Sunday, June 5, 2011

Materials for Alcohol Stove Windscreens

A question I often get asked is which material is best for making a DIY windscreen for alcohol stoves.  This is a big question as there are many types of materials that could be used (including natural windscreens made of rocks or found objects); however, there are some that are better than others depending on conditions, packing style, and budget.  Here are 3 of the most common types of windscreen materials and their advantages and disadvantages.


1.  Aluminum Flashing




This is probably one of the most widely used windscreen materials.  Flashing is used in building construction as a weatherproofing material but can be used to make a great looking windscreen.

Advantages

  • Produces a nice, perfectly round screen
  • Durable
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to find

Disadvantages

  • You usually have to buy it in large rolls that can be expensive
  • Alcohol stove flames turn it brown (see picture above).  To remedy this, you can either bake your completed windscreen in the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes to burn off the coating or simply sand off the coating of the raw material with extra-fine sandpaper.
  • Somewhat difficult to work with.  You will need tin snips to cut it (or patiently score it with a sharp knife against a metal yard stick).  And, it's very "springy" making it somewhat of a pain to deal with.
  • Produces very sharp edges when cut.  All cut edges should be sanded down and you should work with gloves to prevent injury.
  • Must be rolled for storage which can limit packing options

Where to get it

Aluminum flashing can be found at any hardware store such as Home Depot or Lowe's.  


2.  Aluminum Tooling Foil




This is my favorite material hands down because it's so easy to work with. Since it's so malleable, it doesn't product a perfect shape like flashing, but you can always smooth out the kinks with your hand.

Advantages

  • Extremely easy to work with (you can cut it with scissors and easily bend it by hand)
  • Doesn't brown like flashing
  • Can be bought in small quantities
  • Can be rolled or folded for storage to give you more packing options
  • Comes in different colors if you want to get fancy and pimp out your windscreen!

Disadvantages

  • More expensive than flashing (per quantity)
  • Crinkly looking after use (not a problem if you don't care about that sort of thing)
  • Less durable than flashing though still more than durable enough in my opinion
  • Slightly more difficult to find.  Depending on your area, you might have to order it online.

Where to get it

Iv'e had my best luck at finding tooling foil locally at craft stores like Michael's or Hobby Lobby (where it is sometimes called "embossing foil").  You can also usually find it on Amazon or eBay.  Just make sure you get aluminum tooling foil and not copper or some other metal.


3.  Aluminum Foil (Tin Foil)



Some people make windscreens out of the everyday aluminum foil they have in their kitchen.  Basically, all you have to do is roll out the length you need, fold it over itself, and make a fold over each end to take care of the sharp edges and you're done!

Advantages

  • Cheapest option
  • Extremely easy to find
  • Insanely light
  • Can be either folded or rolled for storage
  • You probably already have some
  • Can build a functional windscreen in about one minute

Disadvantages

  • Least durable option
  • Can melt with exposure to alcohol stove flames
  • So light that it can easily blow away in the wind
  • Very crinkly look after use (much more so than tooling foil)

Where to get it

You probably have some in your kitchen drawer right now.  Go look!


For the ease of construction and flexibility, I really think aluminum tooling foil the best.  To me, it's the ideal compromise between cost, durability, and packability.  

What is your favorite material for alcohol stove windscreens?  Any tips or tricks for using it?

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14 comments:

Anonymous said...

The foil used to make those "disposable" pans for baked goods or for oven liners is a little more durable than your second option, heavier duty than foil, and easy to come by at a dollar store. A little work to smooth out the crimped ridges and whatnot but oven liners have fewer of those.

redrobin said...

Hi Jason - what about Jim Woods Kite Screen? I am making one now out of Tyvek. I'll let you know how it goes. Rob

Chris said...

Jason, I have to put up a safety warning about putting the flashing material in the oven. Most of the coatings on this stuff are PVC based (or similar)and when heated release chlorine gas and other nasty stuff.

¡¡¡PLEASE DON'T HEAT ALUMINUM FLASHING INDOORS!!!

Use the toaster over on the back porch or in the gas grill to do the same thing.

Jason Klass said...

Redrobin-
Ah, I forgot about that one. Jim's got a good design there but I like windscreens that can fit inside my pot.

Mr. B said...

I've made my first windscreen out of a disposable turkey roasting pan. I bought mine at a grocery store. I admit it took some effort to get the pan smoothed out flat but I did it with a wooden spoon on a flat surface. I then cut the metal with just some household scissors.

I've since found that you can buy large disposable, rectangular casserole pans at a restaurant supply store that don't require so much flattening.

I add 1/4 inch to the width of each aluminum strip and then bend a 1/8 inch hem along each long edge and then crimp the hem with a pair of regular pliers. This smooths out the rough edge, but mainly adds a little more rigidity to the metal.

Rather than folding the windscreen for storage or transport, I like to roll mine up (fewer folds to smooth out when I'm preparing to cook. I don't roll it up from one end to another like you would for a sleeping bag. Rather, I fold it in half and then roll it from the fold to the ends. In this way all I need to do is grab the loose ends on the roll and pull apart. It zips open quickly and then can be easily molded around my pot and stove.

Jason Klass said...

Chris-
Thanks for the warning. I should have mentioned that in the post.

Matt Lacuesta said...

Nice post Jason. How do the three options you went over compare to each other weight wise? Also, I know you've worked with titanium in the past when making a trowel, and had difficulties it, but have you tried making a windscreen with ti yet? I was thinking about picking some up,(http://www.suluk46.com/products%20%20-%20P5%20Ti%20Sheet.html) but wasn't sure if it was worth the hassle.

Jason Klass said...

Matt,

Titanium sheeting is very difficult to work with. It's very springy and it would be hard to get a nice circular shape. But someone makes titanium foil and I think that might work if it's somewhat malleable.

The weight difference between these 3 materials is pretty negligable. They're all light.

Paul said...

Thanks Jason. I will be on the look out for tooling foil (aluminum).

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of flashing. I make my screen so it stores inside the pot against the wall. The stove, lighter, salt shaker and spork go inside too. Even the alcohol fits if it's a short trip.

It also serves as a pot stand. Go to zenstoves.net/potstands.html and scroll down to see various ways to make screen/pot stand combinations.

It's light, convenient and has won a lot of converts over the years.

Edgar said...

Great post, Jason. Very informative!
I made my current windscreen from a can of babies formula. I cut both sides and cut it from top to bottom. This way it is elastic enough to fit itself exactly to the pot.
See a picture on the bottom of this page: http://www.campstovewizard.com/pepsi-can-stove.html

Edgar

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Anonymous said...

I'm also a user of roasting pan aluminum, but I use the only the lid, which is already flat. You can find these at the party supply store for less than a dollar and they are much thicker than aluminum foil, though very light and dos not require special tools or precautions.

Dave Dillon said...

Aluminium lithographic printing plates are ideal material and you should be able to blag one or two used or scrap ones from your local printer.