Frank Groffie's miscellany

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Camp stove collection

Outdoorsy stuff

After completing my DIY stripped-down two-burner camp stove, I realized I'd inadvertently assembled an eclectic collection of camp stoves. We've done an enormous amount of camping over the years. From 2001 to 2006, we camped practically every summer weekend at a leased private campsite beside a creek in the Diablo Range 50 minutes from home. The stoves are presented below in order from most to least frequently used.

DIY woodburning backpack stove
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After a lot of workbench prototyping, in about 2011, I finally settled on this design for a woodburner stove. It's described in detail on the DIY woodburning backpack stove page. We've used this particular stove a lot on remote fishing excursions in the previous few years. We also used earlier DIY incarnations before 2011: rectangular steel and aluminum versions in the 1990s and round and early hexagonal versions in the 2000s. Since this photo was taken, the upper body (stainless steel) has taken on a pleasing gun-metal patina from the heat.


Coleman 425B camp stove
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This Coleman 425B, a classic car-camping stove, dates to 1962. I got it at a garage sale around 2002. It's been a workhorse for us many, many times in campgrounds and at base camps on wilderness fishing excursions. The tank gets switched between this stove and the DIY robust retro backpack stove, shown below.



Svea 123 backpack stove
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I obtained this Svea 123, used, when I was about 11. I think this particular one left the factory in about 1970. I've used it a fair amount over the years. The model was introduced in 1955, although it was derived from the Campus 3 model (by the same maker) in the 1930s, and the basic design concept dates back to the late 19th century. It's a self-pressurizing design: I believe that tank pressure (due to heating) provides the main force driving liquid fuel up into the vaporizer, and a wick extending from the vaporizer down into the tank serves primarily as a conduit in lieu of a tube. Made in Sweden out of solid brass. Fuel capacity of 4 oz. Integral windscreen. Comes with a separate cleaning needle for driving soot out of its tiny jet. There was once a small aluminum cup/pot that fit over the top, but I never had much use for it and consequently lost it.

Unbelievably, in November 2017, I came into possession of yet another stove: another Svea 123 (not yet shown). This one appears to be fairly new: it has label glued onto the tank, and it might have a self-cleaning function. Perhaps it dates to the 1990s or 2000s.


DIY robust retro backpack stove
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I built this stove starting with a burner from a discarded Coleman 425F and other materials. The fuel tank is from my 1962 Coleman 425B, and I simply switch the tank from one device to the other. The stove is described in detail on the DIY robust retro backpack stove page. Fuel is white gas. The stove disassembles into its three major components, and the stainless-steel windscreen folds down to one-third its unfurled size.



DIY wax-powered backpack stove
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I developed this stove in the summer of 2017 simply as a challenge. It's described in detail on the DIY wax-powered backpack stove page. It's a revised version of a similar stove I designed and constructed in 2011 and used a few times. That previous stove was twice as tall and had a different configuration for routing the air. This one develops a tall, powerful flame rapidly.

I've used it twice thus far. Once was on an overnight backpack trip along the San Antonio River (Los Padres National Forest, Calif.), where I still needed to work out some of the stove's teething problems. It later performed well on an overnight backpack trip along a creek near Mt. Hamilton, Calif., in November 2017, when the temperature fell to about 35 ºF.


DIY stripped-down two-burner camp stove
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In late 2016, I constructed this base-camp stove with moderate effort from an assemblage of discarded components. It's described in detail on the DIY stripped-down two-burner camp stove page. I intended it for car camping when the car is a tiny one (a Karmann Ghia) and space and weight are at a premium. I discovered another plus of the stove: it doesn't get dirty. Overflows of coffee and splatters of bacon grease just fall through the grate rather than collect in the box as in the 425B or 425F.

The main design challenge was preventing the flame from igniting the vaporized fuel prematurely in the Venturi tube. The solution was to provide lightweight sheet steel and aluminum shielding, respectively, next to and around the Venturi. After those teething problems were worked out, the stove performed well on a car-camping stop near Ft. Hunter Liggett, Calif.


Coleman 500 single-burner stove
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Coleman made the 500 from 1938 to 1954. The date stamp on the side of this one indicates it was made in the second half of 1947. The tanks on most, like this one, were nickel-plated brass, whereas the tanks on those made during and a few years after World War 2 were instead painted ivory or green. In 1954, Coleman replaced the 500 with the similar 500A (and later, the 500B), which had a tank painted green and a grate that was round rather than scalloped; these similar stoves were made until the mid-1970s. The 500 and descendants were intended primarily for utilitarian jobs in farming, construction, and the like, and perhaps for hunters. At 4 lbs, they were too heavy for backpacking, which was barely practiced at the time anyway, and the big two-burner suitcase stoves were better suited to car camping.

