By Darryl Alder
Feb 09, 2015

Buddy Burner—a Scout’s First Stove

buddy burnerHow to make a Buddy Burner and Hobo Stove

√ Flat tuna, pet food or pineapple can
√ Plain corrugated cardboard (not printed with bright inks or coated with wax or plastic)
√ Candle wax or paraffin
√ Wire coat hanger
√ Wire cutters
√ Nail and Hamer
√ #10 gallon can (the large institutional size; most school kitchens and restaurants have many of these)

(See a previous article for an Amazing Mother’s Day Activity with buddy burners.)

Making the Buddy Burner:
Cut the cardboard in strips in a width which is the height of the tuna can—across the corrugations, so that the holes show. Roll the strips until the cardboard roll fits snugly into the tuna can.

cardboard for burnerMelt the wax. It is best to use a double boiler, as if the wax gets too hot, it can burst into flame. You can improvise a double boiler by putting water in a large pan, and then setting a smaller pan into the water. Each tuna can will take about 4 ounces of wax. When the wax is melted, slowly pour it into the buddy burner so that it runs down into the holes and saturates the corrugated cardboard and fill the can to the rim.

You can put a small piece of cardboard sticking up or a candle wick in the middle to help start it, but this isn’t required. Let it cool and harden.

Make a damper:
damperEasiest way to make a damper is with the lid from tuna can you used for the buddy burner. Cut the horizontal bar from the coat hanger. Punch two holes into the lid and work the hanger into the holes, bending each into place with the wire cutters (or pliers).

Then position the damper over the burner can, sliding it forward or backward, to expose more or less flame. By controlling the fire this way, you can have low, medium, or high heat. (Obviously, covering the entire top of the burner will cut off all oxygen, and extinguish the flame.)

Another way to make a damper is to fold a length of aluminum foil three or four times, fashioning a sheet about 1 1/2 times the diameter of the -buddy burner. Use this foil cover to adjust the flame just as you would with the can lid damper.

Making the Stove:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA First, cut out one end of the #10 can. Then cut a door about three inches high and four inches wide on a side of the can at the open end, leaving the top of the door attached. Pull the door open.

Slide the cutout lid into the can, setting it firmly against the closed end. (The following procedure will hold it there permanently, and the double thickness of metal will conduct the heat more efficiently). At the top of the stove (the closed end of the can) punch four smoke holes around the side with a punch-type can opener. The metal from the holes will hold the extra lid in place.

Your stove is now complete. You will cook on the top of the can, either directly on it or by placing a pan on top of it, with the Buddy Burner underneath for the heat source.You can also use the Hobo Stove without the Buddy Burner, using charcoal or a wood fire for the heat source.

Set the Buddy Burner on a brick or concrete block (these get VERY HOT, so make sure you place them on something heat-proof). Put a lighted match in the middle of the can (or light the wick if it has one). The flame will spread across the top of the can; that’s what it’s supposed to do. It is also helpful to turn the can on the side so that the flame of your match can spread across the cardboard more easily.

Once lit, place the Hobo Stove over the Buddy Burner with the open end down. You can place a pan with whatever you want to cook on top of the Hobo Stove or you can cook directly on top of it. If you need to regulate the flame, you can use a piece of aluminum foil (several thicknesses folded and slightly larger than the Buddy Burner) and place it partially over the flame in the can. To extinguish the flame, place the foil over the entire top of the can. (Personally I hang on to the tuna can lid and work a coat hanger into two holes for my damper and heat control)

Lit Buddy Burner Stove and Oven 350 Tall 100_3687

A second #10 can on top of the stove acts as an oven

Your stove is now complete and you’re ready to cook.

Foods. Eggs in a basket, bacon, hamburgers, taco meat, and the like are a few of the foods that can be prepared when you use the tin can stove like a frying pan.

The stove can also be used as an oven, to bake items that require a short cooking time, such as a small cake or cookies.

