Rocket stoves are an interesting, if often overlooked, method for cooking or for generating heat. Designed to use biomass that might otherwise be wasted, such as wood, twigs, or other agricultural byproducts, they are remarkably efficient and perform relatively complete combustion due to their design, meaning that there are fewer air quality issues caused when using these stoves than other methods. When integrated with a little bit of plumbing, they can also be used to provide a large amount of hot water to something like an off-grid home as well.
[Little Aussie Rockets] starts off the build by fabricating the feed point for the fuel out of steel, and attaching it to a chimney section. This is the fundamental part of a rocket stove, which sucks air in past the fuel, burns it, and exhausts it up the chimney. A few sections of pipe are welded into the chimney section to heat the water as it passes through, and then an enclosure is made for the stove to provide insulation and improve its efficiency. The rocket stove was able to effortlessly heat 80 liters of water to 70°C in a little over an hour using a few scraps of wood.
Sitting around a campfire or fireplace is an aesthetically pleasing experience in most situations, and can even provide some warmth. But unless you have a modern wood-burning appliance, it’s likely that most of the energy available in the biomass is escaping as un-burned vapors. Surprisingly, solving this problem is almost as easy as buying a can of beans at the store, and the result is a very efficient stove which can be used for heat in a pinch.
[Robert] is demonstrating this gasifier stove, not with beans but using both a can of peas and a larger can of potatoes. Various holes are drilled in each can in a specific pattern, and then the smaller pea can is fitted inside the larger potato can. Once a fire is going, the holes allow for air to flow in a way which traps the escaping un-burned vapors from the fuel and burns them as they flow through the contraption. No moving parts are required; this is all powered by the natural airflow that’s produced by the heat of the fire.
The result of a build like this is not only a stove which can extract a much higher percentage of the available fuel, but also quires much less fuel for a given amount of heat, and produces a much cleaner, less smokey fire. [Robert] also added a screen mantle which allows for this to be used more as a heat source, but similar builds can also be used just as effectively for cooking, too.
Let’s face it, times are hard, and winter is imminent in the northern hemisphere. No matter how much you have to your name, there’s nothing like a cup of hot tea or a warm meal on a cold day. So if you need a snow day activity, consider preparing for whatever may come to pass by building yourself a complete hobo stove system out of empty cans.
[ElectroIntellect]’s stove consists of a 20oz can turned upside down with several holes made in the bottom for heat to rise. The smaller cans are used for cooking pots, and the smallest as a cup. The stove itself is meant to run on flaming twigs stuffed into the base, or a couple of tealight candles if you can only find green wood around.
This comprehensive guide covers everything from building the system to packing it up safely and taking it out to cook in the concrete wilderness. As a special bonus, [ElectroIntellect] brews up some hobo coffee on the stove using an old (clean) sock, and prepares a can of chili in under an hour with candle power.
Don’t know about you, but we can’t start the day without coffee and a shower. If you were to drag us on some overnight trip into the wilderness, we could probably forego the shower for a day, but we will be a grumpy trail mate without some kind coffee, even instant.
Yes, if you were to get us on an overnight outdoor adventure, we would insist on bringing along a couple of these little disposable, self-destructing rocket stoves, if for no other reason than that we can have some coffee without having to forage for a bunch of firewood and build a whole regular-sized campfire. Don’t worry — we’ll share the water because there’s plenty of time built in. Per [smogdog], these Swedish torches will boil water in 20 minutes and burn for 60 — that’s enough time to make a coffee, a bowl of soup, and toast a single marshmallow before the fire consumes the scrap wood.
We love the use of bike chain as a burner to raise up the pot for fire ventilation. But our favorite bit has to be the dual-purpose packaging. It’s nice-looking, it’s informative, and it’s paper, so you can use it as a fire starter. Failing that, [smogdog] has a backup fire starter system — rubbing alcohol in a small spray bottle. Unwrap a protein bar and check out the demo video after the break.
If you search the web, you will learn that humans began to cook their food with fire a long time ago. Indeed, you might expect that there would be nothing new in the world of flame-based cookery. Fortunately [Bongodrummer] didn’t get that particular memo, because he’s created a rather unusual rocket stove griddle that is capable of cooking a significant quantity of food.
