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Make a Fire

How to: An easy way to fire up your rocket stove

How to: An easy way to fire up your rocket stove

It’s easy to build a rocket stove, but it is sometimes a challenge to light one. Here’s an easy method.

by Leon Pantenburg

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A properly- constructed rocket stove will produce an efficient cooking flame, using a fraction of the fuel of a regular campfire.

A properly- constructed rocket stove will produce an efficient cooking flame, using a fraction of the fuel of a regular campfire.

A rocket stove’s design is based on the premise that it can make the most efficient use of small pieces of biomass. And if that stove is constructed correctly, it will use a fraction of the fuel of a campfire, and produce a hot cooking flame using essentially trash biomass.

But a few folks have mentioned problems in getting the fire going in the stove in the first place.

A fire needs three things: fuel, heat and oxygen to burn. When any of these is missing or inadequate, the fire won’t go. The challenge with a rocket stove is that the combustion chamber is small, and it is sometimes difficult to get that initial blaze going. I think the most common problem is stuffing the combustion chamber too full, too soon

Here’s one way to quickly light a rocket stove.

  • Ignition: Use my go-to standard cotton balls and petroleum jelly for a firestarter, and use a ferrocerium rod to light it. You can use any sort of flame device you prefer, but use a simple, compact firestarter that will burn for several minutes.
Find the driest biomass materials possible to light the fire.

Find the driest biomass materials possible to light the fire.

  • Gather dry wood: Find the driest biomass objects you can find. Look for pitchwood, dried bark and small twigs on trees. Generally, the biomass you find on the forest floor won’t be the best quality fire material.
  • Place the firestarter on a larger stick or piece of wood, ignite it, and shove it into the center of the combustion chamber.
  • Poke some smaller sticks in on either side. Don’t stuff the fire box too full or you will reduce the oxygen flow.
  • Drop other biomass items down the chimney, being careful not to put too much in. Don’t smother your initial fire.
  • Let the fire get going well, then feed it as needed.

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Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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