Sterno is a gel fuel that can be lit to create a temporary heat source. Sterno typically comes in small shallow cans, like those used for tuna fish and cat food. Inside the can, a wick is lit, and the flame is placed under an aluminium pan or tray to heat or warm food. You can mix your own Sterno fuel using paraffin wax or gelled denatured ethanol, and you can create your own Sterno containers as well.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Old pot
- Paraffin wax bricks
- Metal stirrer
- Denatured ethanol
- Calcium carbonate (egg shells/chalk)
- Glass dish
- Filter paper
- 2-inch cotton yarn
- Steel paper clip
- Clean cat food or tuna fish can
Place the pot on the stove and turn the stove to high.
Add the blocks of paraffin wax to the pot.
Mix occasionally with the metal stirrer until the wax has melted.
Reduce the heat to low. Add 5-25%, by volume, denatured ethanol. The more ethanol added, the faster and hotter the fuel will burn. You must use 100% (200-proof) ethanol, since 95.5% (192-proof) ethanol will not mix well with the wax.
Mix the ethanol and wax together until it is homogeneous.
Paraffin Wax Fuel
Combine about 25 grams of calcium carbonate and 100 millilitres of vinegar in a small dish.
Mix with the stirring rod until there are no more bubbles being formed. Add a little more calcium carbonate and mix again.
Pour the mixture through the filter paper into the old pot to eliminate excess calcium carbonate.
Place the pot on the stove. Heat on medium to boil away half of the solution.
Add 30 millilitres of ethanol and stir to mix fully.
Gelled Ethanol Fuel
Tie the end of the piece of yarn to the centre of the paper clip.
Place the paper clip on the bottom of the can while holding the other end of the yarn straight up.
Pour the fuel into the can.
Allow the hot wax to fully cool or the gelled ethanol to fully solidify before using the can.
Making the Can
Tips and warnings
- Ethanol and paraffin wax are flammable. Care should be taken when using either around a heat source.
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