A rocket stove is designed to achieve as efficient use of energy as possible by achieving the most complete burn of high surface area fuel. It features a small combustion area and a chimney with supplementary air feed to ensure that exhaust gasses also burn. This one feeds all those hot gasses directly to the griddle, before taking them away up a pair of flues. As an added bonus there is a dome attachment for a pizza oven, made when a previous project had some left-over building material. Take a look at the comprehensive build video below the break.
Perhaps alarmingly the combustion chamber and chimney are made from a gas cylinder, but the use of a central heating radiator for the griddle is an extremely good idea. A vortex air inlet at the bottom and a secondary air injector further up the chimney complete the unit, making for a worthy replacement for a traditional barbecue.
[Bigelow Brook Farm] has a cool geodesic dome greenhouse that needs to stay warm in the winter. There are a lot of commercial solutions for greenhouse heating, but if you’re the kind of person who research and develops solutions for aquaponics, a greener solution may have more appeal.
A rocket mass heater is a combination of a rocket stove and underfloor heating. A rocket stove works by having such a strong draft created by the heat rising up the chimney that the flames can’t crawl up the fuel and burn in the open air, creating a controlled burn zone. Unfortunately, with just a plain rocket stove a lot of heat is lost to the atmosphere needlessly. You only need enough to create the draft.
The mass part solves this. It runs the exhaust under the floor and through radiators. This passively retains a lot of heat inside the space to be heated. It’s a bit of a trick to balance the system so it puts as much heat into the space as possible without stalling, which can be dangerous due to carbon monoxide, among other things. Once the balance is achieved the user gets a stove that can burn fuel very effectively and best of all passively.
[Bigelow Brook Farms] have been working on their heater for quite some time. We really enjoy their test driven development and iteration. They have really interesting autopsies when a component of the heater fails and needs replacing. Right now they have a commercial sized operation heated by their latest iteration and it’s completely passive, being gravity fed. Video after the break.
In the summer of 1929, it would probably have been hard for the average Joe to imagine the degree to which his life was about to change. In October of that year, the US stock market tumbled, which in concert with myriad economic factors kicked off the Great Depression, a worldwide economic disaster that would send ripples through history to this very day. At its heart, the Depression was about a loss of confidence, manifested in bank failures, foreclosures, unemployment, and extreme austerity. People were thrust into situations for which they were ill-prepared, and if they were going to survive, they needed to adapt and do what they could with what they had on hand. In short, they needed to hack their way out of the Depression.
Social Hacking: Welcome to the Jungle
One reaction to the change in the social contract in the 1930s was increased vagrancy. While homelessness was certainly thrust upon some people by circumstances – in the depth of the Depression in 1933, something like 25% of men were unemployed, after all – life on the road was clearly a choice for millions. A typical story was that of the bored teenage boy, facing no prospects for a job and wishing to relieve his large family of the burden of one more mouth to feed. Hitting the road with a few possessions in his “bindle,” he learned the craft of life on the road from more experienced vagrants. And thus another hobo was created.
The popular image of the hobos as unique to the Depression is a little awry. Economic upheaval certainly swelled their ranks, but in America, hobos had first appeared after the Civil War, with war-weary veterans riding the rails looking for work. By the time the Depression hit, there was an extensive hobo culture in the United States, complete with its own slang and a rough code of ethics.
Hobos were top of the heap in the vagrant hierarchy, the “knights of the road.” They were migrant workers, generally unskilled, willing to stay in one place for a paying job but unwilling to commit to settling down. When the job was done or he had made enough money, he moved on. Tramps were the next step down – wanderers who were willing to work but only when absolutely necessary. Lowest in the pecking order were the bums who stayed put and relied on the kindness of strangers for their survival. Regardless of rank, all the vagrants had one thing in common – the road. More or less constantly on the move, they had to quickly learn how to provide for themselves without the creature comforts, which before the Depression hit had begun to include many modern conveniences.
