A Rocket Stove Made From a Five Gallon Metal Bucket

The principle behind a rocket stove is simple–rather than cooking on an open fire, you burn wood in an insulated chimney. Rocket stoves are highly efficient and easy to make. They run on twigs, so you can avoid cutting down a whole tree just to cook dinner.

We’ve had a rocket stove made out of brick in our backyard for several years. The post we wrote on it in 2007 is–oddly–the most frequently searched post on this site. I figured that since there was so much interest in the topic it would be good to offer one that didn’t require masonry work. Better yet, I figured that it should be portable, so I made it out of a five gallon steel paint bucket. (eta: for your googling pleasure, it seems retailers call these cans “steel pails” rather than buckets). The project took less than an hour to complete and I’m very pleased with the final result. We created a pdf with full instructions that you can download at the Internet Archive. What follows are some photos showing the building process:

Using a piece of 4″ vent pipe and a 90º elbow, I made the chimney. See the pdf for the exact dimensions.

I traced the outline of the vent pipe on to the lid of the bucket and cut this hole out with a jig saw. Tin snips would also have worked.

Using the vent pipe as a guide again, I cut out a 4″ hole near the bottom of the bucket.

I used one part clay (harvested from the yard) to six parts vermiculite as my insulation material. Mixed with water, the clay holds the vermiculite together. I could also have used dry wood ash, but I had the vermiculite and clay on hand so that’s what I went with.

With the vent pipe in place, I packed the insulation into the bucket and let it dry for a few days before putting the lid on.

I found a barbecue grill at Home Depot that rests on the top of the bucket to support a pot.

Next you want to get yourself a tin can, take off both ends and open it up with tin snips. Cut a piece to serve as a shelf in the mouth of the pipe. It should be about 4″ long–so it sits forward in the mouth of the vent. The rear part of the vent, where the fire burns, is open. The twigs rest on top of the shelf, the lower half is for drawing air.

The last step was to add the new Root Simple stencil to the back.

Some fire tips from the little lady, our resident pyro:

A rocket stove isn’t like a campfire–you don’t throw on a big log and kick back. Cooking on it is intense and concentrated, best suited for boiling or frying. The best fuel source is twigs, small ones–I prefer pencil-sized twigs, and I never try to burn anything thicker than a finger.

To start a fire just shove some paper or other tinder under the shelf toward the back of vent. Lay some very thin twigs, pine needles or other combustibles on the shelf. Light the paper and watch it go. Start adding larger twigs to establish the fire. Of course, twigs burn fast and hot, so you have to keep adding more fuel. Also, the twig are burning from the back (the fire is concentrated in the bend) so as the fire consumes the sticks, you just keep shoving the unburned parts to the rear.

There’s a balance between choking the vent with too much wood and having too sparse a fire. After a few minutes of playing with it you’ll get the hang of things. If you’re doing it right, there should be no smoke, or almost none. These things burn clean.

Let us know if you like the pdf and if you would like to see more similar instruction sheets (maybe in an ebook format) of these types of projects. There’s also a good book on using rocket stoves as heaters:  Rocket Mass Heaters: Superefficient Woodstoves YOU Can Build by Ianto Evans and Leslie Jackson.

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102 Comments

  1. This is awesome. Do you use yours at all or is it just for fun? If you do cook with it, I would be interested in seeing some action shots. Or recipes.

    • It’s mostly for fun, demo, and emergencies. When we were redoing our kitchen years ago we cooked off our brick one extensively.

      We should do a video. We have an overall plan to do lots of how-to videos and that would be one. But in the meanwhile we can try to get some pics of the thing in action and add them to the post.

      In terms of recipes, there really are none that we’ve developed. It’s good for fast cooking, boiling things up, scrambled eggs, a quick stir fry. It could be used in conjunction with a hay box to do slow cooking. Also, some people have modified this technology to make ovens, which is really interesting.

  2. Cool – but where does one find a metal five-gallon can? All the 5-gal containers I come across while scavenging are plastic. Are there certain commercial paints/etc. that still come in metal cans?

