Kerosene Stove (Paraffin Cooker): Why would we ever buy one?

The decision to buy a kerosene stove, rather than the more typical propane stove, is mine alone. Jennifer has no responsibility in the decision and trusts me to make the right one.

The original goal, which we will not achieve, was to have a single-fuel boat.

I wanted to find a diesel stove that we could use underway, which meant a diesel stove that gimbaled.

The very popular Dickinson Pacific diesel stove.
The very popular Dickinson Pacific diesel stove.

The vast majority of diesel stoves are heavy cast-iron or stainless steel stoves with a fixed chimney. These are not appropriate for use underway on a sailboat.

The Wallas stoves out of Finland are wonderful devices, very high-tech, and very, very pretty.

Wallas Diesel Stove Top
Wallas Diesel Stove Top

We found a couple of problems with the Wallas stoves from our point of view:

  1. They are prohibitively expensive. A stove with oven, here in Seattle, runs about $6500.
  2. They are electronic marvels, consuming very little power, and lighting quickly. However, when the electronics fail the stove will not even light.
  3. (2a) We’ve met a number of people who’ve had consistent and ongoing problems with the electronics in these stoves, especially immediately after installation (which I suppose we could live with) and then continuing intermittently throughout the life of the product.

All up, this made the Wallas stoves a nonstarter. Pity, I had originally set my heart on one of these almost art-like appliances.

I did cobble together a design for a drip pot stove that gimbaled.

A drip pot works on a very interesting principle: diesel vaporizes around

© Dickinson Marine
© Dickinson Marine

450°F (the flash point is 483ºF). Devices that use this principle, like our Dickinson fireplace, heat a small, heavy, metal vessel as part of the starting process, and then slowly add additional diesel fuel.

Because the diesel fuel vaporizes as it enters the vessel, it burns exceptionally cleanly and very hot.

Like all passive fireplaces, it needs sufficient draw, generally through a long chimney, to carry away the burnt gases and draw fresh oxygen to the flame.

I didn’t see why a flexible chimney, with perhaps auxiliary fan to help the draw, wouldn’t work. The parts could be scavenged from other appliances, such as old Dickinson furnaces, and built with steel plate, or stainless steel sheet metal, depending on whether the stove should be a heat safe or not.

The major problem is the amount of time it would take to develop the idea.

Caro Babbo is undergoing restoration now, plus upgrades to allow us to go cruising. There isn’t time in the schedule to undertake R&D.

But, why not a propane stove? They’re inexpensive, the technology is proven, etc.

Force 10 Marine Propane Stove
Force 10 Marine Propane Stove

There are a number of reasons:

  • The first is the associated danger. Although most people use them as a matter of course, getting stupid or careless with one will kill you either through an explosion or asphyxiation .

    Trident brand LPG solenoid, kit.
    Trident brand LPG solenoid kit.
  • The proper installation includes an electronic solenoid to cut off the gas flow when the stove is not in use, a sniffer to check for gas leaks, and a locker for the tanks with a separate drain overboard.
  • Boats that are designed for this type of stove have a specially designed locker, which must be separate from every other locker and that drains overboard. The retrofits that I’ve liked the best, to be honest, merely mount the tank or tanks either by the mast or on the pushpit out in the open.
  • The lines must be run some distance through the boat.

Looking ahead, we’d end up with the international problem where the fittings on the tanks, and even the safety standards, vary from country to country, though adapters are available.

Kerosene (paraffin) is, or at least was, easily available everywhere, has a high flash point and is a high-energy fuel. It is very safe to store, can be stored below decks easily, and has an energy content that rivals diesel, meaning you don’t generally use a lot.

The downside to it is that like diesel, it doesn’t ignite easily. For the Taylors stove we’re looking at, we must preheat the burners with alcohol. If you’re counting, yes, we just introduced another fuel.

We currently use an Origo alcohol, two-burner stove, which we like. It is very safe – alcohol vapor is lighter than air. It lights instantly and easily. And, despite what everyone says, we find the heat to

The same model Origo two-burner alcohol stove we use on Caro Babbo.
The same model Origo two-burner alcohol stove we use on Caro Babbo.

be very satisfactory for cooking: we routinely cook breakfast for 10 people each Sunday, bake bread and rolls, and frequently make large dinners for six or more onboard Caro Babbo.

The major problems with alcohol are the expense and the amount storage required. We buy alcohol for about nine dollars per US gallon (roughly 4 liters), but it doesn’t last very long. The expense of running the stove is high, and shows up in what we are willing to cook: stews and sauces that take several hours sitting on the stove are completely off the menu, as are dried beans. Getting alcohol can sometimes be difficult, though I’m told 151 proof rum burns very well.

The Taylors stove that we have bought was ridiculously expensive, but half the price of the Wallas.

(Yes, I know the break-even point on a $3000 stove may be long after I’ve passed into the great beyond).

The Taylors stove is a mechanical stove based on early twentieth century technology. It can be fixed with a screwdriver and pliers and is rather bulletproof. On the other hand, learning to work with it smoothly and getting reliable results will probably take some practice.

The goal of a single fuel has long disappeared into the past.

We’ve never used an outboard on our dinghy: we row or we sail. We do have a two-cycle 3 hp outboard with about 20 hours on it. As much as I feel I’ve given in to the dark side, we’re going to take this outboard on our Alaska trip. I think it is as much a safety issue as a convenience issue, but it now means we’re up to four fuels: diesel, kerosene (paraffin), gasoline, and alcohol to start the kerosene stove.

We’ve failed miserably to reduce the number of fuels onboard.

The picture of the Taylors stove accompanying this article is not just any Taylors stove, it is our Taylors stove.

More to follow: John Gardner, of Taylors cookers and heaters, if you read this, would you please comment?

Author: johnjuliano

One-third owner of Caro Babbo, co-captain and in command whenever Caro Babbo is under sail.

3 thoughts on “Kerosene Stove (Paraffin Cooker): Why would we ever buy one?”

  1. John,
    If you ever dare to use 151-proof rum as stove fuel, the god of sailors’ revels surely will smite you!

    1. John, Remember up in Canada late on a freezing night while out camping, you and I went into a bar looking for something that would burn in that funny wide heater for the trailer?

      SOO cold, The Gods of rum would have supplied us with matches!!!

      1. I remember the heater well. It was called a catalytic heater. Did it ever work? I think I remember it working only once.

        We have diesel heat on Caro Babbo. A forced air Wabasto, which is quite loud and a Dickenson diesel ‘‘fireplace,’’ which burns diesel using a ‘‘drip pot’’ to vaporize the diesel before burning it.

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