Hobo Stoves: 8 Ways to Make Them Step by Step

Here at Survivor’s Fortress, our goal is to help you prepare for all possible disaster scenarios. So, we review the best products on the market and offer guides on practical prepper skills and tactics. But, you never know when you might find yourself in a survival situation and thus, there may come a time when you don’t have access to your survival gear and you have to make do with what you have available.

Thus, because having the means to cook your food is extremely important in a survival situation, then it is handy to know how to make a hobo stove because they are one of the simplest and most affordable stove options and, one that’s available to anyone: even a hobo!  So, in this article, you’ll learn how to make a hobo stove and which design is the best for your uses.

What is a Hobo Stove?


The term hobo originated in the United States in the late 1800s and it refers to a nomadic homeless person, usually impoverished, who travels around the country looking for work wherever they can find it.  So, as you can imagine, most hobos weren’t roaming around with the best survival gear money can buy!

Instead, these men were the ultimate minimalists because they had to scrounge up any materials they could to survive and, that’s when the hobo stove was born. Thus, with a little creative engineering, you too can take a simple tin can found in the trash and turn it into a small stove used to cook or purify water.

The Materials You Will Need

The beauty of the hobo stove is the materials needed are common, easily available anywhere, and very cheap or, even free! In fact, all you need is a large tin can and a can opener to alter it. That’s it.

However, do not use an old paint can or anything that once held chemicals inside. This can be extremely harmful to your health.

For the tools needed, I recommend a good multitool like the Leatherman Wave. Everyone should have a good multitool in their survival kit and this one is my personal favorite model.

You might also find interesting our article about homemade survival gear projects.

Hobo Stove Designs

Basic Hobo Stove

The basic hobo stove can have you ready for cooking in about ten minutes. Select a can and clean it out. On the closed end of the can, you are going to cut a door into the side. This opening will give you access to the inside so you can load it with more wood.

Use a can opener to cut into the side of the can and along the sealed edge. Make the door short and wide. A rectangle a few inches high from the bottom and about 1/3 around the circumference of the can.

Fire needs oxygen and the trap door you just clipped into the side of the can isn’t enough. Next, you need to cut some vent holes into the can. Work your way around the bottom of the can with the can opener and punch some good-sized holes around the edge. Gather up some dry kindling and you’re ready to go.


Tuna Can Hobo Stove

If you want a compact option for camping, cycling, hiking or bugging out, the tuna can stove is a great option. All you need is a tuna can and a can opener. Tuna is also a good compact source of nutrition when traveling so it’s something you might already have in your survival kit.

Open the can, eat or store the contents, then wash it out as good as you can.  Then, remove the label and use a can opener to punch two rows of holes along the upper rim on the open side, spacing them out about an eighth of an inch apart.

For this stove, you will be cooking with alcohol or some other type of cooking fuel. It’s simply too small to be used as a wood stove. Rubbing alcohol is widely available all over the world and it’s dirt cheap. Look for 90% or higher. The lower percentage of alcohol won’t work for cooking purposes.


Soda Can Hobo Stove

All you need to build the soda can hobo stove is two cans and a sharp knife. Also, some sort of fuel for the stove. Denatured alcohol that is 90% or higher will work fine. Make sure your cans are in good condition as well.

Carefully cut the bottoms of both cans off about two inches up from the base. Turn the two cut sides towards each other and slide one can into the other. What you’re left with looks like a short can with two bottoms. Use a nail or the tip of your knife to carefully punch venting holes around the edge on one end.

Punch several holes in the center of the top end where you made the venting holes. Pour a small amount of alcohol into the center holes and it will rest inside. Light it and the flames should vent out of the holes you punched in the rim.


Spaghetti Can Hobo Stove

Got an old spaghetti can? You can convert it into a compact hobo stove in minutes. But you’ll need a sharp tool for cutting into the can. Metal snips are the best. Another reason why all preppers need good multi-tool.

Once the can is open and cleaned out, cut eight one-inch slits into the top of the can along the open edge. Then, carefully bend back four of these tabs and use the remaining ones as a pot stand. The four standing tabs should be able to support a small frying pan, pot or percolator.

But, be careful when cutting and bending back pieces of the can. They are extremely sharp and can cut your fingers. I like to bring a  good pair of gloves along when I’m out camping for tasks like this. You might want to invest in a pair for your survival kit as well.


We also recommend reading our article about projects to do while in quarantine.

The Two Can Wood Gasifier

Here’s a slightly more complex option than the basic hobo stove, but the same basic principles apply. The difference here is you will need two cans, one larger and one smaller. You also need a can opener to take the lids off the cans and open your air vents.

On this design, the smaller can will rest inside the larger one. Cut the tops off both cans and wash them out. Take the lid of the larger can and lay it on a table. Place the smaller can in the center of it and trace a circle the circumference of the smaller can. Cut a hole in the larger lid.

The open end of the smaller can should fit into the larger lid, then all of it can slide back into the large can. But first, you must cut vent holes into both of the cans for airflow. Load it up with small, dry, kindling and you’re cooking in no time.


Hobo Stove with Elevated Floor

Some people build their hobo stove crudely out of whatever can they have, use it once, then toss it in the trash. Others want a nicer stove they can use repeatedly at home or while out camping. If you don’t mind spending a little extra time on your project, you might consider making a hobo stove with an elevated floor.

This well thought out design uses your basic hobo stove but lifts the bottom off the ground by using some long bolts in the base of the can. First, scroll up to the first option we discussed and build yourself a basic hobo stove. Preferably using a large #10 sized can.

Find four bolts, long enough to raise the stove up off the ground. Drill four holes down in the bottom of the can be spaced out on four sides. Run the bolts in there facing down and secure them with nuts.


Ikea Hobo Stove

If you want a nicer, more polished looking option then check out the Ikea hobo stove. No, Ikea doesn’t sell hobo stoves exactly. But what they do sell is something called the Ordning Cutlery Stand. This is a stainless-steel stand that holds knives and other cooking utensils. It comes from Ikea perfectly suited to be used as a hobo stove. It’s a perfect size and there are already venting holes cut into it for plenty of airflows.

The only downside is you will have to cut a trap door into it on the bottom and this thing is much thicker and harder than a tin can. You won’t be using a can opener or a pair of metal snips here. You’ll probably need a Dremel tool to get through it. But, once you make that cut out, it’s done and you’ll have a nice stove that will last you for a long time.


Super-Size Hobo Stove

Do you want a hobo stove for cooking in bulk? How about making coffee for twenty people while camping? If you have a large family or you’re having a big company gathering, you’ll need a super-size hobo stove. The good news is you can make one yourself for very cheap. People’s ingenuity never ceases to amaze me. Yet another great thing about the prepper community.

In the video below, the man uses a large, stainless-steel, pasta strainer to make a super-sized hobo stove. Simply brilliant! If you want to follow in his design, you’ll need to find a strainer that is deep, rather than wide like a lot of strainers tend to be. But, if you can find the right type of strainer, it makes an excellent super-sized hobo stove.

Plus, this homemade stove design is huge, functional, good looking and all of the materials for this design cost just a few dollars.


Final Thoughts

So, with a little time and effort, you can build a quality hobo stove that will rival anything you can buy in the camping store and it will also be much cheaper. It might not look as nice but, it will work just the same. It’s also one less thing you may have to pack since you can cook using the cans you bring with you then discard them after use.

Thus, the ability to construct a simple hobo stove to cook a meal and/or boil and purify water using nothing but a can and a can opener definitely fits our motto of “prepare for everything, be ready for anything.”

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