Cooking arrangements were one thing hobos excelled at, whether on the road or in one of the many hobo camps, or jungles, that sprung up at railroad crossings outside of towns. A campfire in a ring of rocks is the traditional view of outdoor cookery, but the hobos quickly learned that it’s not terribly fuel-efficient. One solution to this problem was the hobo stove, an ancestor of the rocket stove. Relying on convection to draw a huge volume of air into a combustion chamber, hobo stoves were easily fabricated from tin cans and other metal scraps that were easy to come by in a world before recycling and large municipal landfills. Most were assembled on the spot and served for a meal or two before being abandoned, but some actually had insulation between double walls and clever arrangements of the fuel shelf to feed automatically as the fuel burned away. Scraps of wood, pinecones, newspapers and cardboard – a hobo stove will eat almost anything, and burn hot enough that even damp fuel isn’t a problem.
Often finding himself with time on his hands, many a hobo kept himself busy with arts and crafts projects in camp. Making hobo nickels was a popular way to pass the time, and often resulted in a trade item far more valuable than the base value of the starting material. The Indian head figure on the US Buffalo nickels of the day were modified with tools fabricated from old nails and files; metal was pushed around the coin to create features on the figure, usually a bowler hat and facial hair. A ‘bo could trade the miniature bas-relief sculpture for a good meal; today genuine hobo nickels from the Depression era command high prices from collectors.
Radio: Razor Blades and Copper Pipe
Unless the hobo was flopping in town or at a really well-equipped jungle, chances are pretty good he wasn’t listening to the radio too much. From our 21st century outlook, it’s sometimes hard to appreciate how new and exciting radio was and the impact it had on everyday life in America during the Depression. Radio connected the nation in a way no other medium ever had. That the Depression did not kill this infant technology in its cradle is a testament to both its power as a medium – families would stop making payments on almost everything else so they could keep their radio sets – and to the tenacity of early electronics hobbyists, who learned to keep radios alive and even to fabricate them from almost nothing.
Although tube-type superheterodyne receivers were widely available all through the Depression, crystal sets were still a popular and sometimes necessary hacker project during the Depression. Relying on nothing more than a tuned circuit and a detector connected to an antenna and high-impedance headphones, a crystal set was able to pick up strong AM broadcasts and sometimes even shortwave stations. The earliest detectors were crystals of galena probed by a tiny “cat’s whisker” wire, but metal oxides could also form the necessary rectifying junction, leading to detectors built out of razor blades and safety pins. Crystal radio skills would serve many a Depression-era farm boy well during the next decade as they went off to war in Europe and the Pacific; there they created foxhole radios to listen in on broadcasts without the risk of a more sophisticated radio set, whose local oscillator could be detected by the enemy.
Receivers weren’t the only area in which Depression-era hackers made an impact. As commercial broadcasting took off, so did amateur radio, and few commercial transmitters were available to satisfy the burgeoning ham market. Depression-era hams had to home-brew almost everything and came up with some beautiful designs that modern glowbug hams recreate with loving attention to detail. A popular transmitter back in the day was based on the Hartley oscillator (PDF link). Using only a single triode tube and a tuned circuit with coils wound from 1/4″ copper tubing, Hartley transmitters could be built on a literal breadboard from scraps and widely available parts. Tuned to the 40- or 80-meter band, or even down to the 160-meter band, a Hartley or the closely related Tuned-Not-Tuned (TNT) or Tune-Plate-Tuned-Grid (TPTG) continuous-wave (CW) transmitters could put out enough power to work coast-to-coast contacts, or QSOs. Modern hams pay homage to the Depression-era pioneers of amateur radio with regular “QSO Parties” using replica Hartleys – most with bypass capacitors to keep the lethal voltages their forebears had to deal with off the coils.
The Great Depression lasted through the 1930s in America, finally dissipating just before the country mobilized for World War II. With factories suddenly working beyond capacity to supply the war effort, unemployment figures quickly plummeted, and the austere practices of the Depression were generally rolled back. Hobo culture declined and amateur radio was shut down by the federal government for the duration of the war, but neither the war effort nor full employment could kill the hobo spirit — modern hobos still ply the rails to this day. And the skills and mindsets developed by Depression-era social and electronics hackers paved the way for a lot of what was to come in the post-war years.