    • Here in LA we’re lucky enough to have a place called Apex Drum which is an old company which sells new and used barrels, drums and buckets of all sorts. We got ours used there. So, that kind of joint. There should be that sort of place in most major cities. Or painter’s supply stores, perhaps?

      You could also order one online–search “5-gallon steel pail” and you’ll see lots. Don’t know where you’d scavenge one, since they’re not much used on building sites. Classy housepainters? The problem is that these things are tough, and more expensive than plastic, so people are less likely to abandon them in good shape.

    • I was just checking at Home Depot: some roofing tar still comes in steel 5 gallon pails, I’m guessing the stuff is too heavy for a plastic pail to support it.

      I’ll be asking around for anyone who can save me a pail, maybe freecycle and such, but otherwise, you can get new ones from http://www.grainger.com. They have stovepipe, too, but vermiculite only in insulated gloves.

    • I work at a cabinet shop. Many finishes come in the pails you are looking for. 5 gallon kerosene and lacquer thinner cans could also be used.

    • The “butter” for buttered popcorn at movie theaters and arenas often comes in these buckets, nice because its all food grade. For insulation you can mix course sawdust or wood chips with thinned wet clay, make it into a mash. the sawdust will eventually burn away but the clay forms an insulating foam when the wood burns away so its all good!

  3. query about the vermiculite… would using coarse or fine vermiculite work better, if I needed to purchase it, since it comes in various sizes of granules. Also, do you think that 1/8″ pumice granules would work instead, as those are also available to purchase and are a lot less expensive.

    • The course would probably be better. We think the pumice would work, too. Worth a try. If you do it, tell us how it goes.

      Remember you can always use plain ash for the most cost savings. Our first stove was stuffed with ash that I gathered from the bbq grills in the public park. (If you do, remember that ash doesn’t need clay added, and you don’t wet it. Just pack it in.)

  4. Another super helpful post. I love Root Simple.

    Zach and I were thinking about a rocket stove. (Well, I was telling him we should make one while he nodded silently). :D

  5. Perlite will work just as well for a cooking fire, running it to metal melting temps will melt the perlite, but you wont get there with twigs :)
    Pottery supply stores sell all kinds of powdered clay, fire-clay can be used instead of yard clay, if you don’t have any yard clay or don’t want to dig up your yard to get some :)
    If your creative with rivets you can make a cylinder or box to house the clay/vermiculite from galvanized 36ga roof flashing metal (home reno store). Old washing machine / stoves have a lot of metal on them, would need a saw and a lot of elbow grease, local dumps (scrap yards) often have all kinds of metal cans.

  6. I use a “T” rather than an elbow in mine. Allows space for coals to build up. You empty it less and get a hotter fire.

    • Also, I’ve found a 4″ horizontal piece feeding a 6″ vertical riser is a good combination. I’ve used big tomato sauce cans connected together. The metal will eventually burn out, so better to insulate with a combination clay/ash or clay/perlite otherwise the loose perlite will flood into the burn zone.

    • just bought a 4″ tee and 6″ straight to surround the 4″ and hold the insulation ; will use a cap on the bottom of the 4″ tee to use as a clean out

  7. Thanks Mr. and Mrs. Homegrown. I have been thinking awhile of trying my hand at it here in Phoenix, AZ. Love your site.

  8. I worked at a recycling yard for over seven years and never did trip over anything suitable for stove construction. This past Christmas, like on the Eve, we wound up at the Home Despot, shopping for venting material and some heavy-gauge wire to support the vent in the stove proper. This was all in a quest to steam our holiday tamales faster and more efficiently than in the huge pot on the stove indoors. We converted an aluminum food dehydrator, of all things. Removing shelves and wiring, and then inserting the vent and the rack to balance the tamale pot. Worked like a charm!

  9. That looks great! I don’t think you need to mix clay with the vermiculite though- it won’t burn, and you have the lid to hold everything down. Just top it off in a few months as it settles slightly.

  10. As luck would have it, I just acquired a metal five-gallon bucket )along with a topless garbage can that I have a lost lid to fit). I see more metal lids than metal buckets.

