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Starter material for rocket stoves  RSS feed

 
Posts: 35
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I have searched the forum for an answer to this, but I wanted to share my experiences with getting a fire started in a rocket stove used for cooking.

I started out using newspaper but this didn't always work very well and I really didn't like the ash it kicked up when it would sometimes get into the food I was preparing.  I tried several of the commercially prepared fire-starter blocks and they generally worked quite well, but I ran out of them a couple of times and didn't like the expense involved.  I even made some of my own fire-starters using reclaimed wax and sawdust shavings.  Those also worked well, but they were eventually exhausted.  It wasn't until I bought a little ferrous rod and magnesium block, used for starting fires in survival situations, that I learned about another very effective, simple and inexpensive way to quickly start all types of fires, including a rocket stove.

The solution I found that I have been very happy with is to drop an ordinary cotton ball into a half-empty container of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and then swirl it around with a small stick until it picks up a fair amount of the jelly.  At this point, the cotton ball will be stuck to the end of the stick, but that's OK as both of these go into the feed tube on the rocket stove and then a few more little sticks are added before lighting the cotton ball.  Even under cold, damp, windy conditions (terrible for rocket stoves) this has never failed to light quickly and effectively.  And no ash in the fried eggs!  
 
Posts: 414
Location: Wellington, New Zealand
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I've seen people use cotton wool balls and cooking fat as well.  Cotton has an ignition temperature of 200-300 deg C so I guess it's just acting as a container for the fat/jelly.
 
Graham Chiu
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand
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Actually I just was now wondering if you can use some gel from a hand sanitizer and squirt that into a little pile onto your fuel and light that?  It's usually 70% alcohol based.  And I've seen people use that stuff to refuel their gel stoves.
 
gardener
Posts: 535
Location: SoCal USA
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What about making a feather stick for each fire start? A single smaller stick that you curl up will provide plenty of surface area and unless your fuel is too wet it should catch the smaller fuel you add in.
 
pollinator
Posts: 365
Location: Ashhurst New Zealand
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I use cabbage tree (Cordyline australis) leaves. They are amazing. Newsprint, especially if it's got a bit of grease on it, is also reliable but has the ash problem if you use a lot of it.. If you have some fatwood (pitch pine, ocote) and can make thin kindling from that it will not only light easily but also burn hot for long enough that you can get some larger diameter fuel in the mix.
 
Graham Chiu
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand
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I've certainly tossed a few cabbage leaves into the fire but never thought to use it as a starter.  They burn fiercely but briefly.
 
Jason Broom
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There are certainly lots of other natural materials that can be used to start fires, many of which are important to know for survival situations.  I just got tired of buying and running out of the commercially available solutions.  One bag of cotton balls and a jar of petroleum jelly costs almost nothing and will light literally dozens, if not hundreds of fires in my rocket stove and the wood-burning insert in my fireplace.  (Someday I hope to use them in a mass heater, of some kind.    )
 
gardener
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Location: Upstate NY, zone 5
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For those who buy eggs from a grocery store, I have found that half a paper egg carton makes a fine fire starter, with a handful of small kindling on top of it.
 
Graham Chiu
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand
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I tried lighting my batch box with a method I saw on this board .. stack dry wood inside, pack with wood shavings at the front, and then light the wood shavings.  Excellent result.
 
Jason Broom
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I always crack up when I see folks lighting a rocket stove or RMH with a propane torch.  It's perfectly sensible, if you have one, but I guess it's the disparity between the two levels of technology that I find ironic.

I have gone out of my way to use a striker and ferro rod to light the stove, just because it feels consistent with the primitive nature of what I'm doing.
 
Graham Chiu
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand
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It's hardly low tech when you have modern ceramic fibre insulation! Remember, this is rocket science!
 
Jason Broom
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Graham Chiu wrote:It's hardly low tech when you have modern ceramic fibre insulation! Remember, this is rocket science!



Good point!  

I guess rocket stoves and RMH's are a great combination of the original fuel source, wood, and modern materials.  At the same time, many of the heater designs rely on a very simple and ancient building material, in cob.

Even my reason for starting this thread, cotton balls swirled around in petroleum jelly, is relatively modern when compared to the basic needs of cooking and warmth that we are trying to address.
 
Graham Chiu
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand
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I saw this cute video on YouTube where the guy stacked firewood in his wood stove in the shape of a L tube rocket. He then put some kindling in the "burn chamber" and let it rip. Best burn ever he claimed, and others who copied him say the same thing! Looks like he overfuelled it from amount of fire he was creating.
 
pollinator
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Location: Penticton, Canada
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I make my firestarters from those waxed cardboard boxes they throw out at the grocery store. I slice them up into manageable pieces (1" x 5" or so) and then put them in a coffee can next to my stove. When using 2 or 3 pieces per fire, one box lasts about a month.
 
