In my previous article, Off Grid “Campfire” Cooking, I wrote about cooking outdoors over a fire, and some of the equipment that makes that task easier and more efficient. Everything in that article is readily available on the commercial market (for now) but why spend the extra money to buy what you can build yourself- save the cash and buy an extra Baofeng, or some more mags, to go with what you hopefully already have. Also, when that commercial market vanishes into thin air due to our society becoming a hybrid of Atlas Shrugged and 1984 (which, by the way, if you haven’t read, you really, really need to do ASAP) how are you going to get gear that you don’t already have? Or repair what you have? I teach teenagers how to weld and work with metal, among other things, for a living, and I will tell you that fabrication skills are no different than shooting or stalking skills- you aren’t going to be very good at them without practice, so go ahead and start building your own equipment and skill now. Let’s spend some time on how to make a few of these simple items.
One of the simplest, and most useful, items that you can make for cooking over a campfire is a simple trivet. You can cook without one, but it’s much easier to set a trivet over the coals and start cooking than trying to use rocks. This one sold by Kent Rollins is what I used for my pattern, and they are a fantastic design. To start with you will need three horseshoes that are roughly the same size, and about the same thickness if they are used horseshoes, as horseshoes wear down just like tire tread. It is a little easier to work with new horseshoes, but if you have access to used ones for free, save the money and use them. You can usually get large quantities of used shoes if you ask around horse boarding facilities, or from most anyone who has multiple horses. You also need three ½”- 13 nuts that are preferably NOT galvanized or stainless, and three ½”- 13 machine bolts of whatever length matches how high you want your trivet to be. The bolts also should NOT be galvanized or stainless. Alternately, you can cut ½”-13 threaded rod to length and weld a ½”-13 nut on the end (this is what I do, since I have a lot of ½” threaded rod. In addition, you can cut pretty much any metal rod to length for the legs- I sometimes use railroad spikes, as I have a massive pile of them. The benefit of the bolts is you can adjust your trivet height by changing out the bolts.
Quick disclaimer for those of you who aren’t aware- the reason you don’t want galvanized bolts is because the zinc coating will oxidize when heated, forming a gas that your lungs will very readily absorb, giving you something known as metal fume fever. It is something akin to an overdose of zinc, and will make you feel like you have the flu, but much worse, for a day or so. If you weld metal that produces a white, powdery residue, a yellow flame as you weld, and has a sweet-smelling smoke, don’t breathe the fumes, that is zinc burning off. Also, the reason to avoid stainless is that it produces hexavalent chromium, which will build up in your body and has some very nasty long term effects on your kidneys. Leaded paint, cadmium platings, and other such things should generally be avoided when welding as well, for obvious reasons.
Now that you have your horseshoes and bolts we’ll get started making the trivet. First, remove all of the nails, or if they won’t come out (horse manure and dirt will rust the nails in tight) just grind or file the nails flush with the shoe. Now if your shoes are used and bent, take you a good ball peen hammer and flatten them out on a hard surface, such as an anvil or piece of railroad track. Next, lay the three shoes on a flat surface, flat side down, with the open end of the shoes turned to the middle, forming a cloverleaf shape. Clamp the shoes down to your table if you can, and tack weld the ends together. Once they are tacked, finish welding them, flip them over, and weld the other side. If they bowed or warped from the welding, which they probably did, it is ok, you can pick you hammer and flatten them again. Take your cloverleaf and grind or file the welds down flush with your horseshoes.
Next take your cloverleaf and lay it flat with the rounded side of the show facing up. Place one of the nuts on the outer curve of each shoe, so that with a bolt threaded in the bolt would stick straight up. Tack weld each nut on, and as it cools, take your hammer and give each nut one firm blow with the hammer so that the cooling weld doesn’t pull the nut out of position. Finish welding the nuts on, let them cool, and thread your bolts in. If you used some other kind of legs, the process is the same as with the nuts, you just won’t be threading the legs in. Congratulations, you now have a trivet to cook on!
Another item that comes in handy for cooking over a fire is a tripod. You can build a tripod that ranges anything from three green saplings lashed together at the top, to tripods that have a crank handle to adjust the height of the cookware. I have been using a simple on that I got the idea for looking at an old man’s setup at the Old Thresher’s Reunion in Denton, NC a few years ago. The simplicity of it, and the fact that it takes up almost no space when collapsed, are two if the best parts of the design. The materials you will need are approximately three feet of 3/16” or 1/4” chain, a pair of S hooks that fit the chain (you can make these yourself if you have some small diameter metal rod handy, and they will work better than bought ones), and three pieces of metal rod 5 ½’ long. For the metal rod, don’t go smaller than ½” rod, 5/8” or ¾” would be better. It can be any kind of smooth metal rod, or rebar. Again, you should avoid galvanized or stainless.
