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What Is a Hobo Stove?

By Cindy Quarters
Updated Feb 09, 2024
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A hobo stove gets its name from the fact that it is small, easily portable and typically made from junk. This handy little stove is used for outdoor cooking and works well to boil water and to cook small, light meals. One of the most common ways to make a hobo stove is to punch some holes in an old paint can. The inside of the can is used to contain the fire and the top is where the kettle or pan is placed.

To construct a hobo stove, either a 1 gallon (about 4 liters) empty paint can or something of a similar size is used, such as a large coffee can. It isn’t necessary for the can to be a certain size, but if it is too small there won’t be enough room for fuel in the can. A few holes are punched across the front of the can near the bottom. Some more holes are made across the back of the can, near the top. This arrangement creates a draft, providing appropriate air flow for the fire inside.

Small twigs work well as a fuel source for a hobo stove. In some cases the fire may get too hot, but it can be controlled by blocking some of the air holes on the front of the can to limit the amount of oxygen that reaches the flames. The user can also blow gently through these holes when starting a fire to give it some help getting started.

There are many variations on the hobo stove design. Most such stoves are made for backpacking or for camping in general, because they are small and lightweight. They are especially handy because they can burn almost any kind of fuel that can be scavenged, so it isn’t necessary to carry propane or other special items in order to have a small fire. Since the stove contains the fire instead of sitting on top of a larger bed of coals, it is also safer to use in areas where an open campfire might be dangerous due to very dry conditions.

In addition to its use as a camp stove, a hobo stove can have benefits in a survival situation. It can be used not only to heat food, but also works well to purify water by boiling it. In the event of natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes a hobo stove, along with some waterproof matches, can literally be lifesaving.

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