I did another “survival hack” experiment over the weekend. Yes I know you are probably tired of hearing this kind of stuff from me. But I live alone. If badness happens, the only one who is going to save my own bacon is ME. Thus, my brain wheels are always turning and asking “What if?”. If I find an idea that works, I pass it along. So here we are.
I just tested out the little Solo stove a few weeks ago, which worked great, but that rig can only be used outside. What if I wanted hot water indoors but for some reason my gas stove wasn’t working? Some people’s stoves are electric, making them even more vulnerable during storms that threaten the power grid. You aren’t supposed to use a propane stove indoors. So I wondered, what is a fuel source that is safe to use indoors – in case of bad weather like blizzards or something when I shouldn’t go outside? I do have chafing fuel, but I wanted to save that for heating purposes if needed. Candles? Ahh yes they are perfectly safe to burn inside and also to store indoors as well!
But all the videos and advice I’ve seen about candle cooking so far has used those dinky little tea light candles. Those only burn for a few hours and you need big clusters of them to be effective. Granted if that’s all you have in an emergency then “any port in a storm” as they say. But what I wanted was a big substantial candle that would last for weeks, and it had to be unscented, because I don’t want my tea and oatmeal to taste like “ocean breeze” or some crap.
I wanted the candle to be big/heavy enough not to be easily tipped over and not able to be batted easily by wayward cats. I needed it to have at least three wicks in order to generate enough heat, but also to have the candle burn evenly. I also didn’t want the “crisco candles” that you read about on the interwebs, because sooner or later oils go rancid in storage and start to smell bad, but candles don’t. For that, it is worth the extra money to me. Wandering down the aisles at Walmart showed me what I needed.
Next, because I am a safety freak (blame my father for that one) I wanted a flame proof container for the candle that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. There were lovely decorative ceramic pots at the garden center, but for like 20 bucks – even off season. The simple clay flower pots were too narrow at the base. Even the cheapo cook pots at Walmart were more money than I wanted to spend for an experiment and they weren’t tall enough to use a metal rack over top. Finally I found some small-size galvanized metal buckets in the paint department at Lowe’s – ta-da!
I think this is the size I got.
You could even use a large coffee can or something for totally free, but my coffee comes in plastic tubs (useful for other storage but not heat safe). I may need to make the next few coffee purchases in cans so I can save them. (I am not a hoarder – really!).
Seriously, does anybody else make certain purchase decisions based upon the container the item comes in? I buy shredded parmesan cheese in glass jars instead of the plastic cylinders, because I can reuse the jars to store dehydrated veggies. Now, I’m going to be buying coffee in actual cans so I can save those too. I used to buy cat litter in big jugs so I could reuse the jugs. Then I bought it in buckets so I could reuse the buckets. Now I buy it in cardboard boxes so I can shred the cardboard for the compost. Please tell me that someone else is with me on this??? Please?
Anyway, the next thing I needed was a metal rack to support a pot over the flame. I toyed in my mind with making one out of wire coat hangers, but before that came to pass I realized that with the holidays coming I needed more baking cooling racks, and so I just ordered a set from Amazon. One of the round ones turned out to be just the size I needed and in non-emergencies I can continue to use it in my kitchen. Dual-use to the rescue!
Last but not least (and certainly not essential) I saw a cute little camping teakettle at Walmart and bought that too. Because who doesn’t love a cute little teakettle? No? Well go away then, because I don’t need your kind of negativity in my life.
To recap, these are the supplies I used for my experiment:
6”x6” 3-wick unscented candle from Walmart
Small galvanized metal bucket from the paint dept at Lowe’s
Small baking rack from Amazon
Camping mini-teakettle from Walmart
Aluminum foil for lining the bucket to help catch any melted wax and for what I’m going to tell you next.
When I started the assembly of my “candle stove” I realized that the candle was about a half inch taller than the rim of my bucket, so the rack wouldn’t work as is. I decided to make a rolled, raised collar for the bucket out of aluminum foil to keep the rack above the candle flames. I figured as the candle burns down I can take the collar off, and further down I can even put the collar under the candle to raise it up to the rack again. Even further down I can use tin cans underneath to raise the candle further up. ( But I am not a hoarder – remember?)
After weeks of brainstorming I was ready for the test(s). I set the whole thing up on my stove (safety freak – remember?), put 2 cups of water in my kettle, lit the three wicks, and set a timer for 30 minutes.
By thirty minutes I had water at a low simmer, and steaming enough for a cup of tea and instant oatmeal. It was perfect. I loved it! Then I put about 5 cups of water (max fill) in the kettle and set the timer for an hour. At this point the increased volume of water was quite warm, but not quite simmering. It would however, have been perfect for a small basin of dishwater or a sponge bath in the sink. For me, living by myself, this was a perfect win! I could heat soup like this, make minute rice, make couscous, rehydrate some dried veggies, or have a freeze dried meal.
Obviously this wouldn’t be adequate for a family of five, but there’s no reason you couldn’t run more than one unit at a time and use a bigger pot of water. It would just take longer to heat. I’m also thinking that in an emergency, once one kettle is heated you could pour the hot water into a vacuum bottle to maintain the heat, and start another one immediately. Within a couple hours you’d have enough hot water for several freeze dried meals or washcloth ”baths” for all the kids.
No, you couldn’t cook a big meal over it nor have a soak in the bathtub, but you could certainly have hot food, hot beverages, and hot water to keep clean with in a power outage, with just this candle stove. Which is what most of our ancestors had to work with even in normal times. You wouldn’t necessarily be super comfortable, but you could get by in an emergency.
With just a 3 wick candle in a metal bucket on the stove it would (probably) be safe enough to step away and do other things, while you wait for the hot water, too. I’d still keep an eye on it and I am not advocating for unsafe use of fire, but how many of you light candles in normal life in some part of the house and then walk away? I’m too much of a safety freak for that, but I know people do it.
On the Cheap
Ways to save even more money on this project:
-Use a big coffee can instead of buying a metal bucket
-Make a rack with wire coat hangers instead of buying one
-Use smaller candles (but you may sacrifice burn life)
-Use a cheap lidded pot (or even a tin can covered with foil) instead of my cute teakettle.
It occurred to me that I may not need an actual emergency to use this set up. I tend to burn candles in the wintertime anyway – it’s a comfort thing. So if I have fire anyway, why not use it to have hot water always at the ready for whenever I want it? It reminds me a bit of the old family hunting cabin where we always had kettles of water heating on the back of the wood stove for doing dishes, washing hands/face, etc. It’s the low tech answer to having a hot water heater. And with the price of electricity and natural gas set to rise even more over the winter, why not a save a few pennies where we can?
I’m going to continue to try some more cooking experiments with this set-up and see how far I can push it besides just heating water. Can I use a foil pie plate to fry an egg over this candle stove? Can I use a covered pot and “slow cook” a larger meal? I honestly have no idea if there’s enough heat for that. But I won’t know unless I try. I’ll keep you posted.