Optimus 45 Retrofit–Cobra Burner, Heater Dome, and Flame Spreader

The great things about decades old designs are that they work consistently, last forever, and acquire all manner of add ons. This seventies vintage Optimus 45 kerosene stove has any number of improvements and additions. I will go from the most complex to the simplest.

Cobra Burner

The Cobra Burner, aka the Silent Burner, was originally made for the Optimus 48 stove. It didn’t take long before campers found out it also fit the 45. Though no longer made in Sweden, these burners are widely available, as they are made in at least two south Asian countries, where these wonderful stoves are often the main cooking utensils used. Allegedly, they are widely used in Himalayan base camps–by the guides. I bought my parts from Julian Shaw in the UK, via fleaBay. He knows his stuff.

This was my first choice for a Christmas present. It turned out the complete assembly was comprised of eight parts, with no instructions for assembly. I suspect this burner was made in India, which is the primary source of reproduction stoves of this variety (the other is Malaysia). There are also very high quality versions of this stove made in Japan, at an also very high quality price.

After some research, I assembled the burner in the proper sequence. The jet was clogged, and needed a thorough cleaning to even operate. Then it still roared, though less than the original burner. On the sixth trial run, the magic happened–it began burning “silently,” which is actually a very quiet hissing sound.

After a few minutes of observation, I came up with what the American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce called an “abduction,” which was his term for the process that is used to create a hypothesis: The sound and heat level was determined by the amount of pressure in the stove tank. I tested it again, and was proven to be correct, as all it took was more pumping with the pump on the right side of the stove, to produce the classic blue flame.

Roasting Hot

Heater Dome

This simple device fits any stove with a ring, regardless of manufacturer, and produces prodigious amounts of heat. There are pictures on the internet of these glowing red. After reading Into the Wild, I am never going to use this inside a tent, which was its original purpose. It will make a great hand warmer in the outdoor kitchen during the winter.

Hot and Getting Hotter

Flame Spreader

I also upgraded the old Roarer Burner with a flame spreader. It really helps to intensify the heat from the original burner.

Red, not Blue, Flame
Brass Flame Spreader

This flame spreader just sits on the top ledge of the burner. The next addition is a companion brass windscreen.

My wife Melanie Jane thinks this thing looks like a baby Dalek, after the alien villains in the BBC show Doctor Who. However, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a gear head is a gear head, is a gear head, is a gear head.

Boiling Ants

Old Meets New

Anyone who has spent much time in the South has come in contact with our insect scourge, the imported Fire Ant. After sneaking in on a banana boat, literally, in Mobile, they have spread from here to California. Their bite is bad enough that it can literally leave a scar. I have plenty.

Worst of all, their preferred habitats are lawns and veg gardens. People spend millions of dollars on chemicals to kill them. My solution is the Occam’s Razor of pest control. I just pour boiling water on them. It is both environmentally friendly, and emotionally satisfying.

You could run across your lawn with a kettle of boiling water, or you could do what I do, which is to take the fire to the ants (pun warning). My favorite setup is above, all Swedish, an Optimus stove and a Trangia kettle. Maybe I should get a dragon tattoo.

Killing fire ants, and playing with matches. How appropriate.

Optimus 11 Explorer–One of the Last of the Great Swedish made Multi-Fuel Stoves

Fire, Walk with Me

Sweden has also been overtaken by globalization, like everyone else, and the once mighty camp stove manufacturing centers have been reduced to one, the great Trangia company. Perhaps the saddest of all is the Optimus company, which manufactured some of the most sought after stoves on the internet. Even the most iconic Swedish stove, the SVEA 123, has had production outsourced.

Maybe I did over prime my Optimus 11 Explorer for dramatic effect, but that stove can take it. I’ve cooked literally hundreds of meals on this stove, and it is a hoss. Possibly even a boss hoss.

Old and New both get Happy

This is the stove before the conflagration. It has the classic Sherman tank of a Cobra silent burner, combined with a miraculously clever modern fuel storage system. No plastic pumps here–This one is almost all metal.

On means Ready to Cook

Strangely enough, the other side of the pump says “Off.” To turn off the stove, simply flip the bottle over. That system also allows all the gas in the fuel supply line to burn out, which means no spilling when the stove is disconnected from the fuel bottle, and packed for travel (The stand folds flat). And this stove is designed to cook, from simmer to blow torch.

The Classic Blue Flame

The stove burns kerosene as well as it burns white gas, and apparently is more than adequate at burning alcohol. It certainly puts out the heat, and is the hottest burning outdoor stove I have, other than my 30,000 BTU propane cooker, which will deep fry a twenty pound turkey–the difference being that the latter requires a giant tank of propane to do that. The 11 only needs that one small fuel bottle.

These stoves are somewhat scarce as they had a short production run, preceding the equally trailblazing Optimus Nova. One half-witted reviewer found the stove to have too many parts. If a writer can’t handle two main parts, a stand, a windscreen, and a regulating key, they shouldn’t be left alone with even a tent stake.

The review that sold me on buying this stove as soon as it was introduced, marveled at its bomb proof construction. It is also very simple to maintain and rebuild, after it has been scorched by a few hundred meals. The review concluded that this stove would be “a friend for life.” Those are always a good thing to have.

Optimus 199-The Classic Multi-Fuel Stove

Root Hog or Die, or in this Case, Prime the Stove or go Hungry

My mid 1980’s Optimus 199 is still going strong, and I bought it brand new for less than $100, so in the used car business, this would be known as a one owner item. That’s probably a good thing, as these are more than a little collectible, with prices of upwards of $500 not uncommon, if you can find anyone willing to part with their’s. This is the stove that started me on the downward slope of collecting, hoarding, and gear heading.

There is something innately satisfying in carrying everything that’s needed to cook in one small container. On an overnight trip, it may not even be necessary to carry any extra fuel. I always do anyway, as I pack light and really like to cook.

Blue Hot. Look, but don’t Touch

The wind screen doubles as a pot support, and makes for an incredibly stable set up. Those Swedes, they are so clever. I did move the fuel bottles, as I once set the MSR one on fire.

Safe Cooking. Keep the Adjustment Key away from the Stove

Will it boil water?

Ramen Noodles in a Couple of Minutes, or Instant Grits instantly

Now, how multi fuel is it? White gas (benzene, petrol) is easily the best fuel. Kerosene requires some practice, as the stove has to be properly pressurized, and that little pump is what you might call small. Alcohol is anybody’s guess. A few years back, I talked with the Optimus experts at A&H Enterprises in California, and they knew of no one who used this as an alcohol stove. Why would you, when a bag of Optimus parts costs more than a Trangia alcohol stove?

The famous Optimus Cobra silent burner is everything it should be, the armored vehicle of the stove world. My stove lives in this little Cascade Designs stuff sack. It’s much better than a strap, to keep all those parts from wandering around.

Behold, the Complete Package

How many modern little weight weenie stoves will still be working, 35 years from now?

Mini Trangia Mash Up

Customize or Die

In my endless quest to be the greatest gear head in history, I created my own mini Trangia set. I bought the mini Trangia setup, and hated the little fiddly base that came with it. I bought a triangle base and a kettle, and hiddy hiddy ho, I have a fantastic three piece cook set, with stove. The new triangle base is even better than this old one.

And then it all packs up in this little package. Minimalists, read it and weep. If I get any more simple than this, expect to see me on an episode of Naked and Afraid. That would be your worst nightmare.