I have discovered in writing this column that Americans have become victims of convenience. Propane stoves are probably the best example of this from a survival perspective. We have all grown up with propane stoves for any type of outdoor cooking. They burn clean and never smoke, but for survival, where all the fuel we can store now is all the fuel we’ll have for a long, long time, propane is a complete waste. You get less BTUs per gallon than home heating oil or diesel, and propane requires a pressurized tank and delivery system. You can store diesel, kersone or home heating oil, which are all very close to the same thing, in any metal container certainly, and all plastic containers labeled HDPE. The question is, how to do you use fuels for cooking, when all we seem to be able to get in the US are propane stoves, and some pressurized white gas stoves? The best answer I can find is the multi-wick, or “mop” wick stove. They use cotten mophead strands for wicks, and they come in several sizes.
My first experience with mop wick stoves was with a couple of 8 wick stoves I got on Ebay. They were like $50 with shipping at the time, each, but they have come down over the last few months as more sellers are offering them shipped directly from China. The 8 wick is a great stove, perfect for boiling water, hydrating dried food, and most other daily cooking chores off the grid. But after I got “turned on” to these very effective tools, I started to look around at other stoves advertised as made for kerosene. The 8 wicks were no good for canning, but I found some pressure kerosene stoves that I will get to in a future article, and the larger stoves you see here, mop wick stoves with 22 wicks, specifically made for canning.
I’m not going to get back into canning for this article, but I do have several articles in the works that will show you my experiments canning with steel cans, mylar bags, and even paraffin wax. The big thing I have found with canning is that you should get as many variables as possible right, even if survival circumstances require that you get one wrong. Consistent heat with a lot of BTUs that you can maintain for 2 or more hours is a big help, because in a pressure canner, it allows you to raise the contents of everything in the canner up to about 250 degrees, which kills the botulism bacteria. This bacteria is the main cause of bad illness and even death from eating home canned food.
The video is longish, but you’ll see that I chopped a lot out just to get it down to a manageable size. I experimented a lot with these stove and figured out a bunch of stuff you can do wrong with them, and if you really watch the video, you’ll see that did most of it. The 8 wick stoves from China come with wicks installed, so they are harder to mess up, but if you plan to buy extra wicks, you would make the mistakes that I made when you reinstalled them. The directions from St. Paul Mercantile, the company that is currently importing the larger stoves, make things very clear, and even if you only buy the small and inexpensive stoves, take a lesson from them. At the highest point, your wicks should only be as tall as the outer rim of the burner. That gives you enough clearance to retract them low enough into the tube that it will smother any embers that cling to the wick when the flame goes out. This equals long wick life. I also show you how to trim the wicks for a nice blue flame.
Don’t try these stoves indoors first. They smoke, even under the best circumstances. But don’t believe what you read about diesel and home heating oil smoking more than kerosene. That may have been true ten years ago, but with current regulations on emissions, diesel and home heating oil are just as clean as kerosene, or jet fuel I think.
At the end of the video I briefly review the Butterfly oven. I am hoping that within a few weeks I can return to the subject, because I want to cover stovetop baking in detail. If you go back to my “Survival Food by the Numbers” article, you’ll find that flour has probably the highest calories per dollar that you can buy, but if course you have to be able to cook it into useful food. I’ve tried baking on top of a Rocket Stove with an open bottom oven, and it takes aweful. But I’m hoping to try a different kind of Rocket Stove for those of you who have wood available, and I am going to break out the inexpensive woodstove I covered last year as well. This Butterfly oven is a very good investment, even though it is more expensive than the Coleman oven that you see here. There is more space, and it seems to hold the heat really well. The glass door is tempered glass now, a recent improvement over the older models, and as I said in the video, order it assembled. They are tough to get together.
It’s funny that it took me so long to get to this subject, because I realized that when I first started this column back in 2013, I ordered a whole bunch of stuff just to get going, and one of those things was a 16 wick one of these stoves from St. Paul Mercantile, along with one of these ovens. I remember opening the box and seeing that it said “be careful of sharp edges,” so I was like “this is a piece of half baked junk.” At the time I was still sold on propane in fact, and back then I also ordered a propane oven that I have to this day not reviewed. Propane gear works great and is really clean and convenient, but it is about the worst investment you can make from a survival perspective. One 275 gallon IBC tote full of diesel or home heating oil is as many BTUs as roughly a cord of split oak, so you do the math. I think these stoves are convenient enough, and the long term viability is about as good as it gets.