Frying. Light the buddy burner and place the tin-can stove over it. The stove will be ready to use in seconds. Through the doorway, adjust the damper over the buddy burner to create the desired heat. The stove works fine for cooking hamburgers or pancakes.

Baking. If you need to bake something, you can use tuna cans as little pans.Place three small, 1/2-inch high rocks in a triangular formation on the stove. Place the food to be baked in the tuna cans, place on top of the Hobo Stove and place another #10 can over that to form an “oven”. Anything you would bake in a regular oven can be baked this way (if it is small enough). For example, place  enough dough for one cookie or a tuna can almost filled with cake batter for an individual desert.

To “close” the oven, cover the food with another can (like a coffee can). The covering can should be large enough to permit at least 1/2-inch of open space around the food, so hot air can circulate. This position keeps the food above the stove surface, preventing burning and allowing hot air to circulate completely around the food during baking.

For an oven with a “window” cut off the other end of the cover can. Secure a piece of plastic oven wrap over this end by tying a string around it tightly. around it tightly. After placing it over the food, you can look through the “window” to check on the baking.

Emergency Stove. A tin-can stove will also serve as an excellent emergency cooking device if an emergency causes an electrical or gas failure at home.

You’ll probably want to cook for more than one or two persons at a time, so you need to modify the stove to use a frying pan. To do this, simply cut off the top of the stove. Place the frying pan on top of the open tin-can stove and cook as you normally would.

Before doing so, however, rub the outside bottom of the frying pan with liquid detergent. This will make it easy afterward to clean off any soot from the burner that sticks to the pan bottom.

refueling buddy burnerRefilling the Buddy Burner:
Each Buddy Burner should burn between 1-1/2 to 2 hours without needing to be refilled. They can be used for an indefinite period of time if they are replenished with wax though, because the wax burns at a lower temperature than the cardboard and lengthens the life of the cardboard. To refill the Buddy Burner, place small chunks of wax on top of the corrugation while it is burning.

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Authors: Darryl Alder,  Scouting Magazine and Troop 26 Parkville, Maryland, chartered by St. Ursula Church.

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5 thoughts on “Buddy Burner—a Scout’s First Stove

  1. AvatarDavid West

    From the Guide to Safe Scouting:

    “Prohibited chemical-fueled equipment—Equipment that is handcrafted, homemade, modified, or installed beyond the manufacturer’s stated design limitations or use. Examples include alcohol-burning “can” stoves, smudge pots, improperly installed heaters, and propane burners with their regulators removed.”

    1. Darryl AlderDarryl Alder Post author

      Nice thing about a buddy burner, it can be placed over your campfire, use Sterno or right on top of your camp stove, but if you are wondering, the National Council’s Health and Safety Team Leader, Richard Bourlon wrote this today after reading your comment:

      From: Richard Bourlon
      Sent: Sunday, October 04, 2015 7:02 PM
      To: Darryl Alder
      Subject: Re: What do you think

      Not a chemical / liquid fuel so really the same as sticks.

      Sent from my iPhone

      So maybe it’s okay after all

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  3. AvatarMike

    I have been practicing using this stove and here are some suggestions:

    Use the refill method as the fill method and forget the two pots and stove. I start with at recycled candle and get the cardboard wet and light it. Then I just add the chunks as the article mentions.

    If you cut the cardboard just a little below the top of the can, the fire is easier to snuff out.

    Wrap the top with aluminum foil before cooking. Punch holes in the foil where it drapes over the vent holes.

    Invert the #10 can and put the tuna can on the bottom. Light with a long neck lighter. Put two tent stakes or hanger wire in pre-punched holes an inch or two below the lid. Put a pot or a cup on the stakes and boil water for tea, coffee, soups… It’s the only way to boil. It will get sooty.

    You can also put sticks or charcoal in it. I never use the tin snips, never needed to.

    Good luck and have fun

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