Monthly Archives: April 2011

Pop Can Stove

Last night, my boyfriend and I tried a fun project. Out of four empty soda cans, we made two methanol-burning stoves, and it only took us a few minutes each. I became interested in the project while researching backpacking, an activity I’d very much like to get in to. Some backpackers use the pop can stove, and similar small stoves like tea-light stoves to cut weight from their packs.

I version we made required two empty soda cans, a wad of fiberglass insulation, methanol, silicon sealant, and a coin. Tools used were a safety pin, a hammer, scissors, and needle-nosed pliers. Instructions are easy to find, I got mine from a YouTube video (see helpful sources at the bottom.)

Lessons Learned:

  • Wind is a problem and one that the mountains of Colorado doesn’t help.
  • Use a towel or washcloth that you no longer care about as a mat to avoid getting safety pins, bits of soda can, fiberglass, safety pins, and silicon on your floor or desk.
  • Use gloves to handle silicon.
  • Feel free to modify the design to your liking.
  • As fuel, I used methanol. Specifically, I used Heet, a fuel-line antifreeze which I found in the auto section of Walmart.
  • I got the silicon sealant near home-improvement an paint .
  • The fiberglass insulation is the only item I could not find at Walmart. I had to go to Lowes. At first I was discouraged to only find large bales of insulation in the home construction area (what was I expecting?) and nearly gave up. A tip for anyone looking for small amounts of insulation, go to the plumbing area.


  • Easy to make. Going from memory after watching an instructional video on Youtube once, I was able to make the stove in a matter of minutes. After simply seeing my finished product, my boyfriend was able to quickly figure it out on his own.
  • Cheap. You probably already have most of the supplies and tools needed to make this laying around your house and garage, and if not, they’re inexpensive to purchase.
  • Recycling is a stonking great idea.
  • Small. This thing is seriously tiny. It’s only the circumference of a soda can and a few inches tall. It won’t take up much room in your pack or your pocket, and could easily be stored inside another container such as your thermos or a cooking pot.
  • Lightweight. Can be less than 30 g.
  • Works great in cold and high altitude environments where propane and butane canisters might fail.
  • Denatured alcohol, a fuel source, is relatively environmentally friendly to burn, however it’s poisonous if swallowed.
  • Variant design. There are a few different versions of the pop-can stove, the design can be adapted to personal preference. For instance, most versions require a potstand (easy to make, btw) to hold the pot above the stove, but the side-burner variation serves as its own potstand. You can even design your stove to have larger flames by making it shorter, although doing so reduces fuel capacity.
  • Reliable. According to one survey, if properly designed, this stove has a zero percent failure rate.
  • Nearly silent operation.
  • Just plain fun to make, a great thing to do with friends. Also, feeling like MacGyver is awesome.
  • Easily blown out by wind. A windscreen is recommended.
  • Most variations will require a pot stand, although some versions double as their own.
  • Popular fuel sources are toxic and may be clear like water. Fuel containers should be clearly marked.
  • Due to small size, it’s not recommended for cooking for more than two people, unless, of course, you wish to use multiple burners.
  • Since alcohol has less energy per weight as other stove fuels, it’s not great for long trips. This stove will burn about twice the weight of fuel as other stoves. Buns one ounce of fuel about every five minutes.
  • Not great for cooking in a hurry as it takes about five minutes to boil two cups of water.
  • Prohibited by Boy Scouts of America policy of disallowing the use of homemade or modified stoves.
  • May spill fuel. Never use it near anything flammable.
  • Some components used to build it, such as silicon sealant and fiberglass insulation can irritate bare skin if touched.

Helpful Sources:

Getting Started

Colorado is a beautiful state. (Well, it is if I ignore all the fundamentalist hate-groups, anyway.) I PCSed here in 2008 and instantly fell in love with the mountain views. Sadly, I’ve been too busy with the Army life, and lack of a suitable vehicle, to enjoy exploring much. What a waste.

However, now that my boyfriend and I are reaching the end of our time in service, we’re hoping to make up for lost time. Recently, we purchased a Nissan Pathfinder, and now can explore areas that were previously beyond the reach of either of our own cars.

Already, we’ve been taking advantage of the opportunity. Just yesterday, we drove up into the mountains for some shooting with his friends. This was my second trip up with them for this, and the winding, narrow, dirt mountain road seemed less distressing for me this time. Although, I was still wary of the many sharp, blind corners, as well as the cliffs that the road’s edge most of the way up.

Originally, we had been looking for a Toyota Tacoma because my boyfriend had a bit of a car-crush on the Toyota Hilux (a similar truck which the Tacoma replaced in the US in 1995) after seeing an episode of the BBC program Top Gear, in which the hosts ran the Hilux through a series of insane tests (setting it on fire, beating it with a wrecking ball, letting it be smashed by waves and drowned in the ocean) and the brave vehicle continued to run, being declared invincible. We found one used Tacoma, but it was in bad shape.  It hadn’t been well cared for by the previous owner and appeared to have hit a tree. But it still ran and the previous owner had apparently liked it as he’d traded it in for a newer version. Not expecting to do any better for $4,000 we were seriously considering taking it. I, however, was a bit hesitant to give the dealers an answer right away, since we’d only been to two lots.

Ok, maybe I had a car-crush too.

When my boyfriend later found the Pathfinder in another lot, in much better working order and at about the same price, he told me he was glad he heard my voice in his head, my words from a previous day, “We don’t necessarily have to get a Tacoma.”

Sure, the Pathfinder had a few minor problems. It was missing a driver’s sidemirror, the back bumper was crooked, it needed new shocks, the muffler rattled, but these are all easy fixes. Honestly, I couldn’t believe my boyfriend worked the dealer down to just $4k. That’s a full thousand dollars less than I payed for the Chevy Aveo that I drive, which immediately needed the master cylinder replaced.

I see us having a lot of fun together with this new ride, now that we no longer have to rely on other people when we want to go skiing (for him,) snowboarding (for me,) offroading, and camping in the mountains. Now we have the right vehicle for the job.

Lessons Learned: 

  • Don’t jump for the first vehicle you find, you might find something better.
  • Used does not mean bad. Do you really want to scratch up a new ride anyway?
  • The car comes with an owner’s manual for a reason. Read it.
  • 4-wheel drive. A must. Also a must, appropriate tires.
  • Tools. Make sure you have what you need should your vehicle require basic servicing.
  • A spare tire. Have one. Seriously.
  • Learn to drive a manual. I know I need to.
  • Preventative maintenance checks and services. Inspect your vehicle regularly and before and after every trip.
  • Look out for other vehicles, especially at blind turns and hills.
  • Know where you’re going. Preferably, have a map.
Helpful Sources:

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