Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Propane Tank Wood Burning Stove - DIY

I wanted to put a small wood burning heater into the tiny camper, but after pricing even the cheapest ones on the Internet, am wondering if there is a cheaper alternative that actually works. Plus the cast iron ones are really heavy, too. My goal is a 1000 pound limit when the camper is built and supplied. The lightest cast iron stove weighed in around fifty pounds.

Been living in small campers since late 1995 and have accumulated several old-style propane tanks. They are currently used as shelf supports. But, viola! I have a better use for them. And it's doable and not that hard, i.e., falls within my skill set level. A few days work at the most. Even found a YouTube video showing me the basics of how to do it, too.

jjaayypp963's YouTube site -- He's into homesteading skills, too.

I've got a small stick welder, but if necessary, I'll pay to have the pieces welded together if I can keep the price below $50. Unless I can rent a larger welder cheaper, of course. Wouldn't have to leave the parking lot because the job shouldn't take an hour at most.

Paying someone to weld it together with heavier sticks is still cheaper than the $180 Harbor Freight cast iron 100 pound wood burning stove with $100 shipping. Plus their smallest stove was too long at 30" and too wide at 24" to fit in the tiny camper I'm building. And their stove pipe would add another $100 easy with the damper (have one already) and pipe cap (can make one from tin roofing).

I'll remove the valves off the tanks with a heavy pipe wrench and six foot cheater bar and wash out the residual propane first. Will let the water soak into the steel for a couple of days before the final flush. Then take the grinder with a cutting wheel to cut out the door on one tank and stove pipe hole. Will take steel from a second washed propane bottle to make the actual door, so it seals tighter. Will buy new stove pipe, if I don't have any good used ones I can find locally dirt cheap. Maybe on Craig's List, I can find good, used stove pipe dirt cheap.

His stove doesn't have an ash collector, so I'd modify his design a bit with a cast iron grate on the bottom. Will be about three inches from the bottom, so the ashes can fall though. Too much ash build up can literally put out the fire because it will block the air vent flow. Will make a small ash rake and rake out the ashes. Would use a heavy steel hinge to put a door on it that seals tight and gives it better draft from the draft holes I'll drill into it. Will make adjustable air vent holes for better draft, too. No draft equals a fire that burns too poorly and is smokey and too much draft means the fire will burn too hot and fast and burn up the wood too fast.

After burning off the paint, the stove is painted with something called stove black so it looks better and will stop rusting. Will be mounted to a large 1979 Sportster steel brake wheel so it has a low center of gravity when fresh wood is added.

I'll flatten roofing tin and mount the pieces to the wall behind the stove so the wall doesn't heat up and catch fire. I had a cast iron wood stove roaring hot once too close to a window and it literally melted the pine pitch out of the wood framing the window.

Times are going to get tougher before they get better, folks. Time to use what you got, if it's cheaper to build it than buy it. "USE WHAT YOU GOT" is a motto around here. Propane keeps getting more expensive every year. Cost $6 to fill a 5-gallon propane tank in 1995. Cost $14 in 2010 to fill a 5-gallon propane tank. I have access to free firewood in the form of small, thick oak tree branches from a neighbor who cuts down trees for a living and dumps the branches from cleaning up nearby. Also have access to free pallets, too.

I'm making all kinds of plans for the tiny camper. Writing them down and saving them. Ideas like taut wall curtain made of camo burlap. Or using polyurethane to glue the camo burlap to the wall for a very light wall covering over the insulation board. Must keep it in mind at all times, less than 1000 pounds on the tires. After building the hull of the camper, the plan that works the most efficiently and keeps the weight low (below 1000 pounds) gets built into the camper. It's a bug out camper and not a behemoth RV with the works.

Small, light, and fast. That's a bug out camper.

I can tell now that 2012 is going to be one very busy year for me.


  1. He used a helium tank for his stove, but propane tanks have thicker walls. Steel warps when heated and cooled. The propane tank will last a lot longer and won't warp as bad from the temperature extremes. I have a helium tank, so I might use that steel for the door to lighten the weight of the wood burning heater I'm planning. Really won't know till the stove is actually in the build process.

  2. One of the things that surivalists (or preppers as they use nowadays) are moving towards is an emphasis on building communities, not just personal preparation.

    I've been a survivalist for a long time. I can remember the harmonic convergence and Y2K. I think we're in a long emergency scenario more than a TSHTF scene. The real profit of the thing seems to be in those few times when things shut down for a few days, like blizzards, hurricanes and such.

    BTW, how is the soil out there? How deep could you dig with just a shovel and some elbow grease?

    It seems to me that you don't need heating. I live in Arizona and never use the furnace. We both have a few cold snaps, maybe down to 32 and that's it. It's not life threatening.

  3. I believe the USA is going into a long and painful event centered around loss of jobs, closing banks, and large weather events like hurricanes and tornadoes destroying communities. Earthquakes will increase, too. The Texas drought appears to be spreading eastward a bit, too. Have read of a serious bank run in Sweden this week. This bank was one of the largest and most profitable. Is this the first clear rumblings of the Great Depression 2 world wide that none of the money heads can cover up on financial news outlets?

    It is going to be so hard for a man to take care of his family even if his wife does have a job outside the home. Believing that inflation is going to get a whole lot worse. I use to be able to do well with just $40 worth of groceries and supplies each week back in the 1990s. After 9/11, prices began to go up noticeably. The same amount of groceries and supplies costs around $90 or more today.

    Can't imagine a guy with a wife and a couple of kids will have an easy go of it alone. Might get back like it use to be in the old days when several families lived on one piece of land and farmed it together. Won't be much money, but no one starved.

    I've got an acquaintance living on my farm right now in exchange for helping out with some of the work. He gets a place to hunt deer with his two grown sons and he parks his camper on it for free. If he'll keep the place bush-hogged and keeps a drug addict and deer poaching neighbor off my place, he can stay out there as long as he keeps his nose clean. I have no use for troublemakers, drug addicts, or bullies.

    Mississippi soil around here has a lot of clay in it. I use sand, garden lime, and mulch to make it useful for a basic vegetable garden. I have to use a little front tine tiller instead of a shovel. Using tomato boxes really helped out. The tomatoes ripened three weeks earlier in the tomato boxes than the ones planted in the garden.

    Mississippi has long spells of cold days and nights, so I bought the small 20 pound wood heater. Actually, past November, the days are a bit chilly and stay chilly up till April. Not unusual to see hard frosts in late April. In January 2010, had water pipes freeze up around noon when an ice storm settled in for a few days. Shut down the entire city of Jackson, MS. for over a week.

    With Mom in the camper, the little wood heater is a must. She's so looking forward to going camping again, but she has to be warm and comfortable. She may be 93, but she still likes to be out in the woods enjoying nature. I keep telling her I need to get a rickshaw so I can pull her around the yard or farm easier than the occasional pushing her across the yard in the indoor wheelchair.