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Tin Can Camping Stove (and some optimization talk)

 
pollinator
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At first blush it might seem like a waste of time to make a tin can stove perform optimally.  Same at second and third blush, but somewhere around seventh blush some benefits may start to appear.  This was more an exercise in optimization using available waste materials than anything else, and it presents a good opportunity to talk about optimization in general.

Optimization is not usually the same thing as improvement.  In almost all things we deal with in the modern world, there is little room for objective improvement but there is almost always space for optimization to the specific situation.  A simpler way to say this would be: almost all improvements require trade-offs.  The more complex a system is, the harder it is to foresee all of the trade-offs, which is why so many large scale interventions have disastrous side effects.

Fortunately a tin can stove is a pretty simple system so I am not too worried about collateral damage.  So lets do a quick top-level run through of how and why to design and optimize something:

1. Identify a need:
- Here I needed a stove that could be continuously fed fuel for extended cooking compared to my small gasifier camp stove.

2. Lay out design goals (in rough order of importance):
A. An efficient low-smoke burn
B. Continuous fuel feed
C. Minimal cuts and easy assembly to make it reproduceable by others
D. Minimal tool requirements

3. Initial designs and prototypes:
- First I tried the rocket-y type design with a miniature J-tube and two cans.  This turned out to be too complex to cut and assemble and reverse-chimneyed too easily, it also had a clunky flame spreader at the top.  The extra can used for the flame spreader made the whole thing less stable as well, and I realized a primary design goal should have been "Stable base that can support a heavy cast iron pan".
- I used a larger diameter tin can for the upper chimney and it became more stable, but the connection points to the heat riser were pretty thin.  Tin cans are actually steel cans with a thin plating of tin, so they tend to corrode quickly at high temperatures.  This made me realize another design goal: "As durable as possible for a tin can (reduce small joints)".
- I tried to make another J-tube type from scratch using another pair of cans directly nested together, but it simply didn't function well at all.

4. Iteratively assess design goals:
- New priority list after initial prototypes (changed order of importance):
A. A stable cooking surface that could handle the weight of a large cast iron pan
B. An efficient low-smoke burn
C. Continuous fuel feed
D. Reasonable durability within the constraint of still using a tin can
E. Minimal cuts and easy assembly to make it reproduceable by others
F. Minimal tool requirements

5. New prototypes with updated design goals:
- Switching back to a single can seemed the best way to satisfy design goals A, D, and E, so I went that route.  The classic tin can stove with a door cut in one face seemed like a good starting point.
- Initially I used a triangular punch-type can opener to make a bunch of exhaust holes near the top of the can.  This was still not enough cross-sectional area for the exhaust flow though, and I could tell that by how much smoke would appear when a pot of water was set on top of the stove.
- In order to figure out how much additional area was needed, I held the pot of water over a clean-burning flame and lowered it closer and closer to the stove until smoke started appearing.  After trying this a few times, it seemed that at least 25cm² of additional cross section were required.
- What ended up being the final prototype used three large triangular cuts at the top (leaving the upper rim intact to maintain hoop strength) that were folded in toward the center, and an air and fuel-feed door cut in the front near the bottom.  The large tabs folded in seemed to deflect quite a bit of heat from the cooking pot though (and made it hard to load fuel from the top), so I ended up curling them over and upward to create a slightly elevated 3-point top surface above the upper rim, adding a bit more exhaust cross-section in the process.

6. Final product (at least for now):
- Starting with a 24oz tin can, though other sizes should work as well, six cuts with knife are performed to create three inverted triangular tabs just below the top rim (roughly 6cm wide and 4cm tall).  These tabs are rolled inward and then up above the rim so they make a top cooking surface about 1 cm above the rim.  A door of about 6cm square is then made on the side of the can near the bottom using three cuts, such that it folds outward about its bottom edge.
- Checking it against design requirements:
A. The single can with a complete upper hoop and three point-mounting is very stable
B. With dry wood, the stove produces almost no smoke while operating with a pot of water on top
C. Stick fuel can be fed in the front continuously, and an initial charge of larger fuel can be loaded from the top as well
D. Sections of thin metal cross-section have been minimized so durability should be pretty good, but this should still be tested and perhaps improved if possible
E. Nine total cuts and four folds are required for the whole thing
F. A reasonably sharp pocket knife is the only tool required

Persistence is maybe the most important part of this process, most things are failures for the first few iterations. "Never do anything for the first time, it will be so much faster and smoother on the second or third" - was a favorite saying of an engineer I used to work with.

