How to Make a Heater Out of a Steel Drum

Written by scott knickelbine
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How to Make a Heater Out of a Steel Drum
With the right kit, you can easily convert a steel drum to a wood-burning stove. (Traditional Russian stove. Process of cooking. image by diter from

Old steel drums that are still in good shape make good wood-burning stoves, particularly for rustic cabins or as supplemental heaters in basements. The best and safest approach to converting a drum to a stove is to start with a conversion kit; these include the heavy cast-iron parts that would be difficult to fabricate yourself. With that in hand, you'll just need to do some cutting and drilling to have a functioning wood stove.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Anti-grease detergent
  • Steel drum wood stove conversion kit, with supplied hardware
  • Protective eyewear
  • Protective gloves
  • Pencil
  • Tape measure
  • Reciprocating saw with blade for metal
  • Tin snips
  • Electrical drill with high-speed metal bits
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Socket wrench

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  1. 1

    Open the plug on the barrel and wash it thoroughly with an anti-grease detergent. Rinse the barrel thoroughly and allow it to completely dry.

  2. 2

    Turn the drum so that the end without the plugs is on the floor and the end with the plugs is face up. Face the upper end of the barrel so that the large plug is at 12 o'clock and the small plug is at 6 o'clock.

  3. 3

    Place the feed door from the kit in the centre of the upper end of the barrel, between the two plugs. Open the door and trace around the inside of the door frame with a pencil. Open the slide draft under the door and trace around that opening.

  4. 4

    Cut the two openings into the end of the drum with a reciprocating saw. Connect the two openings by cutting out the strip of metal between them. Smooth the sharp cut edges with a metal file.

  5. 5

    Position the door assembly back over the cut hole and mark the mounting holes with a pencil. Drill the holes into the barrel using a high-speed bit that is the same size as the mounting bolts supplied with the kit. Attach the door assembly to the barrel using the bolts and nuts supplied, with the heads on the outside of the barrel.

  6. 6

    Place the barrel on its side and position the two sets of cast-iron legs under it so that the door is positioned properly and the barrel sits stable on the legs. Mark the bolt openings with the pencil. Remove the legs, drill holes at the marked points, then install the legs using the nuts and bolts supplied. You will need to reach in through the door opening to secure the nuts.

  7. 7

    Position the damper collar at the top of the barrel, on the opposite side from the door. Trace the inside of the collar onto the barrel. Cut the hole out with a reciprocating saw and smooth the cut edge with a file. Insert the collar into the hole and mark the mounting holes with a pencil. Drill the holes and attach the damper collar with the supplied nuts and bolts.

Tips and warnings

  • Get someone to help you install the damper collar. He can hold the bolts firmly in position while you reach way back into the barrel to fasten the nuts.
  • Insert rectangular cast-iron grates, such as those found in barrel barbecues, into the bottom of the barrel to allow for extra draft under the logs.
  • Many accessories are available to help barrel stoves heat more efficiently, such as diffusers and heat exchangers to heat water.
  • Be sure the barrel is completely clean before you begin to cut into it. Metal cutting blades can generate high temperatures and may cause any residual petroleum in the barrel to ignite.
  • Completely smooth all sharp edges before reaching through them into the drum.
  • Consult local building codes for the proper installation of the wood stove. If you aren't sure, have a building inspector review your proposed installation before you begin.

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