My whole paradigm on cooking has changed since starting this column. I was like most Americans. When it comes to off the grid cooking, propane was the way to go. 2nd to that was white gas, otherwise known as Coleman Fuel. What I have come to understand is that from a survival perspective, both of those fuels will be extremely rare. I have discovered wood burning “Rocket Stoves” for prior articles, and my latest fascination is with stoves like you’ll see this week that were made for kerosene. As I have explained in past weeks, these stoves burn regular gaspump diesel just as clean as kerosene, which is getting harder and harder to find, especially at a reasonable price. Diesel has to meet new EPA standards for sulfur emissions, and that has made it almost indistinguishable from kerosene. Diesel does not produce flammable fumes, and if you toss a match into a puddle of diesel, the match will go out. If you are storing fuel for the collapse, diesel is your best option, but you do need stoves for cooking and heaters for heating that are specifically designed for kerosene to burn it in a useful way.
In my last diesel article I showed you what I call “mop wick” diesel stoves. This week we’ll review a couple pressurized stoves. One of them comes from the same company with the wick stoves, St. Paul Mercantile. And I have to tell you, I thought that when I wrote this article, I would have some lower cost options to compare to that stove, but they have all dried up. I’ve actually noticed that several of the killer deals I shared with my regular readers for my Black Friday article have been drying up, and I think that’s great that some of you got them. This Butterfly pressure stove is still a great buy at $75, and I did find you at least one slightly cheaper option, albeit at a much more sketchy quality. Of course we have to discuss the larger question, do I even want a pressure stove?
The way I see it, BTUs are BTUs. According to this government fuels chart, one gallon of diesel has almost 129,000 BTUs per gallon, which is about 10,000 BTUs above gasoline. Propane is only 84,500 BTUs per gallon, and at 60 degrees, propane weighs just over 4 lbs. per gallon. So a 20 lb. propane tank that costs roughly $20 to fill has less than 5 gallons of propane, at over 40,000 less BTUs per gallon than diesel.
That 129,000 BTUs per gallon of diesel can be used how you wish, to heat your water, heat your living quarters, heat your bathwater, and the size of your stove will determine just how many of those BTUs will burn at what speed. I like the wick stoves because they are low BTUs, and I’m not in a hurry. I don’t want to boil my dinner when warm is just fine, and warm saves me some fuel.
But when you need the BTUs, for cooking a large pot for a group of people, and for canning food and distilling alcohol, the wick stoves are somewhat frustrating, even the big ones I have to admit. You are going to need to use the BTUs to get the job done, so you might as well not wait around all day waiting for your canner to come up to pressure.
I’m sure there is more waste with a higher flame. Well, I’m not sure actually. I have no idea actually, but it would make sense that heat would bleed off the sides and get wasted. That is why the Rocket Stove I’ve used comes with a pot skirt, to hold that heat in. But it isn’t big enough for my canner anyway.
The big advantage to these pressure stoves I think is also that they don’t require a wick to produce heat. If you watch the video, you’ll see that I light these stoves with a wick in the spirit cup, using diesel, instead of with alcohol as you are supposed to, but for running the stove you don’t need anything besides a nipple pick to periodically clean out the carbon. I do plan to experiment with my wick stoves using mop heads and even t-shirt cuttings, but the fact that I’ve seen my wicks burning away as I use the stoves tells me that no matter what, anything with a wick is definitely going to run out of wick at some point. I think waaaay too much about this stuff I know, but it’s a point I feel I should make.
Burning these stoves you can see why propane and white gas have become so popular. They are clean and neat, while kerosene/diesel are dirty and smelly. Though diesel and kerosene stoves may look like they work the same as a white gas Coleman stove, they don’t work exactly the same way. Coleman fuel is essentially distilled gasoline, and it has the same ignition temperature as gasoline. The distillation apparently makes the white gas produce less fumes, but mostly it just takes out the non-volatiles that tend to clog Coleman burners. You can run gasoline in Coleman stoves and lanters, even the ones that don’t say “Duel Fuel,” but you have to clean the generators periodically. I’ll do an article on this at some point, if we make it that far.
Kerosene, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil are all pretty much the same thing, and they don’t ignite at room temperature. As I said, you can throw a lit match into a puddle of any of them, and the match will go out. In a stove, that means that you can’t just pump the pump and hold a match to the burner and expect it to light. All it will do is make a mess. You have to preheat the fuel by burning some fuel below the burner in what is called a “spirit cup.” I generally use a wick with diesel instead of the suggested denatured alcohol, and they seem to not have any advantage over each other. In my experience the mess kind of happens regardless, because these burners are stubborn.
You’ll see in the video that it takes me generally two to three tries before I can get the diesel to aerosolize. Even when the diesel is heated enough to reach surface temperature ignition without the wick, under pressure the burner still shoots a stream of fuel, instead of a cloud of fuel. This makes for a mess, and a quasi-inferno.
That is why I strongly suggest that you watch this video from beginning to end. It is like 46 minutes, and it has its yawn moments, but at least watch me light the Butterfly with the diesel and wick. You’ll see that it is vital to control the stove with the pressure release valve.
Fill the stove of course. I use a liquid transfer pump I got at Tractor Supply for $7.
- Put a piece of wick, or denatured alcohol into the spirit cup.
- If you are using a wick, close the pressure valve.
- If you are using a wick, pump some fuel to fill the spirit cup.
- If you are using a wick, open the valve.
