It’s been a long time since I have heard anyone refer to the homeless as being Hoboes. Perhaps that is because they are not the same critter, but I suspect that more likely we have come to regard a hobo as a tramp that doesn’t want to conform to society, while a homeless person is merely a victim of that same society and in need of help. Whatever the reasoning, we can learn a lot about survival by studying the Hobo world.

Cooking is one such area, and from all accounts I have heard, while hoboes were homeless, they usually didn’t suffer as much as some people would have liked to believe they did. They weren’t necessarily bums in all cases. They ate enough to survive, and they were able to cook meals while on the move. One of the ways they were able to do this is with a simple hobo stove. These are very much like the Sterno stove I made, but are bigger and can burn any flammable material without concern. Just bear in mind that they don’t make cans like they used to so the life will be limited and you’ll need to make several over the years, if it comes to that.

You’ll need to take a 2# coffee can or bigger do make your stove. I’ve seen stoves like this made out of 5 gallon steel pails so you can get a decent sized stove if you want. Just make sure that the inside is cleaned out of any hazardous chemicals before burning anything in it. In fact, if it has contained anything like insecticides or other harmful substances you’re better off not touching the can. What you’ll want to do is punch some good sized hole around the top for air to pass through, just like the Sterno stove, but punch a few around the bottom as well, but not too many. Also, cut out a door hole from the bottom side of your can. I would make it sized about 0ne fourth of the cans height and one third of the width of the can. On my 2# coffee can stove I made the door 2 ½ inches high, and about 3 inches wide.

At this point you can either save the cut out piece for the door, or you can cut out a door from another identically sized can. The door will obviously need to be hinged for opening and closing, and this is easily accomplished. Simply obtain three small nails. Punch two of the nails through the door piece on the same side in the corners. Pull the door open and using a pair of pliers bend the ends of the nails down to keep them from coming out of the holes. That’s your set of hinges. On the other side of the door, punch your third nail into the door and bend it so that you can use it as a latch and handle.

Fueling the hobo stove is easy as you can use almost any flammable substance. Sterno or other gelled fuel will be fine, but you can also use small branches, twigs, odd pieces of wood and even coal or charcoal, if available. One fairly easily obtained fuel is motor oil, which can be drained from any old motor, but I would suggest filtering it first. You can also use kerosene and diesel fuel as well. For these types of liquid fuels, the best way to harness the energy is through wicking the fuel.

Take a large sized canned tuna or chicken can and open it enough to take the meat out, but leave enough of the lid attached to close the can. Punch a hole in the middle of the lid large enough to feed a short piece of cotton rope through as a wick. I’d suggest about four inches as a good length. Fill the can to just about full and close the lid with the wick in it. Place the can in the bottom of your hobo stove and wait a few minutes for the wick to become saturated. Light it with a match or lighter and you are good to go. Even better would be to save a few of those Sterno cans and do the same thing to them when empty. The lid will close tight and you don’t have to worry about spilling the fuel inside your stove and causing a flashback fire that may burn you.

However, keep in mind that not all fuel sources, while they may give off heat, they are good for cooking. Kerosene will give off more heat than used motor oil, but it still may not be enough if your stove is too big to concentrate that heat. And if you are using that stove for cooking, stay away from candles. Paraffin contains very few usable BTUs compared to other fuels and thus more expensive and harder to get. While a five gallon stove can give off a lot of heat by building a fire in it, for cooking you are better off with a smaller sized stove. Plus, a smaller size is more portable, which is what we want when we are on the move.

Make a bag to store it in and you can pack other things inside, and place the whole stove into your rucksack or what have you and there’s no stopping you from cooking wherever you are. Provided you do it safely, of course. Having a survival mindset forces you to think these things through and form your own decisions, make your own tools and supplies, and come out ahead in the end. So, think before you leap and plan upon surviving the coming times.

There are many variations of the hobo stove so I’m certain you can come up with your own design. Just remember a couple of points. One thing to remember is that you need a lot of heat to cook food thoroughly and safely, so you want a stove that will concentrate the heat as much as possible. Too big of a container for your fuel source and you lose much of the heat benefit. Too small of a container and you could end up melting the stove. No matter what you do with this exercise, have fun and learn to survive.


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