In the summer of 2017, my nephew found this stove while cleaning out someone's garage, and gave it to me. It came with the original instructions. This 70-year-old stove, containing fuel of who knows what vintage, pumped, held pressure, and fired right up on the workbench, and I used it a couple weeks later on a car-camping trip to Big Sur. It looks like it would be a rare, valuable item, but in 2017, essentially the same stove in decent condition was offered on Ebay for $90. This stove may be a kind-of misfit in my collection: I don't see where I'll get much use out of it, and I tend to use each item in my collection at least occasionally.


Coleman 502 backpack(?) stove
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Coleman made the 502 from 1963 to 1985. Some collector-users regard it as the best single-burner stove Coleman made. It was developed primarily for hunters and anglers at a time when backpacking was rarely practiced. This model was followed up by the 508 and 533, which are the mating of the squat tank of the 502, seen to the left, and the lightweight burner of the Peak 1 backpack stove (see below). Using the simpler Peak burner might have simply been a way for Coleman to streamline their manufacturing rather than tap into the backpacking market. The fact that the 502's descendant, the 533, is still being made confirms that the stoves in this family were and are favored by outdoorspersons wanting a fingle-burner stove for in their hunting blind or ice-fishing shack. At 2.3 lb, however, it might make a decent backpack stove on a short trip with a large group.

The date stamp on the bottom of this one indicates it was made in 1984, making it one of the last of its kind. It was a cheap garage-sale find by a relative, who turned right around and handed to me in the summer of 2017. It and its original box and instructions appear to have been gently used. I've used it once on a car-camping jaunt, and it performed fine.


Coleman 425F camp stove
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Coleman began making the 425F in 1971 and apparently still makes it today. A date stamp on the underside of the fuel tank indicates that this one was made in 1986. I acquired it, along with its original box and instruction manual, from an in-law in 2017. It had been gently used. It fired up fine in a boil-time test.

In a sense, I have used this stove many, many times, although that's shading the truth. From about 1992 to 2009, I owned one of this stove's littermates, a 425F that probably sat on the shelf right next to this one at the Sears in Eastridge Shopping Center in 1986. Remarkably, these sibling 425Fs came to me via separate paths (long, long story). The one I owned earlier broke at one of the threaded connections on the tank. Yes, it had been heavily used (and adored). I did save its primary burner for use in constructing the DIY robust retro backpack stove and its secondary burner and grate in constructing the DIY two-burner, as described above.


Esbit stove, a backpack featherweight
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This stove consists of three pieces of aluminum riveted together so that the outer pieces fold open as shown here and fold inward for compact stowage. Fuel tablets are placed on the central piece and are then lit. This fuel typically consists of hexamine, or hexamethylenetetramine, commonly sold under the trade name Esbit. This fuel has an energy density of 13,300 Btu/lb, which is a respectable figure between the 11,570 Btu/lb of ethanol and the 18,200 Btu/lb of white gas. This particular item is stamped "J.W.Speaker Corp. Pat. Milwaukee USA" on the bottom and with the Boy Scouts insignia on both side pieces. Interestingly, J.W. Speaker Corp. is still operating, in Milwaukee, although they now make only lighting systems for cars, motorcycles, and boats. There are a plethora of versions of this stove, both commercial and DIY. This particular item, I believe, was manufactured around 1970. It fell into my hands around 1995; I've never used it.


Coleman Apex II backpack stove
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With the Apex II, in 1992, Coleman finally got around to making a typical late-20th-early-21st-century remote-tank liquid-fueled backpack stove. It was designed to run on white gas and gasoline. I bought this one in 2003 or 2004 because it was marked down to $55 and I thought Joey might make use of it. He tried taking it on his 3-month jaunt on Kauai in 2015, but they wouldn't allow it in his luggage, and he handed it back off to us at the airport. We've never used it, yet.

I've skimmed the online reviews, which I'll summarize as follows. Likes: good simmering, consequent good fuel economy, good stability afforded by the "lunar lander" legs (one of which has a screw adjustment for uneven ground). Dislikes: Eventual leaks at the hose ends (fixed using automobile fuel line and traditional hose clamps) and a flimsy connection and sheet metal.


