(Yep! It’s Yet Another Article + Video About The Iconic ‘Pop-Can Stove’!)
Since I first learned about backpackers making lightweight cooking stoves out of aluminum cans, I was hooked. And probably like other “stovies,” the one that really caught my attention was the “Pepsi Can Stove.”
No doubt the appeal is that it’s not only ridiculously cool to be able to fit together a couple of recycled cans that way, but because the end result is so compact, lightweight, and burns exactly like the burner on your home stovetop!
While not one of the simplest alcohol stoves to assemble — that honor will go to simpler open-flame stoves and the “SuperCat” Cat Food Can side-burning style — it’s also not one of the most complicated. Depending on which one of the several-dozen methods you choose, it’s possible to have one made in 20-30 minutes.
In fact, this video could have been a lot shorter had I chosen the popular and dependable “crimping” method to fit the two halves together.
But I was interested to try a few methods I’d seen in videos that allowed you to very elegantly fit the two sides together perfectly, one inside the other, without any glue/epoxy and avoiding the slightly tedious task of crimping one of the halves neatly all the way around the sides so that it could fit into the other half. In the end, I eventually succeeded, but it took some experimenting with different fitting methods to make it work.
Conceptually, it’s pretty easy to make and use a “Pop Can Stove.”
- Cut the bottoms off of two aluminum cans (about 3/4″)
- Drill a small hole in the center of the “top” for refilling with alcohol
- Fit them together tightly
- Make tiny holes around the upper ledge
Lighting It Up:
- Fill with alcohol and plug the fill-hole firmly (ex. a screw or “penny”)
- Prime the can by dripping extra fuel onto the top and bottom (using a priming pan or wick) and light the priming fuel
- Once the can is hot enough to boil the alcohol inside, the side burners will light themselves, and it will behave like a familiar stove burner.
From a birds-eye perspective, it’s not too complex. But each of those steps has quite a few variations you could experiment with.
Cutting the Cans Apart:
- Fastest – Just use scissors
- Neatest – Score a line around the can with a razor blade and you can rip the cans apart with a perfectly smooth line.
Making the Fuel Hole:
- Simple and Secure – Drill a 1/16″ hole and put a removable screw in it. (It’s important to have a secure plug. An open hole can turn into an explosive hazard.)
- Elegant – Drill a few tiny holes and put a penny on top. It works like a pressure relief. But don’t let it get bumped and fall off.
- Mysterious – No “fuel hole”! Insert fuel through the burner jet holes using a syringe.
Fitting The Cans Together:
- Dependable – Crimp one neatly all the way around so it’s like a cupcake wrapper, and insert it into the other, securing it with J.B. Weld.
- Elegant – Freeze one and heat the other, then (try to) fit them together.
- Elegant #2 – Enlarge one by flaring out the edge just enough to slip the other inside
- Alternative – The top can may be inverted, as in many varieties of what’s commonly known as the “beer can stove”, particularly the one popularized with old-style Heineken cans.
Making The Burner Holes:
- Easy – Poke holes around the top with a push-pin
- Precision – Drill tiny holes around the top in a mathematical pattern using a micro-bit.
Priming The Can:
- Easy – Put a primer pan under it, ex. foil, brick, tuna can, etc.
- Elegant – Wrap with fiberglass wicking, prime and light the wicking.
- Many stove-makers like to add wicking material inside the can. It helps to speed up priming and regulate the burn to better conserve alcohol fuel. Besides ordinary wall fiberglass, a popular one is perlite.
- You’ll generally need a pot stand for these types of alcohol stoves.
Once you get into trying different combinations, you likely discover that especially with certain designs, there are actually important engineering principles at work.
- The volume of the burner needs to be appropriate for the combined size of the burner holes to create the required pressure.
- The precise size, location, and pattern of the burner holes can have a dramatic effect on the quality of the burn.
- The exact shape of the can’s ridge and center bowl can influence how well it works to a surprising degree.
Alcohol stoves run on any number of varieties of alcohol.
- Ethanol – Grain alcohol. Everclear. Moonshine. (Don’t get it from the gas station. The gasoline mix is too explosive for your little stove.)
- Methanol – Poisonous to drink. Found in the automotive section as HEET anti-freeze in the yellow bottle, and paint section in some paint thinners. You might also be able to find it as “racing fuel.”
- Denatured Alcohol – Ethanol mixed with methanol to make it undrinkable. Typically found in the paint section of the hardware store.
- Isopropyl Alcohol – Rubbing alcohol is diluted isopropanol. You can find more concentrated stuff in the automotive section as Iso-HEET in the red bottle, but even this is more of a last resort, because there’s usually too much water in these mixes.
Want More Info?
You can find a ton of info about Alcohol and other stoves at Zen Stoves