Saturday, June 25, 2016

Alcohol Stove Cookoff

I'm having a great time building and experimenting with home made alcohol stoves and today I ran an experiment with two very easy to make and low cost models.

The stove in the front of the photo is made from one cat food style can [Fancy Feast], one Tomato Paste Can [Contadina] and a strip of carbon felt, otherwise know as soldering blanket.

The stove to the rear is another version of the cat food stove but made much more simply.  I refer to it as the 'original'.

I started with the original version because it was so easy to make and so low cost.  I've been cooped up the last few weeks unable to get out on the trail so experimenting with home made alcohol stoves has been really fun.

Although both stove we are relatively easy to make, the Tomato Paste Can and carbon felt version took me about 10 more minutes to make [not a big deal] and I had to invest about $17 on an 8-1/2" x 11" piece of carbon felt.  This model was a serious money upgrade since the original style cat food can stove only set me back a whopping $0.57.

So, was the upgrade worth it?  I put both of these home made alcohol stoves up against one another in a water boil off to see which one would come out on top.  The results certainly surprised me.  Have a look at my video to see what I found out.


I wanted to get a little more scientific than just putting the pot on and setting a timer so I invested in a Chef Alarm Temperature Monitor [$50 from Thermoworks].  It's got a remote temperature sensor and an alarm function which chimes when the probe reaches the desired temp which in this case was 212 F.

For purposes of the experiment, I used the same volume of water, the same cookpot and left the lid off in both cases.  Note: I'm sure the water would have come to a boil faster if the lid were left on but for the purposes of the experiment it wasn't super critical.

To sum up my findings, see the chart below:


This certainly brought back memories from High School Chemistry Lab even if it wasn't quite as controlled.

As you can see, the Carbon Felt stove technically wins although if you watch the video, you'll see that the Original Fancy Feast Stove looks to boil around the 6:50 mark.  If I had been in the field without a temp probe then I would have called them both nearly dead even.

But with all that said, I took away a few really good pieces of data.

  • For starters, both stoves look to put out on average of 23 BTUs per minute. [BTU equals the amount of energy to raise 1 pound of water = 2 cups 1 degree F].  There was a little fluctuation on that [minimum 17, max 31]
  • The Carbon Felt / Tomato Paste modification although a little more costly and a bit more difficult to build, does make a better stove in my opinion.  The Tomato Paste Can Pot Shelf leaves a ring of free area where the alcohol can burn without fear of snuffing the flame out.  With the Original Cat Food Stove you've got to be a little more patient to let the stove bloom first before putting your water on it.
For me, the carbon felt, tomato paste modification was a big success and that one will be my stove of choice moving forward.  Of course, I'll still tinker with some further modifications to see if I can coax a few more BTUs out of the stove.

If you want to see where my experimentations go, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel and give me a thumbs up [I'm on Facebook too].  I'll be running more experiments like this one with different stove models, different fuel types and whatever else I can think of.  And I'll be throwing in some reviews of all the gear I am currently using too.

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