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How to Make a Beer Can Camp Stove

A skill that every self-reliant camper should know.

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They say fire sets humans apart from animals. Well so does beer. It’s generally advisable, however, to keep the two apart: (fire x beer)2 usually equals a news story. But in the wild, some rules don’t apply. The backcountry insists on a little know-how, bit of elbow grease, and sometimes stretching the rules. A good camper is self-reliant and packs the skill set necessary to do cool shit when cool shit’s called for — like making stoves out of cans. Here’s how.

What You’ll Need
One empty can of beer or soda, denatured alcohol, one fire-starter (matches, or a lighter), one pocket knife. Optional: scissors

1 Empty the can (you know how). Cut around the inside rim to remove the lid. (Tip: the lid is made of a stronger alloy and easiest to remove closest to the rim.)

2 Cut can in half horizontally. It’s likely that this cut will fray the aluminum on the ends. Use scissors to clean this up, also trimming the length of the vertical sides so that the top half is slightly taller than the bottom.

3 Shape the combustion chambers. With a knife, dent a vertical groove along the side of the upper half only, stopping where the can begins to taper (don’t cut the aluminum). Repeat this step around the can, creating striations evenly spaced a finger’s width apart. When you assemble the stove, these grooves will create combustion chambers that fill up with vapor from the burning spirit, shaping the flame.

4 Assemble the stove. Tuck the upper half inside the base right-side up. Before filling, puncture a hole inside the tapered neck of the can below the rim.

5 Fill up the stove and ignite the fuel. Fill the can’s central cavity with a spirit like denatured alcohol. To ignite, simply introduce flame from a lighter or match to the liquid.

6 Cook away. Cookware can be placed directly on top of the burning stove. When done, extinguish the flame by smothering with an upside down cup or bowl – the oxygen around the flame will quickly die out. Any leftover spirit can simply be poured back into the container it was purchased with.

Hobo Science

1. By far the cleanest alcohol is denatured alcohol with a high ethanol content (close to 90%). A good brand to look for is Sunnyside. If unsure about the brand your local hardware store carries, look up its MSDS chart online.
2. Methanol based fuel, such as with brands like HEET, burns hotter and is sometimes favored because of this. It’s not recommended in the long term because of toxic emissions as seen with the soot build up on pots and pans after using.
3. Everclear will burn cleanly in a stove. But not only is this an expensive option, this type of alcohol is illegal in many parts of the world — an important reminder should you plan to travel far and wide with it.

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