Vagabond/Tin Can Stoves

How to make and use

Judy Bober
53 Calgary Guides, Camp Advisor
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
A tin can stove can make it easy for everyone to cook their own food. A large can is the stove or oven and a small can holds the heat giving you the use of a frypan, a pot and an oven all rolled into one.


one large can-1 kg coffee can or large juice tin
one small can-salmon, tuna or pet food can
strip of corrugated cardboard as wide as the small tin is deep
a few candle wicks
two cakes of paraffin wax
tinsnips,regular can opener, punch can opener
a strip of tin foil


1. Cut out one end of the large can with a can opener if not already done.
2. On the side and at the same end, cut an opening slightly larger than the small tin; bend in the cut tab.
3. Punch two smoke holes near the sealed end of the larger can.
4. Roll the corrugated cardboard and fit it snugly into the small tin. Trim the cardboard flush with the top of the tin and insert a few candle wicks.
5. Melt the wax in a double boiler.
6. Carefully fill the tin with hot wax and wait until the cardboard has soaked up much of it. Then refill the tin to the top and leave to cool.
The smaller tin is called the buddy burner

To use the stove

1. Set the open end of the large can on the ground.
2. Light the buddy burner and slide it under the large can. The wax and cardboard fuel will burn for about 90 minutes.
3. For easier cleanup, put a piece of tin foil over the top of the large can and cook on it or you may wrap food in foil.
4. A strip of foil is useful as a damper as it allows you to control the heat of your stove. The tins can be refilled with wax and used many times. You will know when to throw out the burner.

Tiger's Tips

Guide Guider/Pathfinder, Guider/Trainer, Scouter/Trainer
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
You can melt wax slowly in a double boiler or if I am at a meeting hall, I melt the wax in a coffee can set in an electric frying pan with a couple inches of water in the bottom of the pan. Watch for the water evaporating and add more when needed. If you are doing this at a meeting, melt the wax at home first, then simply reheat. ALWAYS attend the melting wax - it is very flammable and DO NOT allow children to come close. If you are pouring from the coffee can itself, bend a serviceable spout in the can first to allow for better pouring later.

Punch out a few vent holes around the rim of the can (top). Cut a flap from the open portion of the can large enough to allow the burner to slide inside easily. If you are using the can and burner in the snow, use a juice can but punch a hole to remove the juice (usually tomato) and do not remove an end. This way, all the ashes will remain in the can, and you are less likely to lose the whole thing by melting to the ground! All sharp edges are filed down to prevent cuts. The flap can be cut away or left on and simply bent up or inside the can.

The burner consists of a tuna can, cardboard, wax and a wick. Be careful of cans that have flip tops - the edges are sharp to work with. Cut strips of corrugated cardboard, wide enough that when tightly rolled inside the can, the cardboard does not appear over the lip of the can. If the cardboard sits too high, it will not properly be covered with wax and when lit, will burn away to an empty can. Make sure the strips are not so tightly wrapped that the wax cannot flow through to the bottom. Fill with wax and insert a piece of string or two for a wick or stick 3 or 4 matches standing up into the cardboard, so you only have to strike the matches on cement or such to light them.

I also use small fires instead of burners and keep them constantly fed. Once the fire is going, place the cooking can over top.

I personally use one can and burner for every three girls. One girl tends the fire, one girl is cooking her meal, and the other is preparing her meal for cooking or helping out. Make sure the girls have plenty of wood to last the meal. There is nothing worse than a fire starting to go out, and the three start panicking hollering for someone to get wood. The girls wind up kicking sand into the meal and rushing through the area looking for bits of wood. Preparation is the key.

Sandy's Tips

Sandy Keeney
Cadette Troop 497, Mid-Continent Council
Kansas City, Missouri, United States
When our girls were young, they loved vagabond stoves; mainly, because then they didn't have to all agree on what to have for breakfast - - they could each fix their own. This worked out great, until we had an accident which involved too much bacon cooked on one stove, which produced too much grease, which spilled onto a girl's hand, and produced a pretty good burn. No fun! Also, the leader (me) was tired of having to make new stoves every camping trip. So here's what we do now:

Instead of cooking directly on the top of the can, we cut the top completely off. Then we punched 8 holes, more or less evenly spaced, around the top edge. Through these holes, thread sections of wire cut from wire coat hangers so that they cross the can in the middle and make a grill. Leave a loop of hanger to use for a handle, so you can lift the hot can. Then the girls use their mess kit skillet to cook with. Much easier to clean up after, too.

Another hint: turn the can upside down so the grill part is on the bottom. Set it on top of a couple of rocks or bricks so the air can get underneath. Put one of those egg carton fire starters in the bottom, and fill the can with charcoal. Light the egg carton, and the charcoal lights in no time - and it's just the right amount for one Dutch oven!

And yet another: bend a wire coat hanger so it has a loop on one end just a bit larger than your tuna can buddy burner, and a long handle. Cover the loop with foil. Use this as a damper for your burner flame, and you can control the heat and reduce burning. Then when you're finished, you can use the damper to smother the flame.

Lela's Hints

Lela C. Arnes
San Jacinto Girl Scout Council
Houston Texas, United States
The vent holes at the top should only be on the side opposite the "door" and 4 or 5 is usually the right number, spaced about l/2 inch apart, using the triangular, punch can opener. This produces a chimney effect.

This is the best hint I have ever gotten: Save the metal top of the can, put it back inside the can, up near the top, and you will have a insulated cooking surface. No more burned French toast or grilled cheese :) . It will be held in place when you make the vent holes.

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