Tuna can burner

January 31, 2012 at 10:59 am | Posted in crafts, totally random | Leave a comment
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I have always been fascinated with stories about survival.  I think part of it comes from many of the books I read growing up, where the heroes or heroines would find themselves in some unlikely situation where they had to survive in the wild.  Tom Corbet was stranded on Mars; The Swiss Family Robinson landed on a deserted island; The boy in Hatchet crashed in the wilderness; Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden, Meg, and The Boxcar Children all ran into situations constantly; and the Boy Scouts, Young Engineers, and Outdoor Chums series are about surviving as much as they are about the stories.  A lot of older craft books for young people also feature projects, like this tuna can burner, that are intended for camping, or keeping on hand for survival situations.  I think they are fun to make.  

To make one burner you will need an empty tuna can, some corrugated cardboard, and some wax.  I normally use a safety can opener so the edges of my cans aren’t sharp – that way I can also save the lid to cover the burner during storage, or to put the fire out quickly.

Cut several strips of cardboard slightly shorter than your tuna can – they don’t have to be perfect so I just eyeballed it.  Make sure to cut across the grain of the cardboard.  I only needed one box flap for this tuna can.


Roll a cardboard strip like a cinnamon roll, then continue rolling and adding more strips until it is large enough to fill your can.

Tuck the rolled cardboard into your can, and gently flatten it so that the cardboard lays as evenly as possible.

You will need to melt about one block of gulf wax for one tuna can.  You can also use old candles, or crayons.  I used an old tin to melt my wax in a pot of boiling water, with a canning jar ring lifting the tin off of the bottom of the pan.  It is important to keep the wax away from direct heat, since it is very flammable.  Any empty tin can would work to melt the wax in, and another tuna can, or a metal cookie cutter, could be used to lift it off of the bottom of the pot.

Carefully pour the hot wax over the cardboard, just covering it.  The cardboard will absorb the wax becoming a wick, but I also like to dip a piece of cotton string in the wax and insert it in the center as a wick to make lighting easier.

Allow to cool at least 30 minutes before moving.  Tuna cans are the same diameter as sterno, so you can use them in in compatible devices (like a sterno grill.)  I think it would be fun to make a ‘buddy burner stove’ out of a large can, using the tuna can burner to cook with – but that will have to wait for another day.

Practically speaking, I don’t think this would really be useful in a survival situation.  They do provide a decent amount of light and heat (enough to warm one meal,) so I like to keep 3-4 in a box for power outages, particularly during hurricane season.  Plus, its just fun to make them.


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