Fire - Ethanol potato cooker

I was thinking about my Murray River epic adventure, and thought I might need a small emergency stove for when I find myself in a storm, or otherwise unable to make a fire. The difference between being miserable and content often boils down to a hot meal.

So I thought I'd make a ethanol stove. There are a few on the market, and they work by boiling the ethanol within a small chamber with holes around the top. The ethanol turns to a gas, exits at the holes, and burns like a nice gas stove. Lots of heat, light weight, and perfect for what I need.

There are quite a few examples of home made versions on the net, so after quite a bit of research, I thought I'd have a go.

I failed.

I found it impossible to squeeze two halves of a drink can that were the same diameter over each other.

Stupid physics.

So I thought I'd convert my failed project into a potato cooker.

It looked a little something like this...

I started with a can.

I poked some holes around the near top of it with a drawing pin.

I cut the top off with a box knife.

The best way to do this is to lightly score it, round and around, until you gently wear through.

I didn't do that, and I nearly cut all my fingers off one after the other in a series of ever more lucky near misadventures.


To cut the next bit, I originally set the can upright with the blade held at the correct height by placing it in page 321 of Stephen Hawking's book "God created the integers" which was exciting, because I finally found a use for it.

It didn't work as well as youtube told me it would.

Neither did the box knife without Steven Hawkings' help.

Eventually I used scissors. 

This pic is me cutting the planed base that the top was meant to firmly slide over.

I threw that bit away in the end, and used a potato instead.

I cut a strip from the can, and made a cut first half way through one end, and then half way through the other side of the other end.

Then used the opposing slots to make this inner sleeve.

I also cut a little v in it to allow the flow of fuel.

I sat the inner sleeve inside the outer, top bit with the holes in it.

I sliced a potato top and bottom to make a nice stable base, rested it over the top, and gently pressed it down onto the device until it was firmly stuck in place.

It looked like this and appeared to make a pretty good seal.

I added fuel up to the holes, and lit it.

At first the inner section burns and heats up the fuel between the sleeve and the outer section.

At this stage you just leave it alone for a few seconds until it warms up.

Quite suddenly and with a pleasant pop reminiscent of lighting a gas stove, the fuel turns to steam and the burner ignites at the holes.

Total surprise. 

The thing actually works. 

I quickly found a pot, and put one metric cup (250ml) of cold tap water on the heat.

As soon as you do this it snuffs the centre section, but because the holes are down a bit from the top, they continue on perfectly. 

I had a proper boil at around 5 minutes, and a slight simmer at just shy of four minutes.

Much better than I expected. This was a total success.

The entire project from the time I looked at the soft drink can to the time I could make a cup of tea was around an hour and a half, but most of that was attempting to make it without the potato. I think I could knock one of these up and have water boiled in 10 minutes with nothing but a drawing pin and pair of scissors.

Way cool. Thanks to everyone on the net that did stuff like this and gave me all your tips. My only contribution was the potato.

120 Things in 20 years - Ethanol stove - Potato cooker. Boiling water! Yum!


  1. I force a full can into the top piece of the stove after punching a hole so I can get the top bit back off again.

    The potato is awesome though.

  2. @Jabro do you mean to stretch the bottom most bit of the section with holes in it? If so I tried that and it got stuck. I had to destroy the "cup" section to recover the bit with the holes in it.

  3. Hmmm... @Jabro do mean a FULL can ie full of drink and perhaps as a result bloated up a bit? Or do you mean a complete, but empty can.

    1. Hmmm... didn't post
      @120Things Yep, I use a can full of drink to expand the top bit.

      You can also cut small v's or crimp the edge of the bottom piece to make it fit in

  4. Ok ...full can... that sounds good.

    I tried the cutting v's thing but ended up with a sharp notch that stuck even more then the long flat expanse I was trying to cure.

    Why didn't they teach me this stuff at school/thanks for your input, I really want to make something that doesn't need a potato :)


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