Going Down in Flames

How not to make your own camp stove

The greatest Christmas present I've ever received was a box of timber off-cuts. I was six and seeing my love for hammering bits of wood together, my uncle found an easy way to get rid of his discarded lumber. Since then I've been obsessed with DIY, making things out of junk that most people wouldn't bother with, things that could easily be bought at Mitre 10.

Attempt 1

On a recent tramp I found myself with several empty beer cans and a pocket knife. Deciding I had enough to build myself a "soda can" camp stove I got started. Some say this stove is better, or at least as good, as a conventional gas powered camp stove and preferred by long distance hikers who can take the exact amount of fuel they need in a light plastic bottle. This sounded like a no brainer.

I began punching holes in the can with the corkscrew. So far so good. A series of holes in a circle on the lip and I ended up with something that resembled the ones I'd seen online. Using the knife to neatly cut through the side of the can proved more difficult, like sawing, well, a can with a pocketknife. I gave up, deciding instead to drink more of the beer.

Attempt 2

At home, armed with a pair of scissors I progressed to the next step – sliding the two halves together. This proved to be extremely difficult, even after gently bending the outer skin with a slightly larger object, they just wouldn't go together. I ended up buckling the inside can and splitting the outside one. All the DIY instructions said it took a bit of practice and they weren't lying.

Attempt 3

Then I found out about the cat food stove, a simpler, fool-proof version of the soda can stove. Construction so easy one guy even suggested it as an afternoon project for children. Surely I couldn't fail this time.

I found a can of single serve tuna in place of the cat food and set to work eating the fish. Once the can was empty I gave it a wash and not having the fancy hole punch like in the instructions I tried a drill to make the jet holes. It scrabbled at the surface but failed to make a dent. The next day at work, the office hole-punch did the trick. The holes were uneven but overall it didn't look too bad.

That night I tried it out on the patio. The methylated spirits caught alight with no problems and I waited for it to heat up a bit. When I added the pot to the top it struggled to push flames through the jets and at one point it even went out completely. A failure. Even at child's play.

I still have a box of wood off-cuts under my house. One day I will make something useful out of it. I don't know what exactly but it will be something. It takes time for genius to work. Most of the ideas will go down in flames of course, aborted on the workshop floor. And there will be mistakes, swearing and moments of despair. But then, like all six-year-olds on Christmas morning know, it's about the possibility.