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Make a hobo tin-can portable rocket stove

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If adorably quirky perky BBC gardener Alys Fowler can scavenge veggies to throw in her various garden allotment  campfire contraptions, well then, so can I. My bigger garden is a bit of a walk from the house and sometimes I get a hankering to make a cup of tea or herby stew before I’m done with the day’s tasks. Any excuse for a little live-fire feasting.

So I’ve had it on my mind to create a little portable outdoor garden kitchen get-up lately and then, lo and behold, I run smack dab into Ethel Lynn’s 1917 memoir,  The Adventures of a Woman Hobo. You wouldn’t believe her story. It turns out Ethel is a young physician with a thriving practice in San Francisco when the 1906 earthquake strikes. Her office is destroyed but she and her feller, Dan, wed and travel to Chicago to get funding for his big invention. Well. Another unfortunate strike ensues: the panic of 1907. Stocks plummet, run on banks, nobody funding inventions and they end up living in a “hovel” just about starving. As if things aren’t bad enough, in 1908, Ethel finds out she’s in the incipient (early) stage of tuberculosis and is advised to move back to California post haste. Not to be defeated, (after all, how many female physicians were there in her day), she trades her only remaining prized possession, an opera cloak, for a green tandem bicycle. With a hell of alot more “nerve and grit” than her whiney husband, Dan, she declares they’re riding the bike From Chicago to California. Which they do, with their portable “cooking stove outfit”.  Thanks to google books (link above), we can find out how the story ends while we sip on a bit of thin hobo stew that we’re going to make on our home-made tin can rocket stove. Grab your green tandem bike and let’s go!


This little stove is amazing!! Unlike your boy or girl scout version, you can boil water with a few small sticks, and the stove weighs almost nothing. The super efficient “rocket stove” was designed in the ’80s by a mechanical engineer for the alternative energy education outreach program, Aprovecho. This rocket stove link is a delight. You can buy an inexpensive version for $35 if you dare, and even better is their free pdf booklet on how to make this stove and things like a bread oven from a 55 gallon drum. Plus there’s a nifty video for making a bigger version of this stove.

You’ll need a few things. A gallon can with both top and bottom, a pineapple juice can, two bean-sized cans, tin snips, a hammer and something like a giant nail. And some ashes. And work gloves and maybe even something to protect your eyes. And pliers.

Stick something against the side of the can so it doesn’t get squished when you hammer the nail into the side to start a hole for your tin snips. This is make-do stove making. You’re going to stick one of the bean cans into a hole you’re going to make through both cans, so you need to draw a bean can outline for cutting on each can.


Now, you’ll need to start in the middle hole you banged with your hammer and then cut to the edges of the hole, at which point things fell apart for me. So Wayne stepped in because he writes and sings about old-time ramblers and such and that must count for something … and I’m not an expert hobo chick yet.


You need to fold these flaps under so you can poke your can through. Use pliers and good luck.


Now, both ends of your bean can have been removed and you poke them through both cans just like that. Thank you, Wayne.


Fill the space between the cans with ashes (for insulation).


A can works better.


And now, you need to cover the ashes with tin that you cut from the top of the gallon can like this because this is a tidy hobo stove.


Now one last thing. Take the other bean can and use your tin snips to make it flat with the rims removed. You need to make a shelf like this for your fire. have it go all the way through the can so it sticks out a little into the middle of the juice can. Just wiggle it in so it stays. Cold air gets sucked into the juice can from below the fire shelf making a combustion chamber somehow.


Ok, just one more thing. You need to make some vent holes, which I also have not yet perfected. I made them in the middle can like this. Now assemble some dry sticks, little ones. Waxed paper is a great fire starter. Put your stove on a fireproof surface, not an antique wooden porch. Lay your fire on the shelf and light it.


In exactly 5 minutes, you will boil water enough to make you a cup of tea with about 4 or 5 sticks! Up next is the tin-can rocket stove garden “cooking outfit” supplies post a la Dr. Ethel, lady hobo.

And, in case you’d prefer to make your stove in the company of others, well then, Wayne and I will be teaching a Hobo tin-can portable rocket stove class on Tuesday, June 11th from 5:30 til dark. We’ll make our stoves and then collect veggies from my gardens which we will COOK on our little stoves. Outside, picnic style. And I will learn how to crimp in the edges of the stove holes by then!


PS Folks have written in asking for more details about the shelf where you build the fire. Here’s a photo from the top down (of my now well-used little stove).


What you do is to cut the top and bottom off your second bean/soup/etc. can. Now you’ll tin-snip a line down the middle, from top to bottom of your cylinder, forming a rectangle. Scootch that into your little can so that it forms a shelf with air flow possible below and a place for your fire materials on the shelf. This little slice of tin will poke out into the middle of the large can and your tender will sort of just hang in the middle and burn like crazy if the draft is right. It’s all good. That’s where a little make-do fiddling around comes in.


*(Story by Barbara via http://logcabincooking.com/hobo-tin-can-portable-rocket-stove-class/)