Prepping 101: Cooking With Diesel – Mop Wick Kerosene Stoves Explained

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.

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Mongoose January 11, 2016, 9:06 pm

    Ask any Vietnam how to make a C-Rat can stove with an empty can, church key, some dirt, and jet fuel/kerosene/diesel. Not rocket science.

    • sargintrock January 12, 2016, 10:40 am

      There it is!

  • Danno January 11, 2016, 4:57 pm

    Can these stoves work off of moonshine? Long term you should just make your own shine. I would also look into making your own home made biogas. Just collect the methane from a compost pile. That of course requires space. What do you think?

    • Paul Helinski January 11, 2016, 7:14 pm

      Eh. If you have the ability to make moonshine you’ll be able to swap it for fuel and more. Alcohol doens’t need a wick to burn and you can see homemade capillary alcohol stoves on youtube. I’m going to do an article on using a moonshine still at some point, if we make it that far. I think these 22 wick stoves are much more controllable than a pressure stove, but I have to see how they work compared to each other.

  • paul January 11, 2016, 12:59 pm

    I live in SoCal, so I am sure that a keroheater would run us out of our living room in a power shortage. I do not thing that Kero lanterns would be warm enough, so I have been researching cooking stoves for emergency heat. I have come across one with a sock type wick, like a center draft lamp or a heater. Do you have an opinion on which type wick would be better using Diesel fuel? Are cotton wicks better using multifuels, or do you think another style and material of wick would be better?
    Chances are,I will never use it after the initial burn, but being prepared is what we should be doing.

    • John Squires January 11, 2016, 1:46 pm

      The multi-wick stoves have cheaper wicks, plus the wicks will last longer than the sockwick. Wicks must be trimmed off occasionally to remove the gunk that collects on the ends and then leads to a dirtier burn. The problem with sockwicks is that they can only be trimmed about 2 times before they need to be replaced. Cotton wicks can be trimmed at least a dozen times. Butterfly manufactures the Sockwick stove to compete with the popular Alpaca stove, which costs a lot more. The sockwick has a massive brass burner and is very well designed. For long term use, though, I recommend the multi-wick stoves.

    • Paul Helinski January 11, 2016, 7:18 pm

      You can read my recent article on the kero heaters with diesel.

  • Jason January 11, 2016, 10:08 am

    I have been wondering how much thought you have put in to co build up. Here in the northern climates of our nation we have to spend a great amount of time indoors during winter. I would rather not expire from carbon monoxide poisoning. The use of so many diesel burning appliances could be dangerous. Just a thought.

    • Paul Helinski January 11, 2016, 10:16 am

      I actually have an article coming up that I am working on regarding that. Generally, if you are burning a blue flame, the carbon monoxide is being combusted. But it will still be nice to measure it. Except for the Aladdin Blue Flame, the heaters I have tested so far burn orange.

    • John Squires January 11, 2016, 1:51 pm

      Kerosene and diesel fuel release very little carbon monoxide when burning. I tested this last winter by burning a 16-wick stove in an enclosed 300 sq foot room for 12 hours. My digital carbon monoxide detector never budged off zero. Detectors don’t even sound the alarm until the level gets to around 6ppm, and the dangerous level I believe starts at around 12ppm (though zero is always preferred). The bigger concern with kerosene heaters and stoves is that they represent a possible fire hazard, so always have a fire extinguisher nearby and do not burn unattended.

  • Wayne Farrell January 11, 2016, 8:40 am


    I just want to defend PROPANE! A chemical engineer told me, “Propane never goes bad. You can store it forever.”

    I know from personal experience gasoline can go bad. I have a diesel truck and I hear there is some bacteria that lives off the sulfur in the diesel and you need some kind of additive to increase its storage life but others say you can store diesel a long time.

    I’ve used diesel in my kerosene heaters and it ruins the wicks! I tried the “red kerosene” and I had to crank the wick full up to get a small flame after the first or second use. I would only use the K-1 clear kerosene but it’s $10 bucks a gallon!

    These mop wick stoves might be different. I may not have read the article closely enough but do you have experience with long term use of diesel and the mop wick? I guess I need to research it further before commenting.

    Give me propane! I even put a propane conversion kit on my gasoline-powered generator. It’s true the number of watts available is less with propane but since I also have a propane-clothes dryer, I only need 110 volts and ~2000 watts to turn the tumbler since the heat is from propane.

