What Is a Buddy Burner? What It Is, How to Make One and Why

Buddy burner made from cardboard and wax in a tincan

A buddy burner is a homemade stove that functions similar to the wick in a candle. They can be made from a can, a small piece of cardboard box and fuel such as wax, butter or kerosene. Given the size of a buddy burner it can safely warm a can of soup or heat small amounts of water in an emergency.

Perhaps you are an avid survivalist looking for more skills, a prepper who wants another option or just a simple outdoorsman looking for a quick stove option in a pinch.

Buddy Burners are great tools in each of these circumstances and kids have a blast with them on camping trips as well. 

Read on to learn all about them and even how to make one yourself. Don’t worry it’s super simple. 

What Exactly Is a Buddy Burner?

As mentioned above a buddy burner is a simple stove that consists of a low profile can with a cardboard wick and some form of liquid fuel. Most commonly this fuel is paraffin wax. However, it is possible to burn other liquid substances as well. For instance lamp oil, kerosene, diesel fuel, melted crayons and even melted animal fats can be used in a pinch. 

A buddy burner uses the wicking factor of the cardboard to draw the liquid fuel up into the cardboard preventing it from being quickly consumed. This same effect can be seen in a candle as the cotton wick is burned and sucks melted wax up to prolong its life span.

A Buddy Burner works because the fire consumes the wax faster than the cardboard which results in the wax burning but the cardboard remains in the can where it can absorb more wax. Given time a buddy burner will last for around 1.5 to 2 hours in a small tuna can. 

This cardboard wick is made by taking a piece of corrugated cardboard and cutting it across the corrugation to expose the small tubes created by the corrugation. It is then rolled up tightly and placed into the can. 

While a buddy burner does not produce an exorbitant amount of heat it does produce far more than a standard candle. With just a basic buddy burner you can heat up a can of soup or boil a small pot of water. Couple this with a coffee can stove and your options are greatly increased. 

On a side note, a buddy burner is also known less frequently as a Vagabond Stove or just simply a tin can stove.

Why Would You Want to Make a Buddy Burner?

People spend tons and tons of time storing food, cutting firewood, and readying their homes for an emergency. However, the greatest risk that we face isn’t any single disaster; it is the unknown and unforeseeable. 

You never know if the disaster or emergency you have been preparing for could force you from your home. There is also that chance that you do not have your endless supplies contained within your go bag or bug out bag. 

In a true emergency all bets are off and the most creative comes out on top. This is why you should learn multiple ways to complete even the most basic tasks. 

Cooking is one of those tasks and a very important one at that. If you were to find yourself without any of the normal stove options a buddy burner is a simple do it yourself option you can throw together in minutes, usually with stuff laying around. 

Through the use of a buddy burner you can easily heat up a can of soup or even heat water to the point that it can be used for coffee or tea. Additionally given some time a buddy burner could be used to boil water rendering it safe to drink.

Interestingly a single candle can reach temperatures of 750 to 2550 degrees Fahrenheit. This depends largely on the portion of the flame being examined and the wax being consumed by the candle. 

How Do I Build a Buddy Burner on My Own?

Making your own buddy burner is a relatively simple task. It was a major component of both the boy scouts and girl scouts all through the 70’s and 80s.

Check out the simple video below that demonstrates the steps. Just after the video is a short list of materials you will need for the project.

What Materials Are Needed to Make a Buddy Burner?

In order to build a buddy burner you will need three main supplies. These are a small can, a piece of corrugated cardboard and a fuel source.

In regards to the can. In a perfect world you would use either a tuna can, vienna sausage can or even a cat food can. You are primarily after a low profile can but the wider the better.

With that being said in an imperfect world, or emergency then any metal you can find can be made to work. Generally speaking soda cans tend to be a bit too thin. But they do work as long as you have another way to support the pot. 

For the cardboard you want to make sure it is the type that is not covered with inks. It also needs to contain the little ridges sandwiched between two outer layers. You will need enough to roll up and fill the bottom of your can. This piece does not have to be a single long strip. The buddy burner will work fine if you use several shorter pieces in a pinch. 

As has already been mentioned options for the fuel source for a buddy burner is quite expansive. You can use some cooking oils, kerosene, diesel fuel, paraffin wax, melted crayons, boiled butter, animal fats and even alcohol. 

Simple Buddy Burner/ Vagabond Stove PDF

What Are the Actual Steps to Make the Buddy Stove?

  1. Clean your can and completely remove the top from one end.
  2. Cut your cardboard into strips the same width as your can is tall. Make sure to expose the corrugation so that the holes are top to bottom.
  3. Roll your cardboard as tightly as you can. You want it to resemble a cinnamon bun just slightly smaller than your can opening.
  4. Insert the rolled cardboard into your can. The top of the cardboard should be just about even with the level of the lip.
  5. Add your fuel source, filling the can to around 3/4s full. If you are using wax, fats, crayons or other fuel that is a solid at room temperature you need to melt it first. This can be done using a double boiler if needed.
  6. At this point, your buddy burner is ready for use.

Place your buddy burner inside of a Vagabond Stove or between several larger rocks. You can then light it and place a pot or pan above to cook your food in. 

The buddy burner is a simple but effective cooking device that nearly anyone can make. 

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