Alcohol Stoves and Getting Consistent Burns

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SGT Rock
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Re: Alcohol Stoves and Getting Consistent Burns

#16

Post by SGT Rock » Fri Oct 02, 2015 1:09 pm

Some of you may or may not know that before I became hammock obsessed I was stove obsessed and kind of famous for my anal retentive stove testing of alcohol stoves. So let me share what I learned over hundreds of stove tests with various designs.

Stove building is the best gateway drug for DIY gear. IT costs practically nothing, doesn't require special gear, and anyone can make a stove. Once you have built a stove and used it successfully in the woods for a few nights it as a great confidence builder. And since it is so cheap and easy, it lends itself well to the build, experiment, improve cycle. And this leads to my next thought...

Not everyone is looking for the same thing in a stove, this is why there are so many designs of stoves. But this also highlights the limitations of alcohol stoves: specialization. A canister stove can tune down to barely burning so that you can get the maximum fuel efficiency, you can open that sucker up wide open and boil water in 2 minutes, or you can do it somewhere in between and simmer for the specific meal. So what you will see is a stove (like my ion) that is designed to get maximum fuel efficiency but will never be the 4 minute boil stove. You will see stoves that have well designed hoods to simmer, and you will see the atomic fireball stoves designed to win boil contests. I once had a woman tell me that her stove could beat me in a boil-off but couldn't understand that this is not what I build my stoves to do. I build my stoves for efficiency.

So lets talk efficiency. I now consider this as the prime consideration in any backpacking gear - or more appropriately your kit. Often people talk about their cooking system and I think this is a very appropriate way of thinking about any item of gear but for now we will talk about stoves and cooking. So what is "efficiency"? I think we all know what it is, but many of us wouldn't agree if we tried to define it and this is where your style comes into the mix. Many people I know consider speed=efficiency. I consider it a by-product of microwave technology and consider the Jetboil the microwave oven of backpacking stoves and with our modern "Want it now" culture this is more what makes it popular than anything else about the stove system. Yes it is fuel efficient and yes it is a complete system you can buy without having to analyze each piece of the kit.

So lets say you consider speed=efficiency you probably ought to use a Jetboil LOL. But you want to go alcohol so what stove is right? In my experience you want to go with some sort of open burner design like a Cat Can Stove. What are the compromises with this style of stoves? It will use more fuel, it may leave burn rings where ever you go, and you may have a fairly larger and heavier (comparatively) stove than you would carry if you went with something less of a blow torch.

So lets say you want to be able to have variable cooking heat, the stove you probably want is a soda can stove with some sort of hood that allows you to change the amount of burners open to the air. With this stove you will have more moving parts and it is a slightly more complicated stove than others.

Finally we have the end of the spectrum I exist on. I want fuel efficiency and weight efficiency over anything else. My stove with windscreen weighs 0.62 ounces, and my fuel bottle only carries 8 ounces of fuel but will last me 8 days on the trail eating two hot meals a day. But it is slow, way slow compared to other stoves. I figure if I was in a hurry I wouldn't be walking in the first place. I think it is like comparing a dragster to a Ford Fiesta, the Fiesta is not glamorous or fast, but it is small and fuel efficient. I won't try to sell everyone on why my definition of efficency is the best. But if you are interested in how I achieve this I'd be happy to go into hours of details about the intricacies of stove tweaking LOL.

So once you define your idea of efficiency you need to play with stoves that are in the band of designs that you want in your stove. Step one is build one, super simple. Step two is sit out on the porch and play with it. Step three is redesign and tweak.

Step one: pick your stove. Try not to pick something too complicated to start with. Don't expect your first build to go right. Be prepared to throw it away and do it again. If you are one of those people that looks are important to, then wait until you have made it through the process a few times until you start painting, polishing, or posting.

