How to build a small wood gasifier stove-slash-campfire? TLUD for short.
October 18, 2018 10:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm going backcountry camping in an area that doesn't allow campfires but does allow for contained fires such as you would find in a wood stove. I know there are commercial products out there as well as DIY/instructable type guides for making stoves out of things from tuna cans to soup cans to paint cans to aluminum pots. I want to hear about your first hand experience and/or empirical data or construction notes regarding best practices related to building my own.

So, I'm pretty handy and like doing things on my own. This stove will be the backup/alternate to some soda-can alcohol stoves that I made and will be bringing as well.

My big question is basically are there any golden ratios or known dos and or don'ts for designing and building a Top Lit, Updraft Gassifier type stove/fire container.

I'd like to keep it sized such that it can be hiked in a few miles (even if it's just strapped on the outside of a backpack a la Sam Gamgee's pots and pans kit) and be able to be, ideally, constructed out of readily available/upcycled sheet metal goods, some of which I'll list below but other things that a reasonable person could expect to be able to get ahold of are welcome as well.

The Solo line of stoves seems to be nice but pricey and I always feel better using gear that I built myself where possible. Plus it's fun and up-cycling is great.

Weight isn't a HUGE issue but it needs to be reasonably sized so nothing bigger than a breadbox and a bit smaller would be better probably.

I may be cooking on/over it but nothing more than boiling water or other easy tasks. I figure I can approximate my pan-rests/hooks after the fact.

Things I have that might be relevant, usesful:

Large Metal Coffee Cans
Medium Metal Coffee Cans
Paint Cans
Export Soda Cans
Soup Cans
Aluminum Cans
Various and sundry sheet metal off cuts
Stainless steel or bronze mesh of varying size/shape
Soldering iron
JB Weld
Medium scale power tools up to and including small drill press
Handtools like files and punches and mallets
Hardware/ironmongery, stainless even
posted by RolandOfEld to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I was you about five years ago. I made a lot of little stoves of this type. Then I bought a nice pre-made one that uses all the "best practices." Nevertheless, I gave up on them for camping, as opposed to just screwing around with.

Here's the thing, and I don't want to be a downer: they simply don't put out much heat if they're small. They're even hard to keep running unless you have nigh-perfect fuel: seasoned wood cut into knuckle-sized chucks or finger-sized strips. Are you planning on carrying in fuel like this, or finding it how? I mean it's great fun screwing around with this stuff, unless it's what you're relying on for heat so you can boil water or cook food or stay warm.

It's just very hard to keep these things running based on "stuff you find lying around" unless your campsite is practically littered with snapping-dry finger-sized twigs with a lot of fat left on them. I'm just saying this so you can scale your expectations accordingly.

(My current camp stove is SolHumana Survival Stove., and it's pretty great. Packs down to almost nothing. It's a fan-forced wood-burning stove. The batteries last a long time and are just AA batteries you can get anywhere. It works very well because the forced airflow can drive the burn even when you don't have perfect fuel, because it can run hotter and dry things out. You can put in bigger chunks of wood, and things that are a bit damp. I also have the grill attachment, which also works very nicely, but would need to be strapped onto a pack.)

Good luck with this, it is fun!
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:52 AM on October 18, 2018

I bought a "Top Lit, Updraft Gassifier type stove", an Emberlit titanium one. It worked well for cooking and boiling, and was nice to pack, but I gave it away because it was so much bother to keep it fed with the constant fuel supply it needed.

I now use a catfood-can hole-punched all around below the rim, with alcohol fuel. It boils faster and is much easier, but of course I have to carry fuel instead of finding it.
posted by anadem at 11:09 AM on October 18, 2018

P.S. for the catfood-can stove I also carry a slightly larger can (from TJ's Dolmades) to drop over it as an extinguisher. It's hard to put out a catfood-can stove otherwise! The two cans nest nicely for packing.
posted by anadem at 11:13 AM on October 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for those first hand experiences, they're relevant and helpful.

To wit, yes, I understand this is likely more of a "because I can" rather than "because it's ideal" sort of thing. I do have my home built alcohol stove, pot rest, and windscreen that serves for purely functional purposes.

To be honest I've never used anything else outside of a heavy ass hand-me-down coleman white gas monstrosity. I don't want to because I am not at extreme altitudes/temperatures nor am I keen on disposable tanks of various flavors, even if they are 'easier'.

So, yes, fair points. I'm still searching for info and will likely build one.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:54 AM on October 18, 2018

My experience with a homemade one of these was that it was fussy and didn't work all that well. Granted, at least some of that may have been my own inexperience, but I went right back to just bringing a butane canister stove, since those things are totally foolproof and work awesome, even if you can't find so much as a single dry twig to burn.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:31 PM on October 18, 2018

Specifically, I use this ultralight butane stove which costs almost nothing, has a better-than-average pot surface (four arms with fold-out wings), packs into my cooking pot along with its fuel canister, and has been nothing but perfectly, 100% reliable for the several years that I've had it. One of the best camping purchases I've made.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:34 PM on October 18, 2018

Primitive Technology
posted by misondre at 3:43 AM on October 19, 2018

I find my Biolite stove fantastic. It will burn damn near anything if you have sufficient power to run the fan, including random moist detritus. That said, actual dry twigs or purpose made fuel pellets will burn for much longer and so are much easier to deal with.

When you're out of juice (the thermocouple will generate enough to power itself and charge the battery as long as you're starting with decent fuel, damp stuff won't burn hot enough) it works like any other jet stove, just a bit worse since a non moving fan presents some impediment to airflow. You can take the whole power unit off if it proves necessary or desirable for some reason.

It's also nice to have around just in case as an (overly bulky if you aren't actually using it as a stove!) extra battery charger for phones or whatever. There's a model without an internal battery that shaves off a bit of weight but still has a thermocouple to generate electricity to run the forced air and let you charge a device while you've got a fire going.
posted by wierdo at 10:54 PM on October 19, 2018

Response by poster: Sidenote: I ended up short on time and, well, super short on time in the case that my design decisions flubbed and didn't work out so I used a conveniently timed REI coupon and credit to purchase the Solo Campfire stove and it was great. It burned very well once a pile of cigar sized kindling was gathered, left virtually no trace (as in the finest ash you can imagine), and was well built. Would recommend if the price isn't too spendy.

Thanks all for the ideas.
posted by RolandOfEld at 3:46 PM on November 28, 2018

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