How to Make a Rocket Stove (or Hobo Stove)
Today we’re looking at how to build a rocket stove (or a hobo stove). If you’re looking for instructions on how to make an effective, improvised stove with limited supplies, you have come to the right place. Today we’ll be learning all about how to effectively cook and boil water while in the wilderness using nothing but a tin can and some ingenuity.
What is a Hobo Stove?
People began using hobo stoves back in the days of the Great Depression. The whole idea behind the invention is that you have a useful stove that you can use for boiling water or heating up some beans while out in the wild – and you can put together this stove with a very limited set of materials. A hobo stove packs easily and can be taken anywhere, and you can make one from basically nothing – at its core, you need a tin can and a knife and that’s it (it’s likely you’d have both in your backpack anyways). During the great depression, as many everyday things became unaffordable, a hobo stove was an improvised way to heat things up that wouldn’t cost people money.
But hobo stoves aren’t just for folks who lived through the great depression. We can use hobo stoves in all kinds of modern situations. If you’re living in your car, living off the grid, or if you’re an avid outdoorsman, being able to improvise a hobo stove is really a skill you should have in your back pocket.
You can use a hobo stove while living in your car (just don’t do it inside of your car) to boil water in the morning without needing a source of electricity or gas. You can use one in the woods to cook on or for warmth, and in the case of a modern survival situation in which the power has gone out and you have no way of cooking food or boiling water, a hobo stove can work as an emergency option so you’re not forced to eat everything raw.
There are lots of different designs for hobo stoves, but the principal is the same. Take a can, carve some air vents into it, and fill it with natural wood fuel. All you need is a can and something sharp. In just a few minutes, you can turn an old coffee can or a soup tin into a workable stove.
What is a Rocket Stove?
A rocket stove is basically the same thing as a hobo stove. It works using the same principles and the same materials. The only difference is that a rocket stove works better, and it produces a much more significant flame for you to cook over that’s much more similar to an actual stove flame. It’s called a rocket stove because (if you do it right) the flame can kind of resemble the flame that comes out of a rocket at launch.
You can make a hobo stove out of a single can, and it’s going to be pretty basic. A rocket stove is actually more effective, but is also a little bit more complicated. It also takes a little longer to make. Traditionally, if you buy a rocket stove, it will either come already assembled or come with easy to understand instructions. There are tons of options for rocket stoves available online as a camping or survival tool – you can take these anywhere. There are even some fancy rocket stoves that can help charge your portable devices while you heat or cook your meals in the wilderness.
With a normal hobo stove, you use a single can and follow some very basic principles to produce a decent stove fire. But with a rocket stove, you’re going to use a couple different cans and you’re going to create a more complex stove that concentrates the flame so that you get more heat while using the same amount of fuel (wood).
Hobo Stove vs Rocket Stove: Which is Better?
The honest truth is that a rocket stove is much better for cooking (and for keeping you warm) in a survival situation. If you purchase a premade rocket stove online, it’s definitely going to be better than any hobo stove you can make while sitting out in the backcountry.
However, a hobo stove is better in terms of simplicity. You can make one quickly with almost no materials. If you’re going out into the woods, you might not be carrying all the supplies you need to make a rocket stove. This is why we recommend at least figuring out the steps for making a rocket stove before you’re in the wilderness. That way, you’ll know what’s needed, and you’ll be able to figure out ways to improvise around any materials you don’t have.
At the very least, make sure you bring a can with you, whether you use it for holding your coffee or your food supplies. There is so much you can get out of a single can when in a survival situation.
And so, to answer the original question, it’s always better to come prepared with a rocket stove in your pack. In a real survival situation, you want to be as efficient with your time as possible, and improvising any kind of stove is time that you could be spending on something else (like looking for food or water). But in a pinch, a hobo stove will definitely work well to help you survive.
How to Make a Hobo Stove
It’s time for the good stuff period now we’re going to teach you how to build a hobo stove the right way. There are lots of different designs out there, and all of them promised to be the best. But this method that were about to teach you is the simplest and most efficient way to craft a hobo stove.
The first thing you need to do is start with the right supplies. Let’s take a look at the full list of tools needed and then we can go step by step to make the actual stove.
- One can of any size (coffee or soup can for example)
- A secondary can for ash
- Tin snips or wire cutters
- Nail & hammer
- Bottle opener (punch type)
As you can see, the supplies are fairly simple. Just keep in mind that in a survival situation, you can use whatever tools are available. So long as you have something sharp and hard to cut the can with, you can make a hobo stove. But if you’re making one at home, these are the tools you need.
Step 1: To start your hobo stove, you need to decide which end of the can is going to be up. You typically want to make the top of the can the upwards part of the stove. This means you can keep the bottom of the can as is. This will let the can be sturdier as you’re using it. The bottom of the can also works to catch embers, making it possible for use indoors (otherwise embers and ash would dirty whatever surface you put it on when you were using the stove).
You can also do it the opposite way if you want, using the open top of the can as the bottom of your stove. This makes it easier to cut a doorway for feeding fuel, but if you’re using it outside it will leave burn marks on the ground because you don’t have a metal bottom. It’s also not quite as sturdy. For this reason, we’re going to focus on using the top part of the can for the top part of the stove.
Keep in mind that you can use any size of can you want, but we typically think the bigger the better. A soda can will work just fine, and it might even be better if you’re backpacking and want to keep your stove with you. However, a large coffee can or a large-sized can of soup is going to provide more heat and be an overall more effective stove. Of course, we understand that you don’t always have an option when it comes to available supplies.