Posts: 47
Location: North Alabama
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I know that many of you will be aghast at this but here goes. I take four or five charcoal briquets (sometimes six if the wood is still green) and saturate them with charcoal lighter fluid. Then I stack them in the bottom of the burn chamber and set the wood on top of them. It provides instant ignition with a match, and instant rocket sound. Never fails, never smokes. They burn with a decent flame for about five minutes and by then the wood is burning vigorously.
 
pioneer
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Location: The Arkansas Ozarks
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Duane Hylton wrote:I know that many of you will be aghast at this but here goes. I take four or five charcoal briquets (sometimes six if the wood is still green) and saturate them with charcoal lighter fluid. Then I stack them in the bottom of the burn chamber and set the wood on top of them. It provides instant ignition with a match, and instant rocket sound. Never fails, never smokes. They burn with a decent flame for about five minutes and by then the wood is burning vigorously.



Hi Duane,

Lol. I love it.  If it works, don't mess with success, right?  Maybe not as environmentally friendly or as grid non-reliant (need to buy briquettes and lighter fluid), but hey you can stockpile them.

Sincerely,

Ralph
 
Jason Broom
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Duane Hylton wrote:I know that many of you will be aghast at this but here goes. I take four or five charcoal briquets (sometimes six if the wood is still green) and saturate them with charcoal lighter fluid. Then I stack them in the bottom of the burn chamber and set the wood on top of them. It provides instant ignition with a match, and instant rocket sound. Never fails, never smokes. They burn with a decent flame for about five minutes and by then the wood is burning vigorously.



That sounds like it would be especially effective when the stove is really cold and/or wet.  I know the general concept of this board is to find natural and renewable means of doing things, but I didn't build a rocket stove so I could completely abandon more modern methods of cooking.  While it might be "fun" to build a rocket stove from 100% natural materials and start it with fat wood, using a flint and steel for spark, most folks are going to use something more convenient.  It's not like it detracts greatly from the use of the stove or the pride of having built something interesting and effective.  I'll be sure to give the briquet thing a try some time this winter.   :)
 
Graham Chiu
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand
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I guess most people don't use the top down burn approach? I've tried it several times and I guess I've done it wrong as it hasn't worked for me.

I wonder if it's because the pile of wood is higher than the top of the Venturi.

https://www.csia.org/top_down_burn.html
 
Jason Broom
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Graham Chiu wrote:I guess most people don't use the top down burn approach? I've tried it several times and I guess I've done it wrong as it hasn't worked for me.

I wonder if it's because the pile of wood is higher than the top of the Venturi.

https://www.csia.org/top_down_burn.html



I have not used the top-down approach in any type of stove or heater, but I don't think it would be particularly effective when using a rocket stove.  These are generally smaller in their overall dimensions and burn little bits of twigs or finely split wood that would preclude the general concept of a top-down burn.  To get much smaller than the wood used to fuel a rocket stove, one would have to use toothpicks or maybe shish kabob skewers.  
 
Graham Chiu
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand
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Hi Jason

Batch box rocket stoves are loaded with wood much bigger than matchsticks!
 
Jason Broom
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Graham Chiu wrote:Hi Jason

Batch box rocket stoves are loaded with wood much bigger than matchsticks!



Are folks using batch boxes for rocket stoves, meaning those used for cooking?  I guess I thought most/all of the batch box use cases were for rocket mass heaters.

For the type of cooking I'm doing (frying and boiling) a batch box doesn't seem like it would be ideal.  Either that or I am just used to using small pieces of fuel to maintain a certain amount of heat for as long as I need to cook.
 
Graham Chiu
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Location: Wellington, New Zealand
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Most cooking is incidental to the heating of a house in which batch boxes excel. For a mass oven like a pizza oven you can also use a batch box. For a massless oven like the Kickstarter pizza oven a stick feed rocket seems appropriate.
 
Jason Broom
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My rocket stoves, thus far, have been of the primitive type used by developing nations for rudimentary outdoor cooking efforts; open flame frying and stir-frying of meats, as well as boiling of soups and stews.  I have not been so ambitious as to build anything suitable for baking, although I would like to build a combination bread/pizza oven and heated seating bench, next Spring.  

For now, my interest was in finding the simplest, most cost-effective methods for lighting a basic rocket stove.  I have adapted that to lighting the wood-burning fireplace insert in my home and I have to say it's been very effective.
 
pollinator
Posts: 116
Location: Western central Illinois
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I've had nothing but success with using wood shavings. I do a horizontal "stack", from the burn tunnel to the back wall of the feed tube, of 2-3 pieces of regular sized wood, a half dozen kindling sized sticks, then 2 or three handfulls of shavings I make with a small Kanna. On my 5" J-tube that pretty well fills the feed tube. I light the top of the shavings and within seconds it sounds very rockety. My system natuarally drafts really well, so that's a factor. I have made shavings with some very dry hedge (Osage Orange) and dry Cottonwood. My first burn I used cardboard, but so far the shavings have worked even better.
 
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