It arrived last night. I assembled it then, put in some kerosene in the gathering gloom, and after about an hour, did a ‘test lighting’ for about a minute.
This noon, I made lunch on it. Nothing fancy, just ramen (that I rather like) and green tea (thanks to my Carmelia Bush).
I’ll do a full blow by blow down below, but first, just to get it out of the way up front:
Yes, this stove has a couple of “quirks” that some folks will not like. Kerosene, if spilled, does not evaporate well, for example. It is sensitive to wind a bit (over about 5 mph my guess) so best in an enclosed space, yet only approved for use outdoors in the USA. (I have an easy fix for that, IMHO). But the bottom line is that I just really like this stove.
It is about the right power range, with a LOT of heat on high, and goes reasonable slow too. (The only complaint there being that I’m still learning “left is less” and it is hard to know how low it has gone in bright sun.) Don’t know if you can ‘simmer’ on it, but presume so with care in how the knob is turned.
The ‘grill’ that holds up pots has a largish gap in the middle, so small pots will ‘fall in’. I’ve got an easy fix for that too.
It is nearly silent and smokeless. If you don’t want to advertize a ‘patio kitchen’ on ‘spare the air’ days, it’s a winner and that charcoal BBQ is an issue. It is a joy to be around as it is just quietly efficient.
There is very very low odor ( I’m using “odorless mineral spirits” that in the USA are a kind of ultra-clean kerosene, but in the UK is a kind of gasoline / naphtha, so be careful with that term…) I’ll be getting a jug of “California K-1a” soon (that has lower sulphur than the rest of the world…) and well see if it stays that way. The only smell was a tiny bit of kerosene odor when it was turned off and near the end a gust of wind blew out the last bit of flame before all the kerosene was burned from the cooling evaporating wicks. Not enough to be a problem, and unlikely to happen in fully windproof places. It is better behaved in terms of odor than Coleman fuel / gasoline stoves; and even better than some propane stoves I’ve used.
It has a nice large space for setting large pots, so can handle a large pot of beans, stew, or a canner. As of now, all my canning will be done over kerosene on this stove. PG&E, kiss off and die.
Fuel is almost as cheap as gasoline, and on a $/BTU basis even closer, bought at a taxed pump. I don’t know if there is any source for “untaxed offroad” kerosene from a pump around here, but it is likely cheaper in other States. It was untaxed here, but the State, being unable to accept even a tiny bit of “lost” taxes, decided that since some small amount was going into Diesel vehicle tanks (as it winterizes Diesel and lets your car start when -20 F at the Ski Resort…) demanded that the stations put a 1 foot long hose on the pump so it couldn’t reach the car filler. Folks, of course, didn’t like this as it was damn hard to fill even a regular gas can then, but fill they did (then some dumped the can into the car / truck, since they didn’t want to be stuck with jellied Diesel at -20 F in the boonies in the snow…) This caused the State to become even more livid, as there was likely all of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars of tax being avoided. Having already caused more than that much cost PER STATION, they then changed the rules some more. Now the pumps all have road tax built into the price too. At any rate, Gasoline here is about $4.20 / gallon last I looked and Kerosene (our “special” K-1a that is desulphured and maybe even hydrogenated for lower smoke) is running $5.75 or so (taxes included. That’s road tax plus 10% sales tax that is also applied to the road tax…) Your Kerosene is likely to be cheaper…
My spreadsheet shows Unleaded ($4.10/gal) at 3.7 ¢ per 1000 BTU while K-1a at $5.75 is 4.5 ¢ / 1000 BTU. “I’m good with that”. It’s a 21% “uplift” for 3 very important features.
1) Avoidance of the “Gasoline du jour” chemical changes they are doing to the stuff. Including 10% to 15% ethanol that is corrosive to metals (as in my Coleman generator) and also reduce the BTU/ gallon from that theoretical gasoline in the spread sheet. I have little confidence that my ’80s era Coleman “Dual Fuel” stove will like 2015 A.D. Gasoline..
2) It is “water white” K-1 so a lot of “mystery chemicals” from gasoline are being avoided.
3) It means I can use Jet-A, JP-8, JP-4, etc. etc. in an emergency. Basically I’m aviation and military compatible now, as the turbine fuel they run is essentially kerosene with some additives. I’d not want the additives for “daily use”, but if it’s a SHTF moment, well, I’ll take hot food and warmth over some hypothetical risk from deicing agents.
and a fourth is that just discovered very acceptable smell (or lack thereof) esthetic.