So hopefully you and I can both make great tin can stoves in the future if the situation ever calls for it, and maybe some of the optimization process outlined here can help out on other projects as well.  One thing I found interesting about the stove problem specifically is that the exhaust area needs to be considerably larger than the air intake area when a heat sink (like a pot of water) is added to the top of the stack.  This one ended up with about 20cm² of air intake when sticks are loaded and roughly 40cm² of exhaust area; so 2:1 to get a smokeless burn.

This is part of the MoPID series of permaculture innovations that I am working on during my time at Wheaton Labs.  Check out the thread if you'd like to follow along.
CanOptimize.jpg
The boneyard of can stove prototypes
The boneyard of can stove prototypes
IMG_20220928_150348649.jpg
The final design, functionality over form here for sure
The final design, functionality over form here for sure
IMG_20220928_110654190_HDR.jpg
Sighting how much extra exhaust space is needed under the pot
Sighting how much extra exhaust space is needed under the pot
IMG_20220928_111824283_HDR.jpg
Making coffee with the finished product
Making coffee with the finished product
 
master pollinator
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Haha, those are fun to play with -- love the graveyard of prototypes.

I find that anything smaller than 4L/1 gal is just a pain. A recycling depot near restaurants will have tons of big tin cans.

My go-to for this sort of thing is the steel baskets inside the old-style stovetop vegetable steamers. Some are enameled, some are stainless steel. I scrounge them for free from the local recycling station. Perfect size and design, ready to go.
 
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David N Black wrote:A simpler way to say this would be: almost all improvements require trade-offs.  The more complex a system is, the harder it is to foresee all of the trade-offs, which is why so many large scale interventions have disastrous side effects.


That chimes with a quote that's been running through my head more and more lately, "intent and consequence are rarely coincident." Can't recall exactly where it is from, but refuse to Google such things.

Only 2 more days- do you take life hack requests? Wondering if you know anything about cleaning up the exterior of a pot...
 
David N Black
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:Haha, those are fun to play with -- love the graveyard of prototypes.

I find that anything smaller than 4L/1 gal is just a pain. A recycling depot near restaurants will have tons of big tin cans.

My go-to for this sort of thing is the steel baskets inside the old-style stovetop vegetable steamers. Some are enameled, some are stainless steel. I scrounge them for free from the local recycling station. Perfect size and design, ready to go.



Oh good call, I'll keep an eye out for those!
 
David N Black
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Coydon Wallham wrote:

David N Black wrote:A simpler way to say this would be: almost all improvements require trade-offs.  The more complex a system is, the harder it is to foresee all of the trade-offs, which is why so many large scale interventions have disastrous side effects.


That chimes with a quote that's been running through my head more and more lately, "intent and consequence are rarely coincident." Can't recall exactly where it is from, but refuse to Google such things.

Only 2 more days- do you take life hack requests? Wondering if you know anything about cleaning up the exterior of a pot...



Hahaha, I clearly don't have much expertise in the pot cleaning field, but you're right it is something I should try to life hack.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Re pot cleaning, I think it was traditional wisdom to smear bar soap all over the outside before putting it on the fire. Apparently the soot washes right off. Haven't tried it though.
 
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:Re pot cleaning, I think it was traditional wisdom to smear bar soap all over the outside before putting it on the fire. Apparently the soot washes right off. Haven't tried it though.


I have always used liquid dish soap, and yes, the soot washes right off. I do that for all fire pans. Putting a sooty pan into a backpack is an exercise in how to trash things you wouldn't think would get blackened by it
 
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4 years ago, I started a thread about small wood gassifiers/small mass heaters (I was freezing my butt off waiting for a deer to walk by).

Crickets.

Glad to see a few others now have some of the same interests... If you are into "thread necromancy", you might check this out:

https://permies.com/t/95853/permaculture-projects/Small-TLUD-mass-heater-combination
20181011_212946.jpg
Improved tiny TLUD with tin can parts
Improved tiny TLUD with tin can parts
 
Pearl Sutton
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I haven't had time to assemble it, but I have stuff piled up to make a GOOD tin can stove. I've used them since I was a girl scout in the 1970's, carried them (and a solar cooker) backpacking, and usually have one around. I'm going to be combining all the things I know about them into one good design. I am looking at something bigger and better than a basic tin can stove, but not a full on rocket stove that is huge.