For the first part, you can use just a hammer, a piece of pipe, and an anvil of some sort to bend the rods, but a small metal bender and/or an oxyacetylene torch (or a forge if you are blessed enough to have one) make it much easier. You are going to take two of the rods and bend a loop in the end, with an ID of approximately 1 ½” on two of the rods. Try to bend the loops back so that they are closed, and centered on the end, like in the picture. You can weld the loops closed if you choose, but it isn’t really needed if you do a good job bending them. Take the remaining rod and bend a loop the same way, but make this one closer to 2” ID and DO NOT close it yet. Now, with the loop turned so you can look through it, bend it either toward or away from you approximately 20-30 degrees. Take your other two rods, thread them onto the loop the same way you put keys on a keyring. Also, thread your S hook on at this time as well. Now close the loop, either with a hammer or by heating and bending. Again, you can weld this closed if you choose. Put your remaining S hook on one end of the chain and bend it so that it can’t fall off, and now you hang your chain from the top S hook at whatever height you want to cook at, and hang the excess chain from your top S hook so it isn’t dangling down in your food.
Another alternative design that is easier to make if you don’t have a torch and bender is to take your metal rods and weld a 2” piece of metal rod approximately 8” down and facing out at a 90-degree angle to serve as a stop. Cut a ring from 2 ½” pipe. You then slide the ring over the end to hold them together. Now you can loop your chain over the junction of the three rods and the pipe, and start cooking. This design works really well and is extremely easy to make with almost no tools. It took me 18’ of scrap ¾” rebar, one E7018 welding rod, and a ½” slice of 2 ½” pipe, plus whatever chain I add to hang a pot from it. You can probably source everything you need from a scrap pile if you have one, as I did.
Lodge makes a lid lifter for Dutch ovens that is fairly inexpensive, but at the same time a lid lifter is very quick and simple to make for yourself. All you really need is approximately 20” of round metal rod. I like to use ½” cold rolled, but anything from ¼” to 5/8” will work. Cut a piece of rod 3” long, leaving you with a piece that is 17” long. You can make it longer if you want, I have found this to be a good length for me. Bend the long piece of rod approximately 120 degrees 3” from the end, and bend the short piece approximately 150-160 degrees in the middle. Weld them together in the arrangement shown in the picture below. You can add a handle of whatever type you choose, or you can forgo the handle, it will just be a little harder to use. I had a broken chipping hammer, so I used the spring handle off of it.
Additionally, you can weld the short piece to the back of a wrecking bar and use it for a lid lifter. A wrecking bar or claw hammer will also work in a pinch with no modifications whatsoever.
Aluminum Can Improvised Stove
This particular item is a little different than the others, as it is more of a field expedient way of cooking and heating water, but I did want to include it as it is something you can make yourself in a few minutes. When I attended the Scout Course in December of 2020, Mike was heating water in a canteen cup using AK mags and hand sanitizer, so naturally quite a few of us asked him to show us how he was doing it.
To make this, take an aluminum can (if you made it through my rambling in this article I’m sure you probably have an empty can by now…) and cut the bottom out of it, right above where it tapers down. You can use a knife or scissors, whatever works for you. Take a pair of AK mags and space them out enough that a canteen cup will sit on them straddling the gap. Place your can bottom, upside down, in the gap, fill it with hand sanitizer gel, light it, and you should be able to heat a cup of water enough to have some hot coffee or prepare your freeze-dried meal. You can use AR mags as well, I tried them and found them to work ok. If you don’t have any metal mags (don’t try this with plastic mags. Or loaded mags for obvious reasons) you can dig a small hole in the dirt to put the can bottom in the hole. You can heat water this way on a tabletop as well, without burning the tabletop.
I asked Mike if he would mind me including this and he said that it would be fine, but he did point out two things for me to include- this method of heating is very susceptible to being blown out by the wind, and also that different brands of hand sanitizer can put out different amounts of heat. To echo his experience, I have found that hand sanitizer with a lot of aloe in it does NOT burn well at all, and when you can get it to burn it does not produce much heat. A small squeeze bottle of good hand sanitizer will heat several cups of water.
These designs are surely not the only way to make these items, and I’m sure they’re not the best, but they are ones that have worked for me, or that I have seen used by others. I took designs that I had seen work and modified them to suit my own uses. Hopefully these designs will serve as a base for you to build something that will work for you, and if you have any ideas for improvements, please post them in the comments, I would love to hear them, and I’m sure everyone else would as well.