- Light the wick or alcohol in the spirit cup.
- Wait while the burner heats.
- Close the valve.
- Pump really fast.
- Watch the nipple to see if it is a stream of fuel or a cloud of fuel.
- If it is a stream, open the valve quickly. Really quickly.
- Hopefully you opened it quick enough to keep fuel from spilling out of the spirit cup onto the stove.
- Probably you didn’t, so the whole thing looks like an inferno.
- Just chill and wait for it to burn down some, so that the stove itself is not on fire and just the spirit cup is burning.
- Try closing the valve and pumping again. There is a good chance you’ll hear the telltale hiss of the aerosolization of the diesel.
- Use your nipple pick to remove the wick, and either blow it or stomp it out quickly. This will keep your wick from charring so it will be reusable indefinately.
- If you got fuel on the surface below the stove, and you are going to get in trouble for it, wipe it up quickly.
- Wash the carbon off of your hands at the very least.
- Do not put your diesel smelling clothes or shoes in the washing machine.
- Do not go near a female until you no longer smell like diesel. Do not touch pets or children until same.
After lighting these stoves a dozen times or more, all I can do is share my experience. They are an absolute mess, and a bit scary, but you know what, these days you can get diesel at the pump for under $2 per gallon, and if you look into it, you’ll find that you can get “off-road” diesel delivered into IBC Totes legally, at 275 gallons each, for about $1.50 a gallon. If you live in the Northeast, try to find a home heating oil company that doesn’t have a bootlicking metal tank restriction and you can probably get it cheaper than that. The highest BTUs for gallon, stored in any HDPE plastic container, at prices not seen since the 1970s. Beat that.
The Different Burner Sizes
I had a revelation at the end of making these videos that all of these pressure burners are not the same. I started the tests of pressure stoves with a few stoves I didn’t include in the article, because as I said, they are no longer available. Those stoves ran my canner at well over 17 lbs. of pressure, and they had so many BTUs that it actually ran the canner dry. The noise of the stove running was so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think.
The Butterfly stove is a much smaller burner, and in comparing it to the other burners I had on hand, I found that it is a #1 burner. At the end of the video I show you a #2 burner, from India, and it is much louder and a much bigger flame. St. Paul Mercantile advertises the Butterfly at 9,000 BTUs, and I think it is more than that in practice, but it was only able to get my canner up to 13 lbs. at sea level. So if you are at at altitude, and you want to be able to can meat, I would opt for a #2 burner. Likewise if you want to run a 20 gallon alcohol still. The Butterfly is a beast, but it isn’t on the level that I’ve experienced with the larger burner. At some point I’ll hopefully show you guys a stove I got that is the king of the jungle when it comes to BTUs. It was too much to cover for this article, and overkill for almost all situations.
What About Primus?
The Butterfly stove is a copy of an old Optimus stove that was also made under the Primus name. I think I said they were German in the video, but the company itself was Swedish. These days the brand name of kerosene pressure stoves is still Primus, but the stove you’ll find under that name is a flimsy backpacking stove with separate fuel bottle for over $150. I did order a Chinese off-brand copy, but haven’t tested it yet. The flexible fuel line and lots of moving parts tell me that it is better left to backpacking and not to survival.
The stoves that are advertised on Ebay as Primus, with Russian characters and transliterations are from Russia, and in my experience, they don’t work. I ordered two of them, the Touristic Camp Stove Motor Sich PT-3 and PT-2. In theory, these stoves should be much better than the Butterfly, because you can adjust the flame strength, whereas on the Butterfly, and all of the Indian stoves, you can not. But they stoves just don’t work, even though I duplicated exactly the things that Youtubers from Russia do with the very same stoves. I tried wick lighting. I tried alcohol lighting (just today). The best I get is like a second of gas sound, then a stream, that just makes a big inferno. I’m going to make a separate video of my failures with them.
Butterfly vs. India
As I write this the guy from India selling the pink and green stoves direct has allowed his multi-ads to expire, so there are only a few left. Give it a few days and I’m sure they’ll be back. At first glance it would appear that the stoves from India are a better buy. One of them looks just like the Butterfly in fact. And one of the luxuries that I have in writing this column, which I have noted many times in the comments, is that we don’t sell anything here at GunsAmerica, and for this column, we don’t even have any advertisers in this space. I would love to tell you that the stoves from India, at $50-$60 shipped, are a better investment than the Butterfly at $75 plus shipping, but this is not the case.
The pink stove from India came with two burners, apparently because the stock burner doesn’t work well. I don’t know if it is because the tubes are steel instead of brass, but it just didn’t throw a steady blue flame. You’ll see on the video that it kept puffing. I said in the video that this could have been because it wasn’t tightened down all the way, but I don’t think so. The replacement burner worked perfectly, so I assume the seller knew that the steel burner was junk. The only problem is, the Ebay ad doesn’t reflect this. There is no mention that an extra burner will be shipped with the stove.
At the very least, these stoves from India are rough around the edges. Does it matter? I don’t know. They clearly work fine. Twenty bucks isn’t going to make a big difference in your prepping budget one way or the other, so take a look at the video and see which you would prefer. There are some other copies on Ebay that seem to be yet another manufacturer of the same stove design, for about the same price. I think you should have a Duel Fuel Coleman stove to burn gasoline, and one of these stoves to burn diesel. There are going to parking lots full of cars and trucks once this all burns down, and gridlocked bumper to bumper, the only use for the fuel in them will be your stoves.