Step two: Start with simple boiling. Get to know one thing: how much fuel (and time) it takes to boil 16 ounces of water in the pot you use on the trail. It is just a standard to test against, it may actually not ever figure into what you actually need to do on the trail. Here is where you get into the performance the thread is talking about. To truly get a stove that will perform reliably you need to control as many variables as you possibly can when on the trail. What I found on my first stove (a cat can stove) is it would boil water fast and with only a 0.5 ounces of fuel while sitting in my kitchen at room temperature, but sitting on a fire tower on the AT with the wind blowing at 60F it took me 1 ounce of fuel and I barely got a boil out of it. It took me a bunch of boils to learn how much windscreen design matters on your boils. It also takes a while to learn how your stove may perform at a given temperature or with other variables that can impact the performance. Maybe what I am trying to get at is you can only control so many variables, but what you eventually learn when you work with one stove with the same pot every time is to anticipate what the local conditions will do to your next boil.

Step three: when you learn that your stove is wasting fuel, then you want to tune it down and that may require less burner holes. You may think it is too slow and that may mean more burner holes. You may find only a slight breeze totally screws up the burn so you need to work on the windscreen. You may find that you are making gobs of flames and not much affecting your pot, then maybe your pot stand is too high. If you find your pot never seems to get to a boil with a proven design, then your pot may actually be the problem.

Anyhow, I've only scratched the surface. The best advice is to use, use, use, and don't be surprised if your definition of efficiency changes over time.


No Sniveling!

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TXyakr
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Re: Alcohol Stoves and Getting Consistent Burns

#17

Post by TXyakr » Mon Oct 26, 2015 8:50 am

Efficiency is the most important thing to me in a tiny backpacking stove especially alcohol where the fuel is bulky compared to canister for longer trips or more people/meals per stove. Trangia design seems to be fairly efficient possibility due to the copper/brass but this makes it heavier and over a long time the lid may corrode but cheap to replace. I like to take a small wood burning stove use that as part of wind screen and use twigs or small dry branches to cook if there is no burn ban and I can do so safely and not waste a lot of time. Save synthetic fuel for rainy days. Never know when trip may be unintentionally extended due to a washed out trail or wildfire etc.

scgobbler
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Re: Alcohol Stoves and Getting Consistent Burns

#18

Post by scgobbler » Tue Oct 27, 2015 1:48 pm

Wow Sgt Rock, that was awesome!

And you are so right that it's the gateway drug to DIY.

I played with fancy feast first and I don't like the weight. It's too lite for me. I did the 3 oz can under a holed out 5 oz. can wit another on top of that as a pot stand with a simmer cover. The windscreen caught the breeze, blew the pot stand off exposing the flame. Flame blew up and then out and all of the Boy Scouts looked at me like an idiot.

Settled on a cat food can stove with a steel can chimney with fiberglass wicking between the inner and outer cans. Seems to work much better for me.

Practice definitely makes perfect on DIY alcohol stoves.


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Re: Alcohol Stoves and Getting Consistent Burns

#19

Post by DuxDawg » Tue Oct 27, 2015 6:45 pm

@scgobbler - Most people call the cat food can with a wick (usually carbon felt) and a steel tomato paste can as the pot support (doesn't act as a chimney) a Fancy Feast stove. Some call it a Fancee Feest because Zelph sells them under that name to avoid copyright issues with the cat food company. Wick stoves offer many advantages over jet stoves.

A cat food can with holes punched in it and without any other cans is usually called a SuperCat stove. 

Don't feel bad, even Andrew Skurka got the names mixed up. 
http://andrewskurka.com/2011/how-to-mak ... hol-stove/

Hiram Cook has a ton of vids on a wide range of alcohol stoves and does the best controlled experiments with them on all of YouTube. Really enjoy how he runs labs and forwards all the data for our purview. 

One of Hiram's many Fancy Feast vids. Includes build instructions for the "standard" Fancy Feast stove.  
https://youtu.be/p2fPIvyme9I

Hiram's upsized Fancy Feast stove with build instructions. IIRC the can most people are using for the pot support is a small mandarin orange can. 
https://youtu.be/e65bThaXcps

Hiram's Fancy Feast playlist: 
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=P ... zetvs0o_ft

Of course being a hammocking forum, how could I leave out Shug's review of the Zelph simmer ring for the Fancee Feest stove?? 
https://youtu.be/_Qbu4Aw45ow

Happy Trails!! 
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" Philippians 4:4 NASB
"The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:9 NASB

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