It seems like the versions I have seen are either a quick can that performs badly, or an extensive heavy stove that requires serious work. I want moveable, and good performance, and I'm a cook, I want to be able to actually cook on it easily with good results. The ones I carried backpacking I could cook on well, and used very little wood, as I was in the desert, you pack in your wood, it's not just laying around.

I'm eliminating a bunch of basic design flaws I see around, like the cooking surface/pan holding ring being too small to balance a pot of food on safely, and lack of pot skirts, and will be using riser insulation to increase draft.

I'll post it when I have put it together. Got higher priority projects right now. I DID go through a branch pile and cut a whole lot of good small wood to burn in it. I like from finger thick to about an inch think, about 18 inches long, and straight. I packed several cat litter buckets full of twigs that size, and put them where they'll stay dry.

:D
 
pollinator
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Mine is just an old stainless steel kittle with holes punched in the bottom and about an inch up all around the bottom and a larger hole about 2/3 way up to drop in wood. The kittle has welded handles on the sides so I wired a grate to one of them. It keeps it in place and serves as a hinge to open it to dump ashes. The grate came from a throw away Coleman camp stove I found at a yard sale. Just flip the grate to the side and the original lid quickly puts the fire out.

 
pollinator
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I used to make those when I was in the Army back in the 70's.  Worked well to heat C-Rations and water for coffee.
 
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I have played a bit with can stoves and rocket stoves and now gassifier stoves.
This effort by Heath Putnam, documented on You Tube, is the version I now use. It's a TLUD gassifier (wood gas) stove. Final Build! Paint Can Wood Gas Stove Optimization! Wood Gas Stove Science| Part 9! He has optimized can sizes and primary and secondary air sizing for the stove.

The good: The build is relatively easy, the inner pot fits the under side of the paint can lid perfectly, it lights quickly, once it gets going it is smokeless, packs compactly, can be throttled down, and will fully consume the fuel. Heats water to boiling quickly. My Coleman coffee pot fit perfectly on top.

The not as good: Inner can is a progresso soup size can, so it is relatively small, suitable for quick cooking but not so good for simmering. You can add fuel and it will ignite quickly, but fuel needs to be small. Pot stand makes it a little tall.

Costs one quart paint can for the outer can and two tin cans of the right size - for inner can and pot stand. Packs into the size of the paint can.

Less optimized versions could be made by using punches and church keys instead of drilling, but anyone sorta handy with a drill can do these.

tips: 1) wear gloves when messing with cans. 2) support the can when drilling 3) burn out any residue or coating inside cans before cooking with them.
 
Coydon Wallham
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David N Black wrote:6. Final product (at least for now):
- Starting with a 24oz tin can, though other sizes should work as well, six cuts with knife are performed to create three inverted triangular tabs just below the top rim (roughly 6cm wide and 4cm tall).  These tabs are rolled inward and then up above the rim so they make a top cooking surface about 1 cm above the rim.  A door of about 6cm square is then made on the side of the can near the bottom using three cuts, such that it folds outward about its bottom edge.

So hopefully you and I can both make great tin can stoves in the future if the situation ever calls for it, and maybe some of the optimization process outlined here can help out on other projects as well.  One thing I found interesting about the stove problem specifically is that the exhaust area needs to be considerably larger than the air intake area when a heat sink (like a pot of water) is added to the top of the stack.  This one ended up with about 20cm² of air intake when sticks are loaded and roughly 40cm² of exhaust area; so 2:1 to get a smokeless burn.


What kind of common items come in a can like you used here?

If scaling up to other can sizes, would you guess that the holes should increase in a linear relation?
 
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David N Black wrote:At first blush it might seem like a waste of time to make a tin can stove perform optimally.  Same at second and third blush, but somewhere around seventh blush some benefits may start to appear.  This was more an exercise in optimization using available waste materials than anything else, and it presents a good opportunity to talk about optimization in general.

Optimization is not usually the same thing as improvement.  In almost all things we deal with in the modern world, there is little room for objective improvement but there is almost always space for optimization to the specific situation.  A simpler way to say this would be: almost all improvements require trade-offs.  The more complex a system is, the harder it is to foresee all of the trade-offs, which is why so many large scale interventions have disastrous side effects.

Fortunately a tin can stove is a pretty simple system so I am not too worried about collateral damage.  So lets do a quick top-level run through of how and why to design and optimize something:

1. Identify a need:
- Here I needed a stove that could be continuously fed fuel for extended cooking compared to my small gasifier camp stove.