    I have three massive oaks and a hickory tree that continually drop twigs, so this would make use of what falls and gets hauled to the dump. Now, I just need to visit the parks and get ash.

    Even though I have a propane grill, the rocket stove sounds like a cheaper way in an emergency. I saw your brick stove and it looks so quaint.

    To say it rains lots here is an understatement. Building this where a metal garbage can could be placed over the grill for protection seems like a way to keep it dry. Or, would just a piece of metal over the top be sufficient.

    Since bending/stooping/squatting is a problem for me right now, can this be made taller or higher?

    • This steel bucket model is truly portable, so you could move it in and out of shelter when you’re not using it, or yes, you could cover it with whatever is handy.

      And if it’s properly insulated, the bottom doesn’t get hot (as far as we’ve seen–proceed with caution!), so you can put it up on a table or anything you like to get it to a good height.

  11. I’m working on an emergency hot water system, designed around a passive solar build, but am now thinking using a steel 55 gallon drum with a rocket stove underneath might be a great assist. Make the stove movable so it’s under a grate with a cast iron griddle on top, or slide it over a couple feet and it’s under the water barrel

  12. I have some old cast iron (black) drain pipe with a 90deg angle in it could I cut it down and use it? it might retain heat as well as last longer then the vent pipe. I would blow torch it a bit to burn off any left over “stuff” in it.
    Just thinking since I see this type of pipe around remodels, as they take it out and put in PVC like they did mine.

  13. Good to see so many people experimenting with rocket stoves these days. But always go to the master sources: the people who developed these wonderful low-demand, low-cost cooking/heating devices. Google Larry Winiarski, Ianto Evans, Erica and Ernie Wisner. These four, together, probably have several times more hands-on, detailed, highly-evolved expertise with both L-rockets and J-rockets than the entire rest of the planetary population.

    CAUTION! Lots of people are now posting videos and documents about rockets. Clearly, many of these posters still have a lot of learning to do about the subject, even when they rush to post. BE SELECTIVE. COMB CAREFULLY THROUGH THE PUBLISHED MATERIAL.

    (Written beside my home-welded, super-compact, boat-cabin-tailored combined heating/cooking L/J-rocket stove, with all-stainless-steel fire-tube and all wood-ash insulation; the latest of a couple of dozen various rocket stoves that I’ve built over the past fifteen years; though I’m still a beginner compared to the gang of four named above. Study them carefully before you start to build!)

  14. I am looking for a way to boil water for dunking my chickens in for feather removal at butchering time. Will this put out enough heat to boil say 5 gallons of water and keep it going?

    • Heating 5 gallons of water on this little stove would be a challenge, because that takes a lot of energy, and this stove is fueled by twigs. It’s best for fast cooking–frying up some eggs, boiling a teakettle, that sort of thing. However, there are big rocket stoves, ones that are fueled by logs, and that kind would work.

  15. Has anyone actually been able to download the

    hypothetical PDF file?

    No luck here. I’m sure it’s a farce.

    Tried several times and no luck.

    WASTE of time.

    Karl

  16. Brand new to your site. love the rocket stove. you mentioned a hay box cooker…30 years ago i saw one in magazine. can you post pics etc about one?? thanks AO

    • That’s a good suggestion. So far we’ve only played with the technology by packing a cooler with towels, but maybe this winter we’ll try something more formal–and we’ll be sure to post about it!

  17. Just a word of caution to everyone
    I have been looking at Rocket stoves and have noticed some things that can be dangerous
    Hot water heaters or sometimes glass lined so be
    careful cutting them open
    I am seeing propane tanks being used as well as 55 gallon drums some people call them barrels. Barrels
    are actually made out of wood staves with a steel/iron ring around them
    A 55 gallon drum or a propane tank can cause severe injury or death.
    I have seen them filled with water ,I have seen them hooked to a car so exchaust gas flows in it.
    None of this is a full proof way to be sure they are safe
    If you insist on using a drum or a propane tank
    Purchase brand new ones
    I am speaking from experience of the danger involved.
    Either of these can explode while cutting on them,
    if they have been used. Airing them out will not always work either
    As stated in this article you do better asking for pails and not buckets

  18. I cannot locate a 5 gallon steel bucket with a lid. All i can find is galivanized steel garbage cans. Where did you get your bucket?

