dimensions may change the way the integral pot stand needs to be bent in order to both support the pot and fit neatly into the tin for packing.

Watch the video to hear my commentary and see how it all fits together!

instant warm water system for camping

Need ideas for quickly generating warm shower water?

Watch this amusing video showing a simple system using a water pump and heat exchanger coil. While it could certainly be improved upon with some easy modifications that would help it both heat up faster and be much safer, it's a great illustration of creative thinking, and a simple demonstration of exactly how an on-demand hot water system works. 

Here's his explanation of how it's made.

Here's my homemade warm water system for camping. I bypassed the water from an electric camping shower through a copper coil. The copper tubing I bought from a gas shop. It was very easy to bend into the coil shape. The tap water from the bucket warms quite nicely through this system. It takes the cold edge off the water. To make the water hotter recycle the water back into the bucket allowing it to then pass back through the coil. Great little system. Quite cheap overall. $30 shower including pump (from BCF) $15 butane gas cartridge burner (from K-Mart) $10 for the copper tubing (from Kleenheat gas) and $5 for some extra plastic tubing and $2 for some hose clamps (from Bunnings). All in all I'm quite happy with this system. I am looking at enclosing the coil and flame to stop wind blowing the flame out. Let me know what you think. Cheers guys.
Age from Perth, Western Australia.


The simplicity of the idea is really nice. He doesn't even need to use any electric pumps, because it pumps automatically using the thermosiphon principle. It could also be adapted to use any heating device, including a campfire, portable propane stove, indoor range, or a DIY gasifying wood stove like the one I use.

It would be interesting to see something like this installed more permanently... Maybe even running off of a small wood-burning rocket stove? It would seem to me that the trick for a permanent install would be to either 1) use the heat-exchanger coil as part of the stove, ex. as the pot stand, or 2) permanently wrap the copper coil around a heated element, such as the chimney of a rocket stove (which is actually under the burner).

Interested in making a cheap AC inverter out of parts you can often get for free?



If you happen to have a broken UPS backup computer power system lying around (or can find one cheap), you could possibly turn it into an inexpensive power inverter for your camper.

Uninterruptible Power Supplies are often thrown away or donated to thrift stores when their battery goes bad. Once they do, you could simply replace the dead battery with your RV's deep cycle battery and enjoy a decent quality inverter that often -- at least on newer ones -- includes 5V USB power for your phone -- in addition to several standard AC outlets.

cheap camper inverter from ups

Typical UPS units you find in thrift stores

I actually did this, after watching the video below that I found on YouTube. It's an interesting project. The main idea is simply to unhook the leads going to the internal battery and then solder in some leads that will connect to an external battery. The most elegant solution -- to make it function like a store-bought inverter -- would be to run small leads to screw terminals on the outside of the case.

The second simple bit of electronics is to turn off the emergency alert -- the high-pitched squeal that normally is designed to warn you when the electricity goes out and you're running on battery power -- and you can disable it simply by finding the small buzzer element and cutting the leads and removing it.

There are other hassles you can run into. I found the outside case can sometimes be unreasonably difficult to crack open. You might also find that the circuitry is already fried, or in such bad shape that it sizzles or breaks as soon as you connect the battery. But after a few, you might just find one that opens easily and works really well.

The one big disadvantage for a small camper is the weight -- the transformer inside is quite heavy, especially on large UPS units, and especially when compared to the lightweight transformer-less inverters you can buy on sale for $40-80.

It's also no less prone to shorting out -- A badly-timed surge can fry any inverter pretty easily, so it's nice to have the option to exchange it for a new one. Then again, it's also nice to know you can build one for next to free, so it's well-worth learning how to do it!
(Note: Modified Sine-Wave AC output by cheaper UPS inverters may not be suitable for all devices. For quickly charging your laptop and mobile electronics, it should do fine, but for continuous power, beware that it could cause problems, so be sure to google and download the UPS manual. If you're concerned about this, check out his next series on how to make a sine-wave inverter. )


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