Summary table
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Type,
 model


Fuel

Weight,
dry

Boil time, 1 quart

Frequency of use

Year and place of manufacture


Comments

One-burner stoves

 DIY woodburner

Wood

1.1 lb

6.3 min*

Very often

2011, USA

Very stable, no limit on fuel

 Svea 123

White gas

1.2 lb

7.3 min

Often

1970?, Sweden

A classic

 DIY robust retro

White gas

2.9 lb

3.3 min

Occasionally

2012, USA

Used only for car-camping so far

 DIY wax-powered

Wax

0.8 lb

8.5 min

Seldom

2017, USA

Earlier version used a few times

 Coleman 500

White gas

4.3 lb

6.9 min

Once

1947, USA

Recently acquired

 Coleman 502

White gas

2.3 lb

7.4 min

Once

1984, USA

Recently acquired

 Esbit

Hexamine

0.1 lb

15 min

Never

1970?, USA

As weak as it is lightweight

 Coleman Apex II

White gas

1.1 lb

3.5 min

Never

2003, USA

Haven't yet seen a need to use

Two-burner stoves

 Coleman 425B

White gas

11.4 lb

3.6 min

Very often

1962, USA

A classic

 DIY two-burner

White gas

5.8 lb

4.6 min

Occasionally

2016, USA

Easy to keep clean: no suitcase

 Coleman 425F

White gas

10.4 lb

3.9 min

Never

1985? USA

Another classic, recently acquired.

* Boil time starting at match light. Boil time is 3.7 min. if pot is set on at maximum stove output. Guesstimate or published figure. 2011 version was taller, slightly heavier, and less powerful. Designed and built by the author. I have, however, used another 425F, its identical twin littermate, numerous times.

Most of these boil times were determined by me under more-or-less standard conditions, generally: 70 °F ambient temperature, 70 °F starting water temperature, no wind, 5-in.-diam aluminum pot, covered, bottom blackened. I don't really think the times are accurate to 0.1 min, or 6 sec. I'd estimate that only differences of at least 0.3 min are meaningful. One reason is that in a few of the stove tests, I used a different pot and/or boiled a liter rather than a quart of water.


Three portable stoves I no longer possess
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American Camper 1080 two-burner stove. Evidently, the glued-on label fell off this stove at some time. A little online research revealed that it is an American Camper 1080, specifically, the early, pre-1995 version. I suspect that it dates to about 1980. Fuel is propane. By detaching and inverting the grill and placing it underneath, folding in the legs, and detaching the fuel tube, its size shrinks by maybe a third for stowage. It fell into my hands in 2006. I recall using it once, at a rest stop on Interstate 80 in the Sierra Nevada in about 2007; it performed fine. I gave it away in 2017: I'm just not a fan of propane.

Coleman Peak 1 backpack stove. This stove a lighter alternative to the 502 (see above) brought Coleman into the backpacking world, sort of, in 1976. This first Peak was heavy (1.7 lb), due to its steel tank. Its introduction 3 years after the first remote-aluminum-tank stove (by MSR) and being the sole stove that Coleman was marketing to backpackers into the 1990s are prime examples of Coleman's one-time stodginess and slowness in keeping pace with trends toward truly lightweight, specialized backpacking equipment. One collector said this about the Peak:

  
Coleman failed to look at what MSR was making or the demand of the changing
  
market. The 502 [see above] was still being made at this time. Coleman was
  
happy with what they offered for family camping/car camping. Somewhere
  
along the line they lost it.

In the mid- to late-1970s, mine served us on high-elevation fishing trips. It was powerful, especially in cold ambient temperatures, as are all white-gas stoves, and it simmered beautifully. I then recall using it twice, in 2006: once on a winter climb of Mt. Shasta, where it performed somewhat sporadically, and again with a group of four on a wilderness fishing expedition, where it performed so-so. I finally tore it down to learn what its problem was: a rusted, and thus broken, needle in the generator. I couldn't think of a way to perform such a delicate repair. I was a bit sad to toss away this otherwise worthy machine.

  

Bluet backpack stove. The only butane stove I ever owned was a Bleuet backpack stove, made in France and dating to around 1970. A proprietary butane cartridge was installed by pressing it up into the base, where a needle sat waiting to pierce the top, and then swinging the bars underneath to clamp in the cartridge. A rubber O-ring around the needle provides a seal ... until the O-ring degrades (hardens) with age, leaving you with butane hissing into the atmosphere. That, the fact that you can't remove a cartridge until it's empty, the scarcity of cartridges, and the poor stability may be the main reasons this stove design was never generally considered a good one. I suppose I might have been able to install a fresh O-ring, but I don't think it occurred to me. Also, one of the legs had melted. I don't recall ever using this stove on any of my fishing trips, and I didn't feel bad tossing it away.

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