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Stove from can, alcohol and steelwool

  1. Jul 9, 2014 #1
    I saw some video when a man made primitive stove from can, rubbing alcohol and steelwool. He modifed the can and take onto steelwool and rubbing alcohol, made some holes to can and he lighted it.
    However, I have some question. Why he used rubbing alcohol and steelwool? Why steelwool? What chemical reaction is it? Can I use normal technical alcohol, not rubbing alcohol?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 9, 2014 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Last first:
    1. yes - you can use any fuel so log as it is smelly - has fumes.
    2. the idea of the steel wool is to distribute the fumes so you get a good air-fume mix.

    ... did you observe the steel wool being burned up in the process?
    This can happen - steel reacts with oxygen in the air - but it is not important for the operation of the stove.
    The alcohol burns in the air making carbon-dioxide and water - but if the air does not mix well, then you get carbon-monoxide and more soot. Not good.

    I've done it with cotton-wool.
    You can get a slower fuel use by using a more formal wick - but that tends to be cooler.
  4. Jul 10, 2014 #3
    So, why the all ethanol does not burn in a while? Because there is the steel wool? If I light normal ethanol without steel wool, it will burn in a while. Well, how long it will glow approximately? Can I normally cook on it? Can it damage pot?

    Thank you.
  5. Jul 10, 2014 #4

    Simon Bridge

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    I'm not sure I understand your questions.
    You mean why does it take longer than normal to burn - because the steel wool acts like a wick.

    The ethanol will burn quite a bit faster yes.

    ... how long with the ethanol burn for?
    Don't know.

    I don't know how you normally cook - but you can cook food on a spirit stove like that.
    You are restricted by the small size.

    Why not build one and see?
  6. Jul 11, 2014 #5


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    Ethyl alcohol on a wick burns with almost no soot, so is a relatively clean fuel. The flame is almost colourless, so I caution you that it is easy to burn yourself if you experiment in bright daylight because you may not see the extent of the flame. I expect the steel wool is nothing more than an improvised wick; ideally, it does not get consumed.

    I would not expect there to be "multiple" holes in the can where the design uses a wick, but the common tiny camp stove uses no wick and has many holes. Perhaps read more widely with a google search on "homemade alcohol burner".

    You can use denatured alcohol, aka methylated spirits, it is almost pure ethyl alcohol.

    Before the Bunsen Burner, basic lab heating used an alcohol burner with a cotton cord wick. Some still use it, the flame is hot enough to soften glass tubing, though it performed much better with the old soda glass tubing and its lower melting point.
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