    Thanks, long live Propane!

    Wayne Farrell

    • Paul Helinski January 11, 2016, 8:43 am

      If you put Pri-D in diesel it lasts forever as well. Most likely you tried that experiment some time ago. I have run diesel in both heaters and lamps for tens of hours and there is no degradation of the flame.

      As the article says, for convenience, propane is great. But for long term storage as a survival backup, propane is a waste of time and money.

    • John Squires January 11, 2016, 1:54 pm

      I agree with Paul’s recommendation to use a fuel additive. And when we’re talking about diesel fuel we also have to define “good”. After 5 years or so of storing diesel, it might not be good enough to run in an expensive diesel engine, but it’s still good enough to burn in a heater or stove.

  • shrugger January 11, 2016, 8:35 am

    After what, 3 years, 4 years now? the price of kerosene has finally dropped from $3.99 to $3.38. A full dollar per gallon would have been nice, but I’ll take what I can get. I was curious to see if a diesel heater would even be a good idea for my old 1 bedroom apartment. My furnace and insulation both SUCK! I run one of the large kerosene heaters and I can keep it a cozy ~72° for under $120 a month. Whereas, just managing 65° with the craptastic natural gas furnace runs me +$200 when it’s single digits outside, like it is right now.

    • Paul Helinski January 11, 2016, 8:39 am

      See my prior article on kerosene heaters. You can run diesel in them for as little as $1.60 a gallon if you can find a company who will deliver it without road taxes. I have found that the only difference in diesel is that it is a little yellow compared to kerosene, but all o the traditional rotten egg smell is now gone.

  • Chico Neyrey January 11, 2016, 8:34 am

    I can’t believe that GunsAmerica sponsors, supports or allows the Blatant sale of Chinese produced products. Not only the sale of them but advice as to order them directly from CHINA. Doesn’t China have a big enough knife up our asses already??? I personally, if I can not use an American made survival stove, will cook over a wood fire!!!
    I also defend myself withAmerican made firearms which seem to work quite well.
    Just Sayin’

    • Paul Helinski January 11, 2016, 8:48 am

      That ship sailed long ago Chico. What you are doing is showing up late to a track meet and saying hey I didn’t have a chance to win because I didn’t get to start. The “knife” that China has up our asses was created by you, me, and every other useless and consuming American for the last 50 years. We screwed up and now we are going to pay. This column is about using whatever resources we have now to build a library of survival tools in hopes that when it all shakes out we will be here to see it. That China is still taking worthless American currency for hard goods is an absolute miracle, but we are fortunate that it will continue as long as the Chinese can still buy physical gold with the currency. If you are reading this column Chico, you have the potential at least to wake up. Survival is a crapshoot for all of us, but it’ll sure help to be able to cook on cheap stoves from China that don’t require pumping or special tanks.

      • Econ1 January 11, 2016, 10:51 am

        Well said. And thank you for all of the great articles. In the end your articles will be the most important that we read.

    • John Squires January 11, 2016, 1:57 pm

      Just one clarification. Butterfly stoves are made in Indonesia, not China. I know your comment was directed at the stoves being sold on eBay, but I did want to clarify that. Butterfly outsourced their triple-burner stoves to China and I dropped them from my website because the quality was not as good.

    • Jeff Clay January 10, 2017, 7:04 pm

      Americans have absolutely no idea of how pampered we are. I use and appreciate propane but I know that if things go very bad the way of life will be very hard if we’re not prepared for serious hardship. I see these diesel stoves as a great equalizer. I have some Coleman made propane items but as the OP said, “propane is history” in this contest.

  • alphalimafoxtrot January 11, 2016, 5:40 am

    I have been very interested in your series of prepping articles that relate to the use of diesel and/or kerosene as alternative fuel sources. I enjoyed the writeup about the kerosene lamps – the antiques which were truly brilliant light sources. One thing I’d like to add for your consideration, if I have missed it in someone else’s post I apologize; is that biodiesel or “home brew” diesel can be made as long as one has a supply of the “baking ingredients” as I call them to cook your own waste oil. I call it “living off the fat of the land” – hope others have this idea as well in mind. Essentially, everything and anything that burns oil of a viscosity like diesel, AKA jet fuel, AKA kerosene AKA home heating oil can be made with waste or virgin oils, fats, etc.
    Nice to know that it can be done. Thanks for listening – and continue a great series!

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