2. Lay out design goals (in rough order of importance):
A. An efficient low-smoke burn
B. Continuous fuel feed
C. Minimal cuts and easy assembly to make it reproduceable by others
D. Minimal tool requirements

3. Initial designs and prototypes:
- First I tried the rocket-y type design with a miniature J-tube and two cans.  This turned out to be too complex to cut and assemble and reverse-chimneyed too easily, it also had a clunky flame spreader at the top.  The extra can used for the flame spreader made the whole thing less stable as well, and I realized a primary design goal should have been "Stable base that can support a heavy cast iron pan".
- I used a larger diameter tin can for the upper chimney and it became more stable, but the connection points to the heat riser were pretty thin.  Tin cans are actually steel cans with a thin plating of tin, so they tend to corrode quickly at high temperatures.  This made me realize another design goal: "As durable as possible for a tin can (reduce small joints)".
- I tried to make another J-tube type from scratch using another pair of cans directly nested together, but it simply didn't function well at all.

4. Iteratively assess design goals:
- New priority list after initial prototypes (changed order of importance):
A. A stable cooking surface that could handle the weight of a large cast iron pan
B. An efficient low-smoke burn
C. Continuous fuel feed
D. Reasonable durability within the constraint of still using a tin can
E. Minimal cuts and easy assembly to make it reproduceable by others
F. Minimal tool requirements

5. New prototypes with updated design goals:
- Switching back to a single can seemed the best way to satisfy design goals A, D, and E, so I went that route.  The classic tin can stove with a door cut in one face seemed like a good starting point.
- Initially I used a triangular punch-type can opener to make a bunch of exhaust holes near the top of the can.  This was still not enough cross-sectional area for the exhaust flow though, and I could tell that by how much smoke would appear when a pot of water was set on top of the stove.
- In order to figure out how much additional area was needed, I held the pot of water over a clean-burning flame and lowered it closer and closer to the stove until smoke started appearing.  After trying this a few times, it seemed that at least 25cm² of additional cross section were required.
- What ended up being the final prototype used three large triangular cuts at the top (leaving the upper rim intact to maintain hoop strength) that were folded in toward the center, and an air and fuel-feed door cut in the front near the bottom.  The large tabs folded in seemed to deflect quite a bit of heat from the cooking pot though (and made it hard to load fuel from the top), so I ended up curling them over and upward to create a slightly elevated 3-point top surface above the upper rim, adding a bit more exhaust cross-section in the process.

6. Final product (at least for now):
- Starting with a 24oz tin can, though other sizes should work as well, six cuts with knife are performed to create three inverted triangular tabs just below the top rim (roughly 6cm wide and 4cm tall).  These tabs are rolled inward and then up above the rim so they make a top cooking surface about 1 cm above the rim.  A door of about 6cm square is then made on the side of the can near the bottom using three cuts, such that it folds outward about its bottom edge.
- Checking it against design requirements:
A. The single can with a complete upper hoop and three point-mounting is very stable
B. With dry wood, the stove produces almost no smoke while operating with a pot of water on top
C. Stick fuel can be fed in the front continuously, and an initial charge of larger fuel can be loaded from the top as well
D. Sections of thin metal cross-section have been minimized so durability should be pretty good, but this should still be tested and perhaps improved if possible
E. Nine total cuts and four folds are required for the whole thing
F. A reasonably sharp pocket knife is the only tool required

Persistence is maybe the most important part of this process, most things are failures for the first few iterations. "Never do anything for the first time, it will be so much faster and smoother on the second or third" - was a favorite saying of an engineer I used to work with.

So hopefully you and I can both make great tin can stoves in the future if the situation ever calls for it, and maybe some of the optimization process outlined here can help out on other projects as well.  One thing I found interesting about the stove problem specifically is that the exhaust area needs to be considerably larger than the air intake area when a heat sink (like a pot of water) is added to the top of the stack.  This one ended up with about 20cm² of air intake when sticks are loaded and roughly 40cm² of exhaust area; so 2:1 to get a smokeless burn.

This is part of the MoPID series of permaculture innovations that I am working on during my time at Wheaton Labs.  Check out the thread if you'd like to follow along.



