Friday, July 15, 2016

Fancy Feast Alcohol Stove Upgrade

The Fancy Feast Alcohol Stove has got to be one of the easiest and low-cost alcohol stove builds out there.  Coming in at a whopping $0.57 out of pocket and taking under 3 minutes to build, it's a stove that every backpacker and camping enthusiast should try.

If you haven't built one yet, I highly recommend that you do for the following reasons:
  1. Low Cost - At under a dollar, the cat food can stove won't break the bank.  Heck, you'd probably spend more on a pack of gum.
  2. Easy to Build - Without going into a long dissertation, there are a ton of alcohol stove builds out there that you need specialized tools and skills to build but not this stove.  It's super simple to build and is very forgiving in terms of the builder's accuracy.
  3. Strength and Stability - The diameter of the can and it's low-to-the-ground profile make it super sturdy and able to hold many times its own weight.  Some manufactured stoves can stand six inches or more off the ground after you've spun them on the fuel canister.  This little gem just won't tip over.
  4. Lightweight - This stove is so light, you won't even know it's in your pack. That means you can carry other stuff like mini speakers, camp lighting or other stuff that will make your backpacking experience even better.
  5. Quiet - Most of us backpack for the little bit of tranquility and peace and quiet we get out on the trail like nowhere else.  The alcohol stove is whisper quiet which means you'll be able to hear that babbling brook, those birds chirping or woodpecker pecking.
Hopefully, I've got you interested in building one for all the reasons above and if nothing else, it's fun.  The stove does have its limitations, but for the low cost and minimal time investment, I'd still recommend that everyone build a few of these stoves if nothing else than for the fun of it.   



Before you begin building, there one small drawback of the standard Fancy Feast Alcohol stove that I've found.

As great as the stove is and as easy as it is to build, I found that one drawback is how finicky it can be to keep the stove lit when you initially put your cook pot on it.

I give my stove about 30 seconds to 'warm up' after I light it.  That added time gives the alcohol a chance to heat up which makes it vaporize more easily and in turn forces the flame to move through the holes in the stove easier.  Even still, I've found that I've got to very slowly set my pot on it to make sure I don't snuff the flame out.  It takes a little timing and technique but after a few attempts, I've got the hang of it.
There is a popular stove modification that I found while poking around on YouTube that solves this issue completely and even makes the stove a bit more efficient.





Tools You Need:
1 - Fancy Feast Cat Food Can
1 - Tomato Paste Can
1 - Length of Carbon Felt 1" wide by approx 7" long
Kitchen Shears or Hacksaw
Paper Hole Punch or Drill





Building the Modified Fancy Feast Cat Food Stove
  1. Instead of drilling or punching holes in the Fancy Feast can, you'll want to leave it just as it is.  Sure, take the top off and wash it out, but other than that, you're done with that part of the stove.
  2. Next, you'll want to grab a tomato paste can and open both ends.  I like using the can openers that don't cut down into the lid but rather score around the edge so you can lift the lid off.  With both lids off, clean the can out completely.
  3. Now, measure the height of your fancy feast can and add 1".  Mine measures 1-7/16" so adding 1" makes it 2-7/16".  Transfer that measurement to the tomato paste can and cut to length.  Heavy duty kitchen shears will do the job as the tin is fairly thin.  And no worries if your measurement is a little off, just make sure your cut leaves the can standing flat.  You'll be resting your pot on this piece so you won't want it lopsided.
  4. Don't worry about leaving a sharp edge where you cut the tomato paste can.  That cut edge will be down inside the fancy feast can so no issues about getting cut.
  5. On that cut edge of the tomato paste can cut 4 identical upside down 'vees'.  Position each one at 12 O'Clock, 3, 6 and 9.  Those four notches will allow the alcohol you pour in the bottom of the can to wick up into the carbon felt.
  6. Finally, just under the top lip of the tomato paste can you'll need to cut a small hole.  I'd suggest a hole no smaller than 3/16" as this hole is necessary for pressure relief.  You'll only need one and it makes no difference where you cut it as long as it's near the top edge.
  7. Before we get started with our carbon felt, a few words on what it is and where to find it:  Carbon felt is otherwise known as soldering blanket and will by far be the most expensive part of the cat food stove modification.  I purchased mine in the plumbing aisle at Home Depot and spent about $15 on it.  Granted, the blanket was about the size of a sheet of paper and will easily make about 10 of these stoves.  It looks like thick black felt [about 1/4" thick] and withstands about 2000 degrees F.  Cool.
  8. Now, cut the carbon felt to a width of 1" and length of approx 7".  You can use those kitchen shears to do that.  Wrap the felt around the bottom of the tomato paste can where the notches are.  You'll find that the 7" length is nearly the perfect length to fit around that bottom circumference.  If it's a little long, trim it off.  If it's a little short, the felt will stretch.  Otherwise, it's not a huge deal if it is a little off.  That won't matter much.
  9. With the felt wrapped around the bottom of the can, fit the tomato paste can into the cat food can.  The layer of felt will make the fit a bit snug.  Take your time and twist the cans to make them slide together more easily.  That snug fit is what you're after.  When the cans bottom out, the felt should be down inside the lip of the cat food can by just an 1/8th of an inch or so.  Perfect.
And that's it, you're done.  Even if that was your first time building an alcohol stove I'd bet it took you under 10 minutes once you had all the parts and pieces together.  That's not a bad time investment.  I've had mine for a few months now and with proper care there should be no reason it doesn't last me for years.

Now for the reason behind our upgrade...  That tomato paste can now acts as an internal pot stand which lifts the cook pot off the stove by about one inch.  And the carbon felt liner acts as the new burning surface for the alcohol giving the flame easy access to all the oxygen it needs to burn freely.  So, there's no more waiting to put your cook pot on the stove once you light it.

So, give this upgrade a try and let me know what you think.

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