Kerosene also stores much much longer (especially in an air proof i.e. metal container out of the sun) and can be run in my Diesel car as motor fuel in a real “bug out” emergency. While I’ve run an old air cooled VW on a mix of 50:50 k-1/gasoline; that was in the ’70s when I was doing such experiments in ‘funny fuels’ and modern computerized finicky cars would likely be unhappy with it. It did ‘soot’ a bit and power was a bit off, but it ran “good enough” for emergency use, then. In a pinch, I’d be willing to do a 10% to 20% “additive” level into gasoline in a gas car if the alternative was being stuck somewhere with A Really Bad Thing happening. Just don’t shut it down until you get to where you can fill up with real gas… For a Diesel, it is even better fuel than regular #2 Diesel… (and substantially the same as #1 Diesel, modulo being a bit cleaner).
It is also worth mention that spilled kerosene is not much fire hazard compared to spilled gasoline. I put a lit match in some spill on the bricks and the match went out. That doesn’t happen with gasoline ;-) The only downside to the fuel, really, is that it doesn’t evaporate well. Eventually it does, but slowly. I spilled some on the bricks last night and they are still showing some ‘wetting’ from it (though it has largely soaked in and is slowly evaporating in the sun). Spill some on your hands, you have smelly oily hands until washed in soap and water. OK, so learn not to slop the stuff and keep paper towels nearby (and be ready to ‘wash up’ after handling cans of fuel.)
OK, enough about the reason for the fuel choice, on to the stove.
First Fire & Cooking
The directions that come with the stove are minimal, but sufficient. The “tool” included is basically a re-bent heavy paperclip wire. Just a long hook, really, to pull each wick in turn up its wick tube. Nice to have it, though, as it made things MUCH easier and faster.
I was going to take pictures of the “install the wicks” step, but it started going fast and easy and I was done…
Essentially you get a small ‘mop’ of wicks tied in a bundle. The bundle is untied (snipped the wrapper string). Each wick is separate from the others. They have a small string near the middle intended for pulling the wick up the tube. That would work, I suppose, but the thread is small and likely to cut into fingers and / or snap. It is instead snipped off of the wick, and the supplied metal hook tool put down the tube, hooked to the middle of the wick, and pulled. That’s it. NEXT! ;-)
I “enhanced” the process by aligning the wick ends for an even length of both sides (the strings are not always exactly in the middle…) Some of the wicks were smaller in diameter and one noticeably thicker. The added ‘wick mop’ I bought from St. Paul Mercantile was more consistent in diameter and likely better quality, but the default one worked fine. One of the wicks was a very tight fit, but I got it in. We will see if its too tight to pull up for more when they’ve burned down some… At any rate, it was maybe 5 minutes to put all the wicks in.
I learned a few “tricks”, like pull the ‘loop’ toward the ‘shaft’ of the hook to compress it a bit, THEN slide it down into the hook bit (so some threads don’t try to go outside the hook). Use two hands on the skinny wire for better grip on hard to pull wicks (so the wire doesn’t straighten out where you grip it…) Align both ends for an even wick length. Pull a bit extra through at first so getting the “hook” out is easy, then grab from the bottom and slowly pull the loop back. (By very careful pulling, I was able to make all the loops the same height and AT the trim lines, so didn’t bother trimming them. I suspect that the ’rounded top’ means a bit less power that will increase with the first trimming to a ‘flat top’, but it’s working fine as is.)
At any rate, the “put the wicks in” was far easier and faster than I expected at first glance.
This wick holder is then just set / gently pushed into a largish ‘hole’ in the top of the kerosene pan. Just a friction fit that works better than expected. As the kerosene just sets in this shallow black pan, and the top friction fits into it, tipping the stove will spill kerosene out of the pan, even if slowly. The stove expects to not be moved much. (Though by careful lifting from the top red part, letting it ‘pivot’ about a lift point on each side, I was able to “keep gravity pointing down” and move it without spilling.
There is a black “burner ring” with perforated metal air blending /heating screens in it that then sits on top of the wick assembly. Yes, it just sits there. You take it off to light the stove. It has a spiral metal wire handle on it.
The only other part of ‘assembly’ is putting the fuel gauge into the tank. It has two little nubs that fit into two ‘dents’ in the ring of the tank then you turn it to have the nubs keep it in place. It doesn’t “lock” so much as just has ‘keeper nubs’. Also the fuel cap goes on with a similar twist, but has a gasket in it. The fuel gauge does not have any “orient this way” directions. I just put it in and turned to where I liked it. That was wrong. It is a metal dangly lever with a small bit of cork on the end. Elegant in a way, being so simple. Yet it is impeded by some internal parts in some orientations. I didn’t now that, and kept adding fuel, 10 ounces at a time, until it was clearly over filled (as some kerosene started leaking out the black pan / white wick holder join point…) THEN I discovered that turning the ‘gauge’ to where it faced the ‘rim’ tangentially and NOT toward me “over there”, showed a full, not an empty, tank… OK, lesson learned.
