By W. Wayne Robertson – Many people are familiar with wood heaters made from steel barrels. This is a description of how to make a homemade barrel stove. An effort has been made to keep it simple so that you will not need special skills like welding or forging. The only tools needed to make a homemade barrel stove are a drill, a jigsaw (with hacksaw blade), tape measure, and simple hand tools.
You will need a sturdy 55-gallon steel barrel with both ends attached to make your homemade barrel stove. Avoid a badly rusted barrel, etc. With a hammer and screwdriver, cut out the end of the barrel that has the plug in it. This will be the floor of the fire box. The smooth, plain end will be the cooking surface. After the end is removed, be sure to clean the inside, if needed.
The Stovepipe Opening
The stovepipe opening should be on the top (the plain end of the barrel) and near the back (where the seam is). Set a section of stovepipe on the top of the barrel about an inch from where the seam runs down the back. With a pencil, trace a circle on the top of the barrel using the inside of the pipe as a guide. Remove the pipe. With a jar lid or whatever you have, draw another circle inside the stove pipe circle. The radius of the small circle should be about 3/4 inch less than that of the large circle. Drill a pilot hole in the small circle. Then with the saw, cut out the small circle and discard it. Next, mark and saw 1/2-inch wide tabs up to the large circle. With pliers bend these tabs up. The stovepipe will fit down over these tabs. Later you will bolt the pipe to the stove top with two “L” braces.
The Stove Door
Next, cut two rectangular openings in the front of the barrel, on the side opposite the seam. There should be two crimped rings running around the barrel, dividing it into thirds. The smaller rectangle (12″ x 8″) should be cut in the upper section. This will be the opening to the fire box. The larger rectangle (14″ x 10″) should be cut in the lower section. Be sure not to cut the ring since it gives strength and stability to the barrel (and the stove). This larger rectangle will be the door. For safety, cut the sharp corners off, but not too much. Save the small rectangle piece for making the draft. Do not flatten the rectangles because the curves fit well.
Note: If you’re right handed, you may want to place your door handle on the right-hand side, so you can open the door with your left hand and throw in the wood with your right.
Attaching the Door
You will need an old, well-worn house door hinge. The wear allows for thermal expansion and contraction. Being sure to center the door over the opening, drill holes and hold the hinge to the barrel and the door. One hinge is all you will need.
The Door Latch
The door latch is made from two 3″ x 3″ “L” braces. One will be bolted to the barrel and the other will be bolted to the door itself.
Cut the end off one brace so it is a 3″ x 1″ brace. Then cut or file a notch about 1/4″ deep into the top of the one-inch end about 1/2″ from the bend. This notch will accept the brace bolted to the door and hold the door closed. Bend over the end