Don Johnston's High Performance Alcohol Stove
(AKA Photon stove)
Last updated 12-4-2001

Performance:
This stove out performs the Esbit in boil time and is equal in weight of fuel required to boil 16 oz of water. Virtually no soot and no odor other than alcohol fumes while you are filling the stove. If you include the preheat time this stove is about as fast as a MSR Wisperlight at boiling 16 oz of water. An optional simmer ring is now included.
Click here for the printable users guide and detailed weight and performance information.

15 Second MPEG Videos:
Video of lighting the stove   (I had 15 seconds you have all the time you need)
Video of using Simmer Ring
Video of Simmering

CONSTRUCTION:

Follow these instructions exactly. If you make changes or adaptations even in the smallest way you will probably alter the stoves performance. Best results will be obtained by using the exact materials specified. The size of needle you use is critical. There are three designs for the filler hole that you can choose from. Click here for help in choosing which filler hole design is best for you. The heavy-duty filler hole design as shown in the pictures shows the option for attaching the filler hole screw to the stove with a chain but you can also use this design without the chain attachment.

Materials:

Additional Materials for Light Duty Filler hole design: Additional Materials for Standard Filler hole design: Additional Materials for Heavy-Duty filler hole design:         If you want to attach the thumb screw to the stove with a chain you also need: Tools:
  • 1.5 tall can or other object - a 6 oz tuna can works
  • Utility knife blade or other device to use for scribing a line
  • Metal snips
  • Paper punch
  • Rough sandpaper or emery paper
  • Hammer
  • Smallest hand sewing needle - "Coats" brand "Betweens/Quilting" sz .9 qty 20 all the same size. Obtained from Wal-Mart or other source.
  • The size of the needle is very important because using a larger needle reduces efficiency.  The port size made by the Coats needle is between .024 and .025.  The most certain way to get the correct port size is to drill the holes. You can drill the holes with a pin vise or Dremel tool and a .024 drill bit. You can find these numbered drill bits at hobby stores and some home centers. I don't know what needles from other manufacturers might be comparable so you will have to experiment on your own.

    Tool needed specifically for the Light Duty filler hole option:

    Tool needed specifically for the Standard filler hole option: Tool needed specifically for the Heavy-Duty filler hole option:
  • Threaded Insert Riveter  $12.99 ITEM 1210-1VGA at http://www.harborfreight.com  (Don't use the rivets that come with it)
  • 7/32 drill bit
  • #8 -32 Tap and tap handle - used to clean the threads after installing the Rivet Nut
  • Electric drill or drill press
  • Hacksaw and fine tooth blade - for shortening the Rivet Nut
  • BURNER CONSTRUCTION:
    Place the 1.5 tall can or other object on your work surface and hold the Utility knife blade on top so it is 1.5 inches above the surface. Rotate a soda can up against the blade to create a scribe line. Repeat for the second can.

    Use the metal snips to cut the cans along the scribe marks. The object is to cut both cans down to 1 and 1/2 inches tall. Set a side one can to be the bottom of the burner. Now continue construction with the other can which will be the top of the burner.

    Light Duty Filler hole:

    The construction of the light duty filler hole is done after the burner is assembled. Skip to "Burner ports" below.

    Standard Filler hole:

    If you want to use the light duty or heavy-duty filler hole designs skip this paragraph. Drill a 3/16" hole in the center of the bowel shaped depression of one can. This is now the top of the burner. Deburr the hole with a much larger drill bit. Place the aluminum screw into the filler hole and check that it sits in close contact with the top of the can all the way around. If it looks like it isn't sitting evenly or wobbles easily look for a burr or other cause and fix it. Skip to "Burner ports" below.

    Heavy-Duty filler hole option:

    If you do not want to install the heavy-duty filler hole option skip this paragraph. The Rivet Nut sticks down inside the burner a little which slightly reduces the maximum fuel capacity of the burner. To minimize this you should cut off 1/8" of the rivet nut so the total length of the rivet nut before installation is 5/16". Drill a 7/32" hole in the center of the bowel shaped depression of one can. This is now the top of the burner. If you want to attach the filler screw to the burner with a chain, insert the Steel Rivet Nut in the #10 chain connector then insert this assembly into the 7/32" hole in the top of the can. Otherwise just insert the Steel Rivet Nut in the 7/32" hole in the top of the can. Thread the Rivet Nut on to the Threaded Insert Rivet tool but don't crimp it yet. Shortening the Rivet Nut reduced the amount of threads and more than those left are needed during crimping. Thread another rivet nut on the exposed threads of the tool and snug it against the first Rivet Nut with pliers. Now crimp the Rivet Nut permanently in position. Using pliers unthread the second Rivet Nut from the tool then unthread the top of the burner from the tool.  Using a #8 - 32 tap and tap handle, chase the threads inside of the Rivet Nut to ensure they are in good condition.