UPDATE: 2nd Lesson Learned –
The proper orientation of the gauge looks to be “facing the direction the red knob shaft points”. After some use, I’ve found that the “local tangent” tends to indicate full, even when not full. I’ll be adding some more detail on this, and a picture or two, in the next few days. After about 2 hours of burn time (so about 1/4 empty) the gauge is showing ‘part way to empty’, but still shows Full when turned toward the local tangent line. The most accurate reading looks to be “facing forward” where forward is the place with the red knob. FWIW, the gauge seems to be more a “tank nearing full stop pouring now” rather than a “you are nearing the end, add fuel or run dry”. It is nearing an “Empty” reading with at least 1/2 a tank left. Inspection of the “dangly bits” in “Empty mode” compared to the depth of the tank looks to confirm this. It makes sense. You want to know when you are about to overflow to stop pouring. After that, with 8 hours of cook time, “how long to empty” isn’t very important.
Here’s a picture (dark, fuzzy, I couldn’t see the LCD in the direct sunlight.. maybe someday I’ll make a better one..) of the final orientation of things:
The filler cap is on the right. The red knob moves the wicks up and down ( Left is less… Right is roaring…). On the left is the fuel gauge. Note that the F/E “line” needs to be more or less aligned with the direction the red knob shaft points, the “Front” of the stove, NOT normal to your point of view… That “black ring” below the wick holder is the fuel pan. Any kerosene higher than that point will run out. The stove comes with a nice little funnel that’s way too shallow, IMHO. I used a much longer necked and larger funnel sold for adding ATF to cars. ( I use it for filling most of my stoves). The included funnel will work from a quart bottle, I suppose.
That big black round thing is the burner / air heater ring. It is just setting on top of the wick holder (though snugly, especially after a heat / cool cycle). It can be lifted up and removed. That is done to light the wicks. I’m still getting good at lighting. I’ve got a butane BBQ lighter, and recommend that, or long fireplace matches. A very thin one could be used to just reach town from above into the black burner ring and light from above. The one I have worked, but is too tight a fit on one side. We’re talking less than 1 mm clearance on the ‘fits’ side… So I found that lifting the black ring to light works best. WHEN you go to put it on / take it off, you will discover that the 4 sides of the stove are different. It only goes in / out through the two (front and back) with a wide gap.
At first I lit all the wicks, then put the burner ring on. That worked very well, but with a bit of smoke. I later tried just lighting a couple to see if the fire would spread to the other wicks. It does, but not as well or as fast as I’d like. Still working out the optimal lighting technique. It looks like “light a couple on all four sides but don’t worry if you miss a couple”. Either that, or get a long skinny BBQ butane lighter and do it from above.
Then the ring goes on and starts to heat up. After a very short time, the flame is getting fed very hot air from the perforated metal rings, and goes very blue. So much so, in fact, that in full sun I could not see it. Yes, just like an alcohol flame. I was surprised. Stuck my hand over the burner to see if it was out, and found out “right quick” it was working just fine, thank you very much. (Fast reflexes are a feature ;-) Now, in the sun, I look for ‘heat waves’ in the shadow area of the stove…
Here is a ‘quartering view’ of the stove with a very small 1 pint pot on it. Note the use of a Lodge cast iron trivet as a burner grill. It worked well, if a bit slower due to not a lot of holes in it. I’ll likely get a more ‘open’ small round grill to use for very small pots, but this is fine anyway. The power the stove puts out made it ‘plenty fast’ even with a very dense ‘grill’ on it. Here you can also see how the side supports are wider than the front / back.
As I was cooking in my usual “house sends breezes here” place, we had about 5 to 10 mph breezes. The stove is a bit sensitive to wind, so I added my usual “brick wind screen” from the “Pile Of Bricks” stove on the upwind side. That pretty much fixed it. At the 10 mph or so end, some gusts still caused a minor ‘puffing’, but not a big deal, just a tiny bit of yellowing of the flame. Turning the wicks down just a touch ended that, too.
I didn’t time the boil of this pint, but it was ‘near’ that of the Coleman, a bit slower (due to the trivet and wind) but close. It is faster than on alcohol (that also has wind issues, but worse). Even without changing the trivet for a more open grill, this is a fine solution for small pots. As I’d just finished cooking some ramen noodles, and this stove was already hot and running, it was better to do this than to fire up a smaller stove and take another heat up / preheat fuel wasting step.
