I was pondering my collection of emergency and camping stoves. I’m ready for anything. At least a dozen stoves in at least 5 fuel types I can think of right off. (Gasoline, Kerosene, Propane, Butane, Methanol, Ethanol, Isopropanol, Hexamine tablets, wood… OK, so more than 5 ;-)
That got me thinking about times I’ve been on the road, well, really, in the air, and without all that nice kit. What would I do if I flew into somewhere and the AwShit happened and I had none of them? So suppose I was looking at a few packages of ramen, a tin of sardines, and maybe some other canned foods. Was there a way I could cook the ramen, heat some Ravioli from a can, and do it with just things regularly found around the house or on the road?
Well, first off, I figured there’s rubbing alcohol / hand sanitizer everywhere now. Then if you ate the sardines, that would make a decent tray for burning alcohol. While Methanol would be ideal, as it doesn’t soot, even strong booze or rubbing alcohol will do. But what about the pot holder?
Well, the classic is the “three rock fire”. You put some wood in a small pile with three rocks around it and then place your pan on the rocks. But I don’t have any rock in my yard and rarely find them in hotels. But I do have cans of food (or I’d not really need a stove all that much ;-) So can I make a “3 Can Stove”?
Why, yes, I can:
The cardboard box in the background is a bit of a wind screen as it was a bit blustery on and off today. It also let me test radiant heating of nearby surfaces. It got very warm, but not hot enough to be an issue.
Here you can see the three regular sized cans arranged in the “3 rock” pattern and the empty sardine tin as the burner (a tuna can would also work). These (15 oz. or 2 & 1/2 size) cans are a little taller than ideal, but as everyone has canned food in this size it was what I wanted to test. The smaller 10 ounce soup cans or even the smaller oyster / clam cans would heat better being closer to the flame. Also note that I used a Visions (Corningware) glass pot. This takes a while to heat, but lets me watch what is happening. It also assures that if IT works, a regular tin pot will do better. Also, soot cleans from it easily (more on that below).
I chose to use 70% propanol as it is the most common medicinal / rubbing alcohol found in houses. Methanol would work better as it does not soot, and even Bacardi 151 rum, while expensive, would soot less. But the test was to use the “worst choice” at each turn. I filled the sardine can about 1/2 full and lit it.
After 10 minutes (in less than ideal gusts of wind, and without a lid) the noodles did reach a bare occasional simmer. I stopped the test there since the fuel was running out (and letting it burn dry to refill would throw off my timing while filling while flaming makes a big bonfire…). Plus, I wanted to eat the noodles ;-)
The ramen was cooked “al dente”, or a little stiffer than my typical “getting mushy”. Quite fine to eat. Improvements in the can spacing, height and fuel type used (not to mention out of the wind and with a lid) would work faster and likely get to a full boil.
All in all, I count the experiment a success. I would recommend removing the labels from the pot stand cans though ;-) I chose to leave them on just to see how much a problem it would be if folks didn’t remove them. It isn’t much of a problem at all, but probably added a bit to the sooting. Speaking of which, here’s a photo just after I finished the noodles, showing the bottom of the pot and the soot. (Yeah, you really want to buy a can of fuel line dryer methanol if possible ;-)
The soot mostly all came off with a wet paper towel. The rest was removed with a slightly soaped paper towel and a bit of sponge time. Note that the cans have burned labels on the side facing the flame, but no bad thing came of it. Also note that the soot free rings on the pot bottom are rather large. As this was a glass pot over concrete, I was VERY conservative in support area. It would likely have heated faster had I been willing to “push it” and have less hanging on the can pot support.
So, overall, my conclusion is that this is a simple to make emergency stove that will work with commonly available fuels found in most homes, drug stores, and many other stores (auto parts, hardware, …) and requires not much more than eating some sardines (or tuna) and opening 3 cans of other food to eat (say, chili, canned fruit, and a vegetable to be named later…) then heating the chili… Oh, and you might need a can opener if they are not all pop-top cans.