    Burner ports.
    If you will be using a needle to make the burner ports that is done after the burner is assembled so skip to "Continue construction of the top of the burner" below. To avoid metal shavings in the burner drilled ports need to be constructed now.

    Drill the burner ports as follows.


    The colored lines represent the position and angle of the drill as you make the burner ports.

    Drill 8 holes evenly spaced around the inner base of the raised rim facing up at a 60-degree angle toward the center (Red in the picture). Drill 8 more holes facing as straight up as possible evenly spaced into the raised rim of the top of the inner can and spaced between the 8 holes you already punched (Blue in the picture). Most recently I have angled these holes toward the center also but I am not sure it makes any difference. Drill 4 more holes facing as straight up as possible evenly spaced around and halfway between the raised rim and the outer wall of the can (Violet in the picture). Despite the appearance in the left picture these should be slightly off set from the holes you drilled on the rim. The right picture shows the correct placement for all of the holes. The offset is to provide a clear path for air to get to the inner ring of holes.

    Continue construction of the top of the burner as follows.

    Take the can that will be the top of the burner and cut 8 evenly spaced slits from the rim up the painted side of the can to the point where the paint ends and the can curves to become the bottom. DO NOT cut into the curve. These slits make it possible to place this can inside the other can.

    Using the paper punch, punch one hole in the SIDE WALL at the end of each slit where the paint ends and the bottom curve of the can begins. Punch another hole centered between each slit also near the bottom curve. You should have a total of 16 holes in the side wall near the bottom of the can. These holes provide a path for the fuel heated by the side walls to enter the center of the burner and exit out the ports. They affect the performance and ease of lighting the stove. If your paper punch doesn't reach this far punch the holes as far up as you can.

    Using the emery paper remove the paint from the side wall near the curve between side and bottom of the can. You only need about 1/16 inch of the side wall next to the paper punch holes and bottom curve cleaned of paint. This step is to increase the holding power of the epoxy as stated in its directions. This completes construction of the top of the burner.

    Take the other can that you set aside previously to be the bottom of the burner and roughen the inside wall with emery paper. This step is to increase the holding power of the epoxy as stated in its directions.

    Begin inserting the slit top can inside the bottom can. Carefully and evenly press the inner can down until it bottoms out about 1/4 inch below the rim of the outer can. Yes the rim is supposed to stick up that high and for performance reasons I don't recommend cutting it down.

    Using the wide flat part of the toothpick mix a small amount of epoxy on a sheet of aluminum foil. Use the flat thin side of the same toothpick to apply epoxy into the joint between inner and outer can. Now rotate the toothpick so you can use the wide flat side and run it around the can to smooth out and finish filling the joint. Add more epoxy where necessary to obtain a smooth fill of the seam around the can and about the width of the flat toothpick. Using a finger and the paper towel, clean off the excess epoxy you will have accidentally gotten on the side wall and inner can. Gluing the seam to prevent leakage between cans is an important factor in the performance of the stove.

    Let dry 15 hours.

    Light Duty filler hole option:

     If you are using the standard or Heavy-Duty filler hole option skip this paragraph. Using the sheet metal screw and appropriate screw or nut driver start the sheet metal screw into the center of the depression in the inner can. You do not need to screw it all the way in. This is the fuel-filling hole and you will install and remove this screw by hand.

    Punched Burner Ports:
    If you have already drilled the burner ports skip to "Complete Construction of the Heavy-Duty filler hole" below.


    The colored lines represent the position and angle of the needle as you make the burner ports.

    Using the small sewing needle and hammer make 8 holes evenly spaced around the inner base of the raised rim facing up at a 60-degree angle toward the center (Red in the picture). Hammer 8 more holes facing as straight up as possible evenly spaced into the raised rim of the top of the inner can and spaced between the 8 holes you already punched (Blue in the picture). Most recently I have angled these holes toward the center also but I am not sure it makes any difference.  Hammer 4 more holes facing as straight up as possible evenly spaced around and halfway between the raised rim and the rim of the outer can (Violet in the picture). Despite the appearance in the left picture these should be slightly off set from the holes you drilled on the rim. The right picture shows the correct placement for all of the holes. The offset is to provide a clear path for air to get to the inner ring of holes.