    • The best way to find them is to look up industrial suppliers of drums and barrels–that’s where I found mine. You can also sometimes find them through paint stores.

    • I would probably use the lid that has the lever lock instead of the tangs
      I think it would make the pail seal a lot better than the tang type one
      You could remove the rubber seal from either one and apply a bead of hight temp sealer to the lid and push it down andadd weight on top till it drys,an epoxy of some kind may work as well

    • My wife and I found new metal buckets/pails with lids at our local Sherwin Williams paint stores. I bought 6 for about $50.

  19. I use dogpile as a search engine guess any will work
    Sometimes you have to get right down to the nitty gritty of what to ask for.
    On the link I provided you have to put 5 gallon open top steel pails
    5 gallon pail or steel pail or bucket will not work
    Look for an auto supply that may have open tops,If they are not open top pails or if the lid can’t be removed then do not use it
    Be careful in your search as the lid has tangs that mash down under the lip,so it appears to not be open .You can pry the tangs up
    http://www.globalindustrial.com/searchResult?q=open+head+steel+pails&x=45&y=22

  20. I just built my first stove. I used saw dust as the insulation. I got it lit and fire going and decided to see how long it would take to boil 96oz of water. Before I had the water boiling (it was close), I noticed my fire was very smokey. I then realized that my saw dust was on fire. I pulle the can with the water off and found that my vertical pipe had melted. Has anyone else had this happen? What should I do differently?

    • Try vermiculite or more clay next time. Sounds like you had too much sawdust. Let me know how it works.

  21. Might be cool to put into a fireplace… kind of a DIY insert… wonder if that would gain any efficiency vs just an open fire and what sort of heat would be put out. I have a rack w/ a blower and if I could make the fire inside of it burn more effectively that sounds like win.

    -Nick

  22. Thank you so much for all of the how-to, it is wonderful. I’m wondering if it generates any heat which could double as a room heater, especially since it burns pretty clean – I’m looking to heat a room and heat water for tea for visitors at the same time without using gas or electricity, and this seemed like a potential solution, if I kept it by the door for ventilation…

  23. Commercial grade contact cement (and it’s thinners) also comes in 5 gallon metal cans. You might try a custom cabinet or countertop shop. The kind of place that actually builds cabinets and/or countertops from scratch. Contact cement is used to glue plastic laminate (Wilsonart/Formica) to a substrate. You should be able to also get some cans from a post-forming countertop shop and MAYBE an upholstery shop that does cars & boats.

  24. Wonderful site! – I’ve just ‘lost’ an hour and a half exploring…

    At least one person asked about scavenging metal pails – Cabinetmaking & Millwork shops typically get lacquer and thinner in metal 5-gal buckets. One could likely get one (or more) at such a place.

  25. Hi, thank you very much for all the information on building a rocket stove. I think it is fantastic! I was doing some research about heating water and preparing food (off the grid). What I am wondering: is it possible to have one rocket stove (perhaps on the outside wall of a building) that can be ‘split’ for a stove indoors and to heat a water tank?

  26. As a substitute for 4 inch galvanized pipe, couldn’t you use 6 inch black (stove) pipe? I’m wondering what the effect of widening the flue by 2 inches would do, if it would simply not be “rockety” enough (ie cause air to suck stronger from a narrower passageway). I’m wondering if the flue is wider (6 inch), then if it needs to be longer, or if it just doesn’t matter. Or maybe the “rocket” aspect is just a matter of restricting air flow in – ie filling it more with wood or adjusting the rack to let for a smaller air passage way?

    I have some black stove pipe and cinder blocks laying around (plus the grill rack) so I will test this theory out sometime this weekend.

    Besides the issue of whether it will work at all, is a matter of if this worsens or improves potential efficiency. Any ideas how I might be able to determine the efficiency?