This looks fantastic, David. Many thanks for sharing. During the pandemic I painted tin cans that I grew organic chilli plants in. Here they are!
FCC88504-F6C1-41D9-81FC-8DF95EC50B00.jpeg
[Thumbnail for FCC88504-F6C1-41D9-81FC-8DF95EC50B00.jpeg]
83A91880-3137-4967-8F45-34F88A603D99.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 83A91880-3137-4967-8F45-34F88A603D99.jpeg]
4CF6C873-A0ED-4E6E-A540-42DE0513364C.jpeg
[Thumbnail for 4CF6C873-A0ED-4E6E-A540-42DE0513364C.jpeg]
BA53C228-BB9A-4327-B77B-B1F58F5EF98E.jpeg
[Thumbnail for BA53C228-BB9A-4327-B77B-B1F58F5EF98E.jpeg]
 
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Having seen David's tin can cooking hardware in action I can testify that these things do work.  We boiled a large pot of water for spaghetti on one.  My$200 propane grill couldn't do it.
 
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I have a one gallon/one can tlud that runs off of pellets and I had intended to build a 1 gallon "toucan" gasifire stove.
I still might, but lately I've been aiming to revive my tlud boiler.

Martijn Jager uses tluds made from stainless steel  in his indoor tlud stoves.
I have a vacuum thermos with a busted lid.
There are lots of instructions for converting them into gasifier stoves
Drilling holes in the stainless steel seems to be the most difficult part.
When I made my stock pot tlud I  cut slots instead of drilling holes and that seemed to work fine, so I  will try using my angle grinder.
If I like the outcome, the thermoses are rather cheap even purchased new.


As far as I can tell the difference between a double walled tlud and a doubled walled gasifier stove is mostly in how you use them.
Bottom lit and continuously fed as a gasifier, top lit batch fed as a tlud.
If I'm right, that's two stoves in one.
The commercially built Solo brand stove has a an
optional alcohol stove insert.
I think we could use a wad of rockwool  to burn alcohol in a similar way.
If so that could make  3 stoves in one.
I'm inspired to combine the double walled construction with side feeding of fuel.
 
William Bronson
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Although there are lots of videos on turning stainless steel thermoses into gasifier camping stoves, I've found none using the larger 32 and 64oz. bottles.
I did find this video of a guy who made his into an something like a Kelly Kettle.
It gives me peek inside the de/construction of these bottles :  https://youtu.be/cGLxNvTksIs?t=30
                                                                                                                               
Edit: my link was bad, hopefully this new one will work.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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William Bronson wrote:Although there are lots of videos on turning stainless steel thermoses into gasifier camping stoves, I've found none using the larger 32 and 64oz. bottles.
I did find this video of a guy who made his into an something like a Kelly Kettle.
It gives me peek inside the de/construction of these bottles that should be: https://youtube.com/clip/UgkxJ_GIC0tLTzdMa9FsO1yCrzuIrmAZX84R


Hey! I had the notion of doing the same thing (Kelly Kettle) but didn't get around to it yet. Very cool. Thanks!
 
Pearl Sutton
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Pearl Sutton wrote:I haven't had time to assemble it, but I have stuff piled up to make a GOOD tin can stove. I've used them since I was a girl scout in the 1970's, carried them (and a solar cooker) backpacking, and usually have one around. I'm going to be combining all the things I know about them into one good design. I am looking at something bigger and better than a basic tin can stove, but not a full on rocket stove that is huge.

It seems like the versions I have seen are either a quick can that performs badly, or an extensive heavy stove that requires serious work. I want moveable, and good performance, and I'm a cook, I want to be able to actually cook on it easily with good results. The ones I carried backpacking I could cook on well, and used very little wood, as I was in the desert, you pack in your wood, it's not just laying around.

I'm eliminating a bunch of basic design flaws I see around, like the cooking surface/pan holding ring being too small to balance a pot of food on safely, and lack of pot skirts, and will be using riser insulation to increase draft.

I'll post it when I have put it together. Got higher priority projects right now. I DID go through a branch pile and cut a whole lot of good small wood to burn in it. I like from finger thick to about an inch think, about 18 inches long, and straight. I packed several cat litter buckets full of twigs that size, and put them where they'll stay dry.

:D



And I have posted it!  
Twig burning can stove

Twig burning can stove


Haven't fired it up yet, but I expect it to work well, this is by no means the first one I have made.
Thank you David N Black, for reminding me I needed to make a new one!
:D
 
David N Black
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That thing looks amazing Pearl!  Can't wait to hear how it fires!
 
What a show! What atmosphere! What fun! What a tiny ad!
Better Wood Heat: DIY Rocket Mass Heaters (8-Movie Set) by Paul Wheaton
https://permies.com/wiki/134176/Wood-Heat-DIY-Rocket-Mass
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