    Complete Constriction of the Heavy-Duty filler hole option: If not using the heavy duty filler hole option skip to Stove Base. Cut 1" of light chain and attach it to the chain fitting on the stove.  Place a #6 chain fitting on the #6 thumb screw. Screw a #6 aluminum nut on the thumb screw and run it up so it holds the chain fitting up at the end of the threads but leaves it loose to rotate freely. Squeeze the aluminum Nut with pliers crimping the nut on the screw to make this permanent. Attach the chain to the chain fitting and squeeze the fittings closed to prevent the chain from coming out.

    Construction of the burner is complete.

    STOVE BASE:

    Use a Large 10 oz Tuna or chicken can that is 4" in diameter. The meat cans have an interior coating which should help prevent rust. Using some sort of 1/2" tall object and the utility knife blade rotate the can up against the blade to create a scribe line. Cut the can down to 1/2" high and dull the edge with a file. It probably doesn't need to be even 1/2" high 1/4" high should work just as well.

    Cut the bottom out of the third soda can. Now trim away the outer portion of the bottom by cutting around the raised rim so you are left with just the concave disk. Mix up a small amount of epoxy. You are going to use this epoxy to glue this disk domed side up in the center of the stove base. Place epoxy all the way around the underside edge of the disk so you will have a complete seal that will keep preheat fuel from getting under the disk.  Now carefully stick the disk in the center of the stove base. Clean off any visible Epoxy.

    POT SUPPORT:

    Use 1/2" Hardware cloth wire mesh. Cut to 2 1/2" X 10" and wrap it around a can to obtain the initial curved shape.

    Carefully open it up so it fits exactly inside of the stove base.

    WIND SCREEN:
    Place the pot you will cook in on the pot support then wrap the MSR wind screen around them to leave about a 1/4 to 1/2" gap all the way around between pot and wind screen. Fold the ends of the windscreen so they can be hooked together to make a secure closure and cut off the excess material. If you need to cut out a place for the pot handle to pass through do that also.

    Now use the paper punch to punch 40 holes all around the bottom of the wind screen with about 1/8" between holes. This is necessary so the burner gets enough air to burn properly.

    SIMMER RING

    The simmer ring is optional. The simmer ring is placed with the rimmed end of the can down on the stove. It should extend to the same height as the pot support so when the pot is on the stove it is touching the top of the simmer ring. The pot closes off the top of the simmer ring when it is in place. The wider the opening in the side of the simmer ring the shorter the simmer and the hotter the stove. These directions describe sizing this opening for the longest possible simmer.

    MATERIALS:


    TOOLS:
    The best tool for construction is a Dremel cutting wheel. It can be used in a drill press, Dremel tool or a drill mounted in a drill press stand. Set the desired height then rotate the work against the cut off wheel to make the cuts. A very fine toothed hack saw blade could probably be substituted but it will be a lot harder to avoid bending the can and get a even height cut.

    CONSTRUCTION:


    Before and after cutting

    Setup the drill press or other tool so the bottom of the cutting wheel is about 1 and 9/16 above the surface. Better slightly too high than too low. Place the can rimmed side down and cut the bottom off of the can so both ends are open and the can ends up about 1 and 9/16 inch high. Lower the cutting wheel to 1/4 inch above the surface. Cut a 2 inch long slot 1/4 inch up from the rimmed end of the can. The two inches is measured as a straight line from one end of the slot to the other ignoring the curve of the can. Just slip the edge of your tape measure in the slot to measure the distance. 1 and 1/4 inches from one side of the slot cut straight down from the cut off end of the can to the slot creating two flaps. Fold back the 1 and 1/4 inch flap to become the handle. Cut off all but the last 1/4 inch of the other flap. The opening should now measure 1 and 3/4 inches. The 1/4 inch flap is to give you a choice of  longest simmer or slightly shorter more reliable simmer. Fold out the last 1/4 inch to obtain the shorter more reliable simmer. A longer simmer can be obtained if you don't fold out this last 1/4 inch but the stove is more likely to go out before all of the fuel is used up especially in wind. You can always extend the slot if you find you need a hotter simmer. Adjust the width of the opening as desired for conditions.

    Optional configurations:


    Rim cut off before construction

    A lighter but less durable ring can be made by cutting off the rim of the can prior to construction. This reduces the weight to 0.1 oz


    Non adjustable simmer ring.

    A non adjustable simmer ring is easier to construct and will be very durable but more subject to variable behavior in wind. Construct it by cutting the bottom off of the can so both ends are open and the remaining can is about 13/16 of an inch high. You can fashion a handle by not cutting all the way around the can and forming a handle out of the attached bottom material by trimming excess material with metal snips.