    If for some reason the flue needs to be longer to have the same draw, maybe stacking TWO buckets on top of each other (where the lower has the elbow/tee and the upper one just has straight pipe?

    • This is an excellent question. This powerpoint from MIT has optimal proportions. But I know there is some disagreement on this issue. I’m afraid, for now, I can’t answer your question and will have to do more research. If you do any experiments please leave another comment with what you discover.

    • @Tomas
      The problem with the black stove pipe is burning out
      It will work for a while but the stove pipe is usually thinner than galv duct pipe
      What would be a thought is using either double or tripple wall stove pipe
      It is I think A little thicker
      You may want to check thickness for sure

    • I’m a tad bit more concerned about zinc poisoning than replacing $20 of black stove pipe every once in a while….. I found 5-gallon steel pails through ULine (in sets of 5), so I will be able to experiment a bit and see… I tried the black stove pipe today with some dry brick “enclosure” and it worked fairly well. I am thinking it’s also a good idea to have the crimped end of the elbow on the top side, so smoke doesn’t leak out the top (I noticed some today) and also so I can attach a straight pipe onto the front so I can feed longer pieces.

      For some reason I am preferring a 6-inch pipe over a 3 or 4 inch pipe for the amount of wood/sticks I can feed into it, such as for cooking on bigger items like a cast iron wok, etc….

      I know Lowe’s/Home Depot has double wall pipe, so I will check that out tomorrow. But I am making it a point to stay far away from galvanized anything.

      Other than ULine, metal pails can be bought online, even through amazon. Though I was looking for a place that had the lid included. What I found out through lots of driving to various stores today is that most auto parts, hardware, etc stores have only 5 gallon plastic buckets or galvanized trash-like cans…. And these ideal steel pails are used more for transportation of hazardous liquids, etc. Online seems best. I got a set of 5 for $95, with 1 day shipping (from ULine). If you buy one at a time, expect to pay $35 for the pail, lid and shipping .

    • My thoughts were that the flue-style design allows air to be pulled from a single direction which can regulate the burning of the wood so it doesn’t get so hot so quickly…. I’d imagine an open fire (or large stove box) would burn quickly since there is an abundance of open air/space. A 6 inch black stove pipe works, but might burn a bit harder than a 3 or 4 inch pipe. Given that I have purchased 5 pails from ULine I will probably experiment with both and see how they compare.

    • Besides the double/triple wall pipe option (triple wall is really expensive, ie $100 for 2 feet), there may also be pellet stove pipe, which are usually 3 inch diameters. I may live with my 6 inch design for now and then re-consider a 3 inch system when fall comes and stores start stocking more stove accessories.

    • @Tomas
      I really don’t think that you would have to worry to much about zinc poisoning here is some info and signs of it. The galvinzed product usually burns off at roughly 500 degrees and in the duct it would be a short time till it would be burned away
      According to the American Welding Society (www.aws.org), who publish an excellent on-line fact sheet (number 25) on metal fume fever, “…the symptoms of the illness are headaches, fever, chills, muscle aches, thirst, nausea, vomiting, chest soreness, fatigue, gastrointestinal pain, weakness and tiredness. The symptoms usually start several hours after exposure and the attack may last between 6 and 24 hours. Complete recovery generally occurs without intervention after 24-48 hours. Metal fume fever is more likely to occur after a period away from the job (after weekends or vacations). High levels of exposure may cause a metallic or sweet taste in the mouth, dry and irritated throat, thirst and coughing at the time of exposure. Several hours after exposure, a low grade fever (seldom higher than 102 F). Then comes sweating and chills before the temperature returns to normal in 1-4 hours. If you encounter these symptoms, contact a physician and have a medical examination. There is no information on long term exposure to zinc oxide fumes.” If these symptoms are what your husband has, he must see a physician as soon as possible; once his illness has been diagnosed, let OSHA take it on board. Respirators should only be used as a second rate substitute for local exhaust ventilation and when LEV is not feasible or practicable.

      hope this helps

    • Well generally speaking I err on the side of caution when it comes to my health.

