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The Penny Stove

December 11, 2011

Penny stoves reflecting off the table.

If you like to camp, this is for you.  It’s called the Penny Ultralight Alcohol Backpacking Stove, or for short, the Penny Stove.  It’s probably the best stove that money can’t buy.  Well, technically you can buy it, but it’s so cheap to make that it’s practically free.  Besides, it out-performs any of the other stoves you might be able to purchase elsewhere anyway.  Before we get off on that rabbit trail, let me tell you a bit about it.

This past summer I hiked through Yosemite for 5 days.  During that trip I brought with me a camping stove made out of the bottoms of two Mountain Dew cans.  It was largely experimental, and a bit risky, as I had only tested it a few times inside my house, and I had never camped alone before, much less be responsible for important things like meals.  During my 5 day hike, I cooked 7 meals on my Penny Stove.  Here’s the kicker: I only brought ~3 oz. of camping fuel (alcohol).  Even more impressive, my little stove boiled water faster than a Jetboil (the really nifty one with the insulated mug locked into it) and two MSR Pocket Rockets.  Even more impressive, the stove, stand and heat screen (all home made) weigh somewhere around 6 ounces.  Too good to be true?  You’ll have to buy make your own to find out.

How does it work?  Basically, the two can bottoms fit together, one inside of the other.  The inside can has 6 jets drilled around the outer ring, and 4 holes in the center of the cup.  Operation is simple, you pour your stove alcohol into the cup, which will drain down inside the stove (everclear is supposed to work the best, but rubbing alcohol, water remover for your gas tank works, as well as a ton of other alcohol based products).  Then you cover the center holes with a penny (get it?  “penny stove”  We’re making a connection now, right?  Don’t feel bad, I thought it was because it was really cheap at first too.).  The penny seals the fuel cup.  Then you pour a little more into the fuel cup, covering the penny.  Then light it up.

This is my favorite part.  The fuel burning on the outside of the fuel cup heats up the fuel on the inside of the stove.  As the fuel inside heats up, it changes from liquid to vapor.  The vaporized alcohol is forced to escape through the jets around the outer ring (because the ones in the middle are covered by the penny), which are then ignited by the flame in the fuel cup.  This is what forms the beautiful jets.  From here it’s a full-burn for about 6 minutes off of roughly 1/2 oz of alcohol.  These things are amazingly hard to extinguish.  I’ll let you know if I figure out a good way to do that.

To make your own Penny Stove or if nothing else, to marvel at the engineering behind it, you can visit the mad genius who created the Penny Stove’s website at:  It’s sheer brilliance.

Mountain Dew Penny Stove in the light.

Penny Stoves in the table. In the center is one made from a Heineken Keg Can. Unfortunately the Keg Can is believed to be extinct, but if you ever find a few, they make the best stoves.

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