DIY Survival: Make a Buddy Burner

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Buddy Burner

There are many ways to heat food during an grid-down emergency.  Most of them, though, such as gas grills, rocket stoves, and camp stoves, aren’t suitable for indoor use.  This can be a problem given that many emergencies that cause the grid to go down are weather related…the type of weather where you really don’t want to be standing outside and flipping burgers on the grill.

Buddy burners are a cool DIY project that give you an excellent tool for heating food indoors.  Granted, you won’t be preparing Thanksgiving dinner with one but they work quite well for warming a can of soup or stew, as well as heating water for coffee or tea.

To make a Buddy Burner, you’ll need the following:

  • Corrugated cardboard
  • A box cutter or sharp knife
  • An empty and clean tuna or cat food can
  • A pile of old crayons or broken candles
  • An empty and clean soup can

Start by having your kids peel the paper off the old crayons or breaking the candles into small chunks.  While they’re doing that, take a small pot, fill it with a couple inches of water, and start it heating on the stove.

Put the wax from the crayons or candles into the soup can, filling it about halfway or so.  Place the can into the hot water, keeping the burner low.  You don’t really need the water to boil, just at a simmer.  What you’ve done here is create a primitive double boiler.  The water will heat and melt the wax, while the can prevents everything from getting messy.  Put one of your kids in charge of stirring the melting wax with a twig you picked up outside while you work on the other parts of this project.

Using the box cutter or knife, cut the corrugated cardboard into strips.  The width of the strips should be just slightly less than the depth of the tuna can.  Also, the cardboard should be cut across the corrugation, meaning along the long sides of each strip you should be able to see through the small “tubes” of paper to the other side.  I wish I could give you an exact measurement of how many inches of strips you’ll need but it varies.  Safe to say, though, you’ll need more than you probably think.

Begin placing the cardboard into the tuna can, wrapping the strips along the inner walls.  Be careful as the inside rim of the can may be sharp.  Keep adding strips, going around and around in ever smaller circles, until the entire can is filled with the cardboard.  When filled, looking down into the can you’ll see nothing but what appears to be a spiral of small holes.

By now, the wax should be completely melted.  Using an oven mitt because the can may be hot, pour the melted wax into the tuna can, filling all of those little holes in the cardboard.  If you run out of wax before the tuna can is full, just melt some more and add to it.

Let the buddy burner sit for a while to allow the wax to cool and harden.

To use, you simply light a match and use it to light the wax.  I’ve found if I hold a lit match just a bit above the wax, letting the wax melt a bit, then placing the match right onto that puddle works well.  It doesn’t take long before you’ll have a good flame rising up from the burner.

Now, you can’t just place your soup pot directly on the burner, of course, as that will smother the flame (not to mention get melted wax all over the bottom of the pot).  What I do is grab either a couple of small bricks or a few large rocks and bring them inside.  Placing the bricks on either side of the burner, or putting the rocks in a triangle around it, gives you a place to rest your pot, suspending it above the flame.  The buddy burner will burn for a long time, plenty long enough for a pot of soup or to boil water.

To extinguish the flame after you’re done cooking, take a square of aluminum foil and crimp it down over the top of the burner.  Alternatively, you could plate a pot lid over it.


Jim  Cobb is a Disaster Readiness Consultant and author of Prepper’s Home Defense, The Prepper’s Complete Book of Disaster Readiness, and Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide. His websites are Survival Weekly and Disaster Prep Consultants.

26 thoughts on “DIY Survival: Make a Buddy Burner”

  1. Great project, I remember making these as a Girl Scout. My only addition to the excellent instructions is to make sure to wipe off water dripping from the bottom of that soup can full of melted wax before pouring the wax into the tuna can full of corrugated cardboard. We used a pair of pliers to lift the can while a buddy had a towel ready to quickly catch those drips and help support/steady the can while pouring.

  2. If you use one of the can openers that cut outside the can lid, you can use the lid instead of using tinfoil to douse the flames.

  3. The Well-Rounded Mama

    This is one method; it’s nice because you use materials you may already have on hand.

    Or you could use a can of Sterno and reserve this as your back-up option. Sterno is used regularly in the food-service industry indoors. Butane stoves are another option which give you a little more heat and flame control for actual cooking instead of just reheating soup. They are often used for table-side cooking in restaurants.