Here is a picture of the ramen cooking in a larger pot. Hard to see, but even with the lid off in the wind, this is at a full boil. I had just turned the heat down as it was in danger of boiling over, then grabbed the camera. You can see a more full wind screen deployment of the P.O.B. with one removed to adjust the wicks down.
With the simple addition of a few dollars of bricks, this makes a very pretty and very effective installation, IMHO. It was working fine in breezes / gusts that were nearing the ‘annoying’ level. Much beyond this I’d be wanting to get out of the wind too. (I’d add a full surround instead of a 1/2 surround and narrow the gaps between bricks, if the wind were a bit higher).
In a place where the wind is mitigated, instead of focused by the house into a funnel, even that issue would likely go away. (My eventual design has a ‘stove table’ against a brick wall under the patio awning and out of the ‘wind funnel’, for cooking in windy times. For now, I’m calling it a “testing rig feature” when the wind blows ;-)
This is a very well made, yet very affordable stove. It cost me $50 + shipping from St. Paul Mercantile.
Presently $12 shipping in the USA, so $62 all told. As a single burner Coleman 533 “Dual Fuel” runs out at near $60 bucks from Amazon, and I like this stove better, I’m a happy camper.
“Feeling the heat” over the stove, it is a very even heat distribution. I expect that the Butterfly oven will work very well on this stove (as they are designed for each other).
The fuel is very available, and more reliably constant than gasoline. For a “Preparedness Stove”, this one is far better than a gasoline stove, IMHO. Among other things, you can make ‘expedient wicks’ from a cotton mop or rope. Try making an “expedient gas generator” for your Coleman after 6 months on ‘mystery gas unleaded’…
The esthetics, being quiet and essentially smell free, are very nice.
At the end of the day, the only real negative I’ve run into so far is that being a bit wind sensitive, you need a wind free place for it, or a wind screen. Moving it is hard (you need to hold it level and NOT move fast to avoid slopping the fuel) but possible. So in general it wants an out of the wind quasi permanent place to be. Not a “bug out stove”. OK, I can live with that. It is a very good base camp stove, or patio kitchen stove. I’ll use the Trangia or Coleman 533 for the day packing or “bug out bag”. Not a problem. Given that the wick holder sits inside the fuel pan, I’d not leave it out in the rain. The wicks would also get soaked as rain drops landed on them. So you will end up moving this stove if it is set up ‘out in the open’ and rain threatens. Lucky for me, we go 1/2 year at a time without rain. (Though we get more in 2 days… so I have a load of kerosene to use in the next day or two ;-)
Maybe I’ll just make a stove cover for it ;-)
The “clean up to pack up” is complicated, involving messy fuel draining and “wringing out the wicks”. Expect that this stove is to be set up and USED, not ‘tested and packed’. For a prep kit, I’d skip my usual ‘test it first before packing’ and just do an ‘all parts present’ check and then pack it clean and dry. But realistically, I think it would be better to just set up the “Patio Kitchen” with it and use it. Why leave it in the box at all? Have some other stove as the “bug out mobile stove”. Happy with your AEK and just want a backup for That Day? Then buy one and stick the box in the prep kit area. As it has no rubber goods, it’s not going to decay if kept dry and boxed. Frankly, thinking back on all the years of “test the Coleman to make sure the pump seals and check valve still work”, I’d rather have had this in a box on the shelf. The Coleman is better for mobile use and cooking in the open in the boonies with who knows what wind and weather. This one is better for a Patio Kitchen and stationary production area / base camp use.
It is likely that this will become the “daily driver” in my patio kitchen. It has far less “fuss with factor” than the Coleman stoves (or any pressure stove, really, having no pump nor generator), makes more than enough heat, in a very even way, and has pleasant esthetics. For that, I’ll learn to light it more effectively and deal with figuring out how to see blue ‘simmer’ in strong sun.
It is likely a bit complicated for a “just want to turn the knob” technophobe who doesn’t like fire. (i.e. my spouse who barely tolerates a piezo spark lit propane stove). But I have hope. Lighting the wicks is a bit like lighting birthday cake candles, and then its just set the black thing on it. We’ll see…
I’ll likely continue to use the Trangia for indoor coffee making, and the Coleman for outdoor-in-the-wind (as pressure stoves with enclosed burner heads do best in wind); but unless something pushes me into one of them, this stove is “easy enough to use” and with pleasant behaviours and low costs of fuel. It’s relatively well made too. (Though frankly, at $50, if it rusts out after a year or two outside, I’ll just buy another one…)
So “color me happy” ;-)