    STOVE ASSEMBLY:

    Place the pot support in the stove base can and the burner in the center. The windscreen goes around the entire stove assembly.

    Completing your stove system:
    A one ounce plastic bottle with a flip top lid from REI is a handy measuring container for filling the stove and providing an estimate of how much fuel you are putting in. Make sure you squeeze the bottle before you buy it to make sure you are not getting one with a flip top lid that leaks. If you can't find one with a non-leaky flip top lid don't buy it. A lighter alternative is using the bottom from a plastic salt and pepper shaker set from REI which holds 0.6 oz in weight of fuel and weighs 0.1 ounce (REI item number is 601676). This prevents significant over filling of the stove when all you want to boil is 16 oz of cold water. Filling this container twice will boil 32 ounces of cold water. I found it useful to scribe lines on these containers at 0.1 ounce (weight) intervals.


    0.6 oz fuel measuring container created from REI item number 601676 salt and pepper shaker.

    A Red Nalgene Fuel bottle that incorporates a pouring spout is handy for filling your measuring container but you may find a lighter container that works just as well for you. I find that a 16 oz drinking water bottle with a standard screw cap works well for me.

    Do not use any fuel other than Alcohol. Denatured Alcohol is the recommended fuel. Denatured Alcohol is available almost anywhere paint is sold.  This includes Hardware stores, Sears, WalMart, and building supply outfits like Home Depot.  If you are doing a long hike and you want to resupply with fuel along the way there are two other options if you can't find Denatured Alcohol.  I have tested with Everclear brand grain alcohol which is 95% Alcohol (190 proof) and the HEET brand of gas-line antifreeze that comes in a yellow container.  Both work fine. Everclear is available in many Liquor stores and possibly bars. HEET and other brands of gas-line antifreeze can be found at some gas stations and many types of stores BUT read the label to be certain it contains Methyl Alcohol as its main ingredient.  Gas-line antifreeze type products are frequently NOT Methyl alcohol and some are Isopropyl alcohol. Avoid Isopropyl alcohol. Read the label and don't buy it if in doubt.  I strongly recommend against use of  any form of  Isopropyl alcohol including Rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol that is 91 % will work if you are desperate but is really sooty so I very strongly recommend you avoid it.  Rubbing alcohol that is 70 % or less is just not worth the mess or operational troubles if you can get it to work at all.

    USERS GUIDE
    Click here for the printable users guide and detailed weight and performance information..

    TUNING

    If your stove is not getting 16 oz of 50 degree water to boil in about 4:45 seconds you can tune the stove slightly to make it boil faster. The outer 4 ports can be angled toward the raised outside walls. This heats the walls more causing the fuel to be vaporized at a faster rate. Use the needle or drill bit to angle the port out ward toward the side wall. Do this carefully so you do not enlarge the ports.

    Credits:
    Most of the ideas incorporated in the design of this stove are not original. I used many of the ideas in Thomas Tveit Rosenlund's stove and incorporated them into the soda can stove design.  These stoves and more were all linked on Ron "Fallingwater" Moak's Kiss Stove page. The idea of using a hand-sewing needle to make the burner ports I got from Kevin Lane.  My brother David Johnston provided information on many performance issues dealing with fuel mixture, port size, number of ports, and causes of soot.. For suggesting that J-B Weld might meet my needs as a high temperature epoxy Chuck Mohr and Dwayne Kib.  Sealing the stove with epoxy to obtain more control, the paper punch holes in the burner, number of ports and port locations along with refinements into a complete easy to light system were my ideas.

    Disclaimer:
    I do not know of anything unusually dangerous about this design and I have done some out of the norm extreme testing to see if there are any unusual or unexpected dangers. I did not find any and expect this stove to be as safe as other home made alcohol stoves if you follow the directions for construction and operation. That said, if you construct this stove you do so entirely at your own risk. The stove YOU construct is unproved and experimental and I strongly recommend you test your stove in a safe test environment taking all precautions to protect life and property should something-go wrong. You should wear safety clothing and glasses. This stove can generate some internal pressure. I did a test on mine in which I filled the burner with fuel and used an extremely large amount of preheat fuel to simulate the most extreme overheat conditions I could. The burner shot very long burner flames and alcohol vapor was exiting the stove at a faster velocity than it could burn causing the flame to lift off the ports. Nothing failed and no damage but clearly there was more internal pressure than appropriate. Once the preheat fuel was exhausted the stove calmed down to normal.

    Copyright © 2000-2001 Donald H. Johnston

    E-mail d.h.j@home.com