    I just wrote about these (and other options) for preparing food without power:

  4. Thomas L Carpenter

    We made these many years ago when I was a teenager in the Boy Scouts {I an 71 y.o. now}. I have at least 10 or 12 in my bug-out supplies plus two in each vehicle for winter emergencies. We called them “trench candles” over 50 years ago and used them at night to mark the locations of the latrine, the dangerous places where someone may trip or fall into a chasm, etc. When we made them we inserted a wick or two which when lit would allow the trench candle to burn all or most of the night They were good then and still good now. Thank you for reviving them and spreading the word..

  5. OMG–to see this in print is amazing !! I already have some of these prepped in my stash. Learned this OVER 50 YEARS AGO as a Girl Scout.

  6. I just went and checked. It said to use the non-toxic ones but they thought most are non toxic nowadays. Guess you have to read the labels!

  7. I’ve discovered that bean dip lids are the same size as small pineapple cans.
    (Bean dip cans are too light for these)
    Save pizza boxes, buy pineapple in small cans, save candles that don’t
    Burn evenly for this, then store a book if matches inside under the bean dip lid
    🙂 free burner!

  8. Why not use fat you’d otherwise toss out? When you boil bones for chicken stock, put the pot in the freezer, and when it solidifies, scoop the fat off and make one of these. Use the glad press and seal wrappers to cover it. Fat burns just as well and isn’t toxic.

  9. Make sure that you still have cardboard sticking out of the wax–if you fill it too full of wax it wont stay lit….learned this at a cub scout activity where we were supposed to be making breakfast. its pretty difficult if you have to re-light every few minutes and it doesn’t get hot enough. Once the wax started burning off after countless re-lights over 45 mins they began to stay lit.

  10. These are such a good idea, thanks for the post.

    I’m wondering how long these burn for? I’m guessing it depends on the can size, but what’s a good estimate? Thomas said theirs used to last overnight with a wick, how about without one?

  11. Great project, when I showed my Cub Scouts, they loved it . but now we use fire gel in a tomato paste tin, works just as well, and less preparatory work.

  12. I made a “Buddy Burner in the Girls Scouts “several” years ago (we used paraffin, not crayons), but part of the Buddy Burner was a #10 can with a “tuna can” sized piece cut out of the top rim with tinsnips, then when you turn the #10 can over, the burner slips in, and you use the (bottom) top as a cooking surface. we used a metal coat hanger wrapped around the burner as a handle to move it in and out from underneath the #10 can. I also remember using the tuna can lid to put the burner out.

    Then, for our badge, we went camping, lit up our buddy burners, fried 2 slices of bacon on top of the #10 can, that provided grease, then, for cooking a pancake on top of the #10 can. Good times!

    also for our badge, we took cardboard egg cartons, stuffed the egg holders with dryer lint and poured melted paraffin in them to use as fire starters. Just break one off and chuck it in the fire that is having a hard time. I have since used them (when it was raining while camping) and they are darn near magical.

    1. What a great idea using the cardboard egg cartons! The only thing we did differently in the late 50s, early 60s, when making the Buddy Burner was to line the cardboard’s length with a piece of twine (to be used as a wick), then poured the melted paraffin in the can. It worked very well! I still remember and miss those times!

      1. What a great idea using the cardboard egg cartons! The only thing we did differently in the late 50s, early 60s, when making the Buddy Burner was to line the cardboard’s length with a piece of twine (to be used as a wick), then poured the melted paraffin in the can. It worked very well! I still remember and miss those times!

  13. I’m a new Scouter, at the age of 74, but I remember these buddy burners from my long-gone youth. You mention using them indoors. Is this really wise? As I recall, they give off large amounts of black sooty smoke–you may have a job cleaning your walls and ceilings after cooking. Or does the enclosing can (oven) slow down the smoke?

  14. Along with the buddy burner we made a tin can stove. On one side just below the rim were 3 or 4 holes punched with a beer can opener and on the opposite side at the bottom we used tin snips to make 2 vertical cuts just a few inches long to create a flap. Raise/lower this to adjust the draft & regulate the flames.

  15. OK, you are making something to heat liquid in case the power goes out. Soooo, how did you heat the water required to melt the wax in the first place? Likewise, if you have a heat source to melt wax, why not use that to heat soup?

    1. these are supposed to be made up WELL in advance of use while they are not needed and all resources are available

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