Wood-gassifier stove challenge  Home-made vs fancy unobtanium

Can a stove made from three tin cans and an hour of muttering compete with a hi-tech titanium marvel? There’s more to it than a scale and a stopwatch.

Toaks Titanium Backpacking Wood Burning Stove and a soupcan stove

Different people find different reasons to don sturdy footwear and walk into wild places. For some, it’s the challenge of crushing times and bagging huts, for others, it’s a social occasion, or maybe just a chance to breathe a bit more deeply, and focus intently on the next step. I prefer wood-smoke to white spirit fumes, birdsong to hissing, and taking my own sweet time. Enter the wood-burning stove.

My soupcan stove owes me the price of a pair of tin snips, and three empty cans. Instructions abound on how to make them, but the basic principle is that a small tin— the burning chamber — fits snugly into a larger outer tin. Another small tin sits on top as a pot stand. Most of the air feeding the fire comes up through the bottom of the inner tin. An extra row of air holes in the inner tin feeds fresh warm air to support a secondary burn, just above the fuel.

Both stoves blooming nicely — fresh air from their burn chambers’ upper rows of holes is feeding the secondary burn

The Toaks works on the same principle, but its three sleeves come apart, and fit into one another for packing. Once these stoves are in their happy place, they burn very cleanly. Either side of this, however, and there’s smoke and soot to deal with. Another popular stove with a similar design is the Solo Stove, which is based on the older Bush Buddy.

These wood-gasifier stoves differ from ultra-light wood-burning stoves, in that they use a double ‘sleeve’ to draw in fresh air for a secondary burn. Single-layer stoves from the likes of Emberlit and Vargo elevate the burning chamber, but don’t necessarily support secondary combustion.

The Toaks weighs in at 220g (7.8oz). The homemade, soupcan stove is 139g (4.9oz). Its galvanizing layer has burned away (don’t stand downwind during the first firing), and it’s starting to rust, but has plenty of life in it, yet. A coat of high temperature paint could stabilise it. If I decide to modify it, I can rip in with the tin snips, or simply make another stove. The Toaks is made from titanium, and very sturdy. I won’t be tearing new holes in it any time soon.

For the test, I loaded each stove with 50g of dry wood chips/chunks. Some mountain folk can start a fire using moss and a steely glare, but I am not one of them, so to level the playing field, I gave each stove a small ‘Budget’ brand wood-fibre fire-lighting cube.

50g of fuel each. The Toaks has space for more fuel, and prefers to be well fed, but not completely stuffed.

The fuel needs to be below the level of holes in the burn chamber, but close enough to the holes flames that will re-ignite the smoke and combustible gasses. It’s something of a balancing act. Much like cooking eggs, if you wait until the stove looks like it needs more fuel, you’ve likely waited too long. If a stove does die back to embers, adding fresh fuel and giving it a good blow quickly gets things going again.

Each pot got loaded with 250ml of water — enough to rehydrate a meal, or make a cuppa. The soupcan stove got underway quickly, and was ‘blooming’ nicely within about a minute. The Toaks was about 30 seconds behind.

From an earlier firing. The Toaks isn’t actually glowing, but it is over-full and having too much fun.

At 4:30 mark, both pots were starting to talk. By 6:30, the soupcan stove was just about through its initial load of fuel, but 30 seconds later, both pots had a rolling boil going. By the 10 minute mark, they were both down to a powder of glowing embers. At the 14 minute mark, the soupcan stove was cool enough to be picked up and emptied. The Toaks was two minutes behind — it’s bigger, heavier, and its walls are thicker than the soup tin. By the 20 minute mark, both stoves were able to be packed up.

The Toaks, back in its stuff sack, back in its pot, about to go in another stuff sack. Soot management is a fact of life with wood-burning stoves.

A gas stove will likely be faster and easier to set up, boil, and pack away. A liquid fuel stove takes a bit more time to set up and prime, so ends up taking around the same time in the end. To my mind, the main failing of fossil fuel stoves is that you’re listening to the hiss of a stove, rather than the birdsong.

 

In the video above, the Toaks is too full. The flames appearing outside the pot stand should be burning inside the stove, but there’s not enough oxygen in there for a complete secondary burn. The little hobo stove is crackling away happily. I must sort out a less-flammable pot grabber…

A wood fire is very cheering during the change of the light when the sun is setting, and the bush is getting a bit gloomy. The Department of Conservation website doesn’t specifically mention wood-burning stoves, but I bring something else during fire bans. They aren’t ‘open fires’, but there’s still sparks and embers.

If you feed these stoves wet wood, you will struggle, there will be smoke, there will be frustration, and maybe some ‘understanding’ comments from those parked next to their JetBoils and MSRs. Use dry fuel, and all is merry. The weight you save not bringing fuel can go towards a handy, multi-purpose hatchet, like a chisel-edge Silky Nata.

If you’re not relying on huts, and can afford the time to sit and poke at flames, a wood burning stove is a fun addition to your collection. The Toaks is quite ‘tall’, and its burning chamber is very close to the ground, but on a clear, solid surface (i.e. an appropriate cooking surface), I’ve found it works very well. The soupcan stove was a fun and successful experiment. It was satisfying to build it, and it’s been on a few trips with me. Having inspired me to get the Toaks, it’s the Toaks that usually comes along.

Wilderlife