Knowing that I have a not wholly rational obsession with camping stoves, MJ gave me this little ring of cast iron for Christmas. It came from South Korea, so I assume it was made there, or possibly nearby. If we ever get a day where the high temp is below 60 F, I will crank it up with the following top:
The ultimate hand warmer, or possibly an infant Dalek. Only Dr. Who nerds will get that reference.
This rig has been years in the making, as I lacked the extra long control knob for the 11. I have had the Trangia/Optimus adaptor for the Trangia windscreen cook set combo forever, but didn’t bother with it because I couldn’t regulate the stove easily. Then I saw this 4mm control knob on Fleabay, made for an Optimus 8r, 99, 111, or 199. Guess what, it also fits an 11.
It came from South Korea very quickly, and it turned out to be mostly solid brass. It’s a quality piece of equipment, and I now have a whole list of things to order from that same vendor–shockingly, they all have to do with Swedish camp stoves.
I did have to alter the bottom windscreen to allow for the 11 to settle properly into this contraption. All you need is a drill, and the courage of your convictions. And a bit of stupidity.
I will file and polish up that hole. The wind was blowing pretty hard when I lit this thing, and the stove took no notice, buried in all that Swedish design. This could be the ultimate combo for the backcountry chef, or even for the backyard ranger.
Fortunately, I had someone to supervise this project.
Some days you feel like Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding (played by Groucho Marx), who claimed that one morning he shot an elephant in his pajamas. Then he wondered how an elephant got into his pajamas. I feel that way about finding these original Optimus tools on Fleabay.
The wrenches are used to remove and replace the burner assemblies, and I have two different burners, and at least one more very expensive version is available. The small tool is used to take off the burner jets, though it can only be used on one of the silent burners.
These came from across the pond, in Brexit Britain. The price was right, and the shipping was fast. Not being a collector (cough, cough), I will take off the rust and polish these. Sandpaper, a micro-abrasive, and then auto polishing paste is the sequence I use. Then these guys go to work.
They must be quite old, and I could find out by looking at all the old Optimus catalogs on the interwebs. I am altering the size of the wrenchs by a half millimeter or so, to fit the modern stove I have, though I should point out that the 1970’s constitute modern for me.
Old school is still the only school. Here’s the sort of final result of the rehab.
Being a gear head is like being an immortal deity, in that there is always something else that needs to be done. Stitch up this, repair that with duct tape, or punish the wicked. The last is my favorite–just ask some of my former students.
That’s the stove being primed with alcohol, though not the drinkable kind.
I have added the windscreen to my Optimus 45, and it didn’t quite fit the brass flame spreader. I suspect these reproductions were made by different manufacturers in either India or China/Taiwan. Looking at photos of the original Swedish ones on the interwebs, I concluded that they were meant to friction fit into one unit. A bit of filing with a round file accomplished that purpose.
The number of add ons for this stove are staggering, down to and including rubber feet for the brass legs, which I will pass on. To keep your house from smelling of kerosene, the fuel tank has a reserve cap, which screws onto the end of the pump while the stove is in use–very clever. Put on the roarer burner, fill the round reservoir, aka spirit cup with alcohol, and slide the wind screen/flame spreader combo on top. It now fits perfectly. Then light the alcohol, and wait for the kerosene to gasify. After that, it’s time to cook.
A magnum opus is in the works by moi about how to work the various kerosene stoves properly. If it’s like some of my woodworking projects, it should be finished by the next decade, around 2030.
Though in general I hate all plastic products, occasionally one comes along that is actually useful. In this case it is the classic Gamma Seal lid, which turns those disposable and ubiquitous five gallon buckets into something valuable. We have storage now for all the dog food, chicken food, and wild bird seed that we can handle, and I’m talking about fifty pound bags of each, which is what we now purchase, mainly because we have these lids.
Boaters as well as country folk love these things, as they have an o-ring seal that makes them next to waterproof. Even though I literally have a closet full of Cascade Designs dry bags, which I now mainly use as luggage, these are the first choice for the canoe, in that they will hold-you’ll never guess-five gallons of junk.
The trick to properly installing these things onto a bucket is to have a nice heavy wooden mallet. It will still take some whacking on every side to get these properly seated. Once on, though, they are not likely to ever come off again.
The great French writer Roland Barthes asserted that “the quick change artistry of plastic is absolute: it can becomes buckets as well as jewels.” I will leave the plastic jewels for everyone else. I just want the buckets.
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.
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.
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.
I also upgraded the old Roarer Burner with a flame spreader. It really helps to intensify the heat from the original burner.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Will it boil water?
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.
How many modern little weight weenie stoves will still be working, 35 years from now?
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.