      Regardless, a 6 inch black stove pipe with Tee, straight tube, and end cap (about $30 at Lowe’s etc) is about the same price as 6 feet long of 4 inch diameter 1/8th round steel tubing (ie enough for two stoves). I have a welding machine so I’m going to take the round tubing and make an L joint. The steel shop I got it from decided to give me 3/16″ instead (a bit heavier) because they were too lazy to go grab the 1/8″ stock. Heavier/thicker may be better also for the sake of adding some weight to the bucket for stability.

      Obviously welding isn’t an option for most people but they can always find a metal fabrication shop and get them to do it for maybe $25, and it’ll last quite a long time.

      Also for those wanting a much smaller design, there are plenty of youtube videos on various rocket-like stove designs, including some made with a paint bucket (several holes are cut out of the bottom, including the wood inlet), and some with just tin cans.

  27. just used my 4″ vent pipe tee to do the hamburger last night…worked well ..will put a longer chimney on the vertical..already put a longer 4″ extension on the fuel inlet…fuel inlet is the stem of the tee…

    plan is to put a 6″ outer shell and fill with perlite ..grid on top was borrowed from toaster oven ..that worked well..any grid will do for the final version

  28. yeah ; cap works well for lighting fire and later the cleanout ; will not rivet the cap on but keep it removable ; other parts will be riveted ; especially the feed tube so as not to snag twigs on sheet metal screws …

    i rested the stove inside an empty gas grill..when done cooking i just laid the sticks in the grill base after blowing them out and laid the tee down in the
    grill base ..no worries about hot coals ..safe as can be to let embers die without dousing or hovering over it until all cold…just shut the lid and go back indoors …

    • Thanks for the link Ed! I have been building rocket heaters for years and this looks like a REALLY great solution!!! Looks like no guesswork since it is already precast…and they say no ash…this is one problem that I have had is a large production of ash-maybe this will help cut down on that!!

  29. Thanks for the link Ed! I have been building rocket heaters for years and this Dragon Heater looks like a REALLY great solution!!! Looks like no guesswork since it is already precast…and they say no ash…this is one problem that I have had is a large production of ash-maybe this will help cut down on that!!

  30. a lot has been offered about how to start a fire ; it was pointed out that an empty lighter can still spark…i would add that the soldering / welding torch strikers might be even more effective . they last longer ; have replaceable flints ; throw a bigger more reliable spark ; have little cups in which tinder could be placed simplifying the process of transferring fire from the tinder to the twigs…

  31. Pingback: How To Build A Decent Rocket Stove Made From a Five Gallon Metal Bucket - SHTF Preparedness

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    • foam might be a very good secondary insulation..say you use vermiculite or similar immediately around the fire tube [chimney]..then foam from there outward ..foam less likely to fail due to heat ????…certainly light and heat blocking …also a film of aluminum foil around the vermiculite to reflect heat back toward the center??? then the foam … might be very efficient …

  33. Hey guys,

    is it a must to get a round bucket instead of a rectangular one? Though it’s not exactly a bucket, I can get these used ones for free:

    http://www.oliehoorn.nl/horeca/olien/blikken-20-liter/zonnebloemolie1.html

    There is a small hole on top which is for pouring the oil out. I was thinking of closing it with aluminium foil and then drill a bigger hole for the pipe.

    I have the feeling that my solution is way too simple and possibly dangerous, but I lack the know-how to understand why it can’t be done this way.

  34. Pingback: Small rocket stove makes for an efficient offgrid or camping stove | Alternative News Network

  35. Pingback: DIY Rocket Stove From A Five Gallon Metal Bucket — Homestead and Survival

    • James,
      not sure if I understand your question
      The smoke or exhaust fumes are not really reheated
      It would be easier to look at some pics
      You have a can that is inside a can the smoke comes up out of one can and flow up out of the other
      If you cant find pics let me know

  36. Pingback: How To Make A Rocket Stove From A Five Gallon Metal Bucket | Eco Snippets

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