Friday, July 27, 2012

Cooking without Electricity: A Number 10 Can Stove

This is the sixth post in the series Cooking without Electricity.  I really enjoy experimenting with different ways to cook without heating up my kitchen.

I have been wanting to make a small stove top with a number 10 can for a while now.  I saw this posted on another blog a few years ago and added it to my emergency binder.  Here is the original post that I saw: Tin Can Stove.

This post is my interpretation of  cooking with a number 10 can and the lessons I learned with this method.

Let's start by making the stove.

Start with a used number 10 can that has been washed.  For the number 10 can, you will need tin snips.  The second can in the picture is a tuna can.  It will hold the heat source. The aluminum foil will be used to control the flame.

Start by making four or five holes in the can for the chimney. A simple, old fashioned can opener works well for this purpose. 

Next, make a 'door' opening for access to the flame.  The directions in the original post said to make two cuts in the can, 3 inches long and 3 1/2 inches apart.  That is what I did.  I broke the tin snips in the first picture (they were really old) so I had to get new ones. Be sure to wear eye protection when cutting metal with the tin snips.

Make the heat source.  Begin by cutting the top of a cardboard box into strips. Use corrugated cardboard and cut across it so the holes show. The strips should be about the same width as the tuna can.

Then, roll the strips tightly, and place in the tuna can.

Melt some paraffin and pour into the tuna can.  The wax is used as a the fuel, the cardboard as the wick.   Please be careful when heating the wax, use a double boiler, follow the safety precautions on the package of wax, and have a fire extinguisher handy.

As an alternative, you can cut some paraffin and melt it on top of the cardboard. Light the cardboard and then place a piece of paraffin on top. Do not do this inside. Use reasonable safety procedures. For example, I lit it on my grill  just for the added safety.

I had a bit of difficulty getting the cardboard to light. But, once it started going the wax melted easily.  I added two pieces of paraffin, the equivalent of one of the bars in the box of wax. 

Be particularly careful with this stage of the project. After I lit the cardboard and melted the wax, I could not blow it out.  I had to get another can that was slightly bigger to cover the lit wax and cardboard in the tuna can. This did smother the flame. One of my key take away's from this was to prepare a simple cover capable of smothering the flame and keep it close to the tuna can.

When ready to cook, gather all the supplies. Notice the cover for the tuna can in the picture? Before beginning to actually cook, you will need to create a damper so you can control the flame.  I used heavy duty aluminum foil. Cut a sheet about 18 x 15 and fold one end at the three inch mark.  Continue folding over until all the foil is used.

Since I wasn't familiar with this method of cooking, I wanted to keep the first trial simple. Toward that end, I decided to just boil water for instant potatoes.  Since I wasn't going to cook directly on the can, I used a can opener to remove the top of the stove. 

I must reiterate the need to use common sense here.  I put this stove on a cookie sheet that was placed on a cinder block.  The block is on my patio.  The block was well away from anything that could catch fire. This type of stove should never be used indoors.  Have a fire extinguisher handy when you light the flame.

I lit the cardboard, and placed a number 10 can on top of it. Then I placed a pan of water on top of the can.  (I soaped the bottom of the pot to make it easier to clean when I was finished.)

In this picture you can see the flame.

 It only took about 2 1/2 minutes for the water to start boiling!

A few lessons I learned in making and using this stove:
  • It was easy to make.  If you have food storage, you will have plenty of number 10 cans and tuna cans. It's not difficult to cut the cans.
  • I was not happy with cardboard and wax as a fuel source.  When I lit the cardboard and added the wax, it smoked quite a bit and had a strong odor.  I am not sure if it was from the tuna can or the wax or a combination of both. The combination of smoke and the odor was quite strong. When I lit it again to heat the water,  I tried to use the damper to control the flame, but the damper didn't help much on the smoke and odor.  Again, I think it was the odor that bothered me the most. 
  • If you want to cook something without anyone else noticing, I don't believe this is the method to use.  Both the smell and the smoke carried well. They would make it difficult to remain discreet.
  • It might be possible to use this method with an alternative fuel source.  In an emergency, I may try it again with Fired Up! or maybe camping fuel in a can.
  • I think think the next time I want to boil water I will use a Kelly Kettle or a Dakota Fire Hole

 I just got a Kelly Kettle so expect a post on that soon! 

Have you ever used this method to cook with?  If you have, I would love to hear your review and lessons learned in the comments!

If you liked this post, you may also like other posts in the Cooking Without Electricity series:


  1. You can also put your pan on the can without cutting the original pan bottom away. It might help with your odor problem. This stove also will generate heat, so I would want to leave the can bottom intact if I were trying to stay warm as well.

    1. Thank you for your suggestions! Lately, I have been thinking about trying again to cook with a number 10 can. I need to slightly modify my approach and try again.

  2. I have used this method of cooking for years while camping. I call it a buddy burner. Never had an odor or smoke problem before. I cook right on the top for hamburgers and hot dogs without using a skillet. It is super light to carry when you are backpacking. Working on making several more for our storage.

    1. Thank you for your comments! I am going to try it again when the weather gets a little warmer. One thing I will do different is get a new tuna fish can!

  3. Use ethanol in the tuna can and it won´t smell


To help eliminate spam on this blog, your comment will be moderated.