Step 2: Now that you have your can ready, it’s time to start cutting. The top part of the can, or the lid, is off, and you’ll be using the metal bottom for the base of the stove. The first real step is to cut the door in the can. This is going to be the gate in which you feed wood into the stove. You want to make it wider than it is tall. If you’re using a big coffee can, we recommend about 6 inches wide and around 4 inches tall.
Cut the door so that the metal bottom rests on the ground, not the actual doorway. You will need to punch a hole into the can and then use your knife or your snips to cut the door open. The metal bottom is going to reflect heat upwards, giving you a hotter fire. If you need a bit of a guide, use your sharpie to draw the door on and then carve along the outline.
It’s easiest if you cut three sides of the square and leave the upper line alone. This will allow you to make a folding door for your stove. With three out of the four sides cut, you can flip the door open when you want to feed wood into the fire, and you can flip it down while the fire is burning. This will allow you to control the fire and retain the heat while you’re cooking.
Step 3: The final step to building your hobo stove is to make air vents. Fire needs air to burn. The more airflow you have going on, the better your stove is going to operate. This is pretty simple. You’re really just going to cut small triangular air vents all around the bottom and the top of the stove along both rims.
However, don’t make any air holes above the doorway. That should be the only place where there aren’t any vents. You can do this easily enough with your knife or by punching into it with a nail and then just prying down a thin strip of the metal. You want each vent to be about the size of your thumbnail.
At this point, you should be left with a small hobo stove that has an open top, a wide doorway on the bottom, and two rows of triangular air vents along the rims. The only thing left to do is start your fire.
Step 4: When starting your fire, there is no specific way you need to go about it. You can jam the can full of sticks and twigs and let the fire do its work. You can either fill the can with wood fuel and close the foldable door and let it burn for more heat, or you can leave longer sticks sticking out of the door and slowly feed more fuel as it burns.
Hobo Stove Improvements
There are a few smart things you can do to improve how your hobo stove works. You can add an ash stand and you can even craft a makeshift frying pan. Even though the hobo stove is super simple in its design, it still works great. By adding to it with a few ingenious things like the ash stand, the frying pan, and even a small grill, you can make your own hobo “wilderness kitchen”.
The Ash Stand
If you’re going to be using an ash stand, you will need to have a bigger can. A soda can is going to be way too small to add an ash stand. The first step is to get a piece of metal. The lid of the can actually works great for this. Using your hammer and nail, create a whole bunch of tiny holes in the middle of the metal disc. You can then use a screwdriver or a knife to widen the holes so that they are large enough for the ash to fall through but not the embers.
Next, create legs for the stand by cutting slits in the metal disc and then folding them down so that you have a tiny metal coffee table with lots of holes in it. Then all you need is to slide it into your hobo stove from the top down. The ash stand will now work to keep your stove clean and tidy and it’ll function a little better.
The Frying Pan
If you want to make a frying pan, you’re going to need another can. Start by cutting the base of the can about 2.5 inches from the bottom. But don’t cut it all the way! You’re going to need to leave a strip about 1” wide for the handle. Once you’ve cut the circumference of the can on either side of the handle, you’ll cut upwards along the body of the can all the way to the top. Then you just need to fold the handle down. You’re left with a small bowl (the bottom of the can) and a long handle where you cut upwards.
You can use the frying pan for beans, for boiling bits of water, or anything else.
How to Make a Rocket Stove
Making a rocket stove is extremely similar to making a hobo stove. You need the exact same supplies, except that rather than just using one can, you’re going to be using five (you don’t actually need five – it depends on the size of the stove you’re building). You will need to find a large restaurant-sized can like for tomato sauce or coffee, and you will need four smaller soup cans. Now let’s get started!
Step 1: Start with cutting some holes. The large coffee can is going to be the base for your stove. It’s going to be the “stove” itself. All the smaller cans are just going to be used for completing the build.
The first step is to cut a hole in the side of your main can the exact right size for a smaller can to fit into. You can do this by tracing one of the smaller cans using a sharpie and then cutting out that circle. You want the hole to be about 1 inch above the bottom rim of the can.
Now do the same thing with one of the smaller soup cans. You will be stuffing another soup can sideways into it, so there needs to be a mouth cut open just above the bottom rim. Then, cut the bottoms off all your soup cans, turning all of them into pipes with no tops or bottoms.
Step 2: Now you have one large can with a hole cut into it (can A), one small can that also has a hole cut into it of the same size (can B), and one can without holes (can C). Take can B and place it into the center of can A. Then take can C and put it through both holes that you cut out in can A and can B.
You’ll be left with a small pipe sticking out from the main part of the stove and the beginning of your chimney. This horizontal can should be sticking out of the body of the stove and it should be slightly inside the inner soup can (can B).
Step 3: Complete the chimney. Take a third small can (can D) and slit it vertically from the top all the way to the bottom. This is going to be the upper portion of your chimney. Insert it into the can B vertically. Now you’ll have two cans standing in the center of the stove and the third can poking out of its bottom. The point of the vertical cut on can D is that the metal will naturally want to “unwrap”, which secures it to both the can it’s inserted in and the lid of the large can used in the next step.
Step 4: Take the lid from the large can (can A) and cut a hole in its center that the chimney (can D) can go through. But before you shove the lid onto the stove, you need to fill the stove with insulation. You can use anything – dirt, sand, clay, ash. Just make sure you fill the entire stove with insulation. Now the large can is insulated, but the small can inside of it is empty.
This will leave you with about an inch of the chimney sticking out from the center of the insulation and above the lip of the stove. Now take the lid with the hole in it and secure it flat against the top of the insulation. Your stove is ready.
Step 5: To use the stove, simply shove your fuel into the horizontal can on the bottom and let it burn. The heat is going to be super concentrated inside the 90-degree burn chamber at the bottom. The flame will come out of the top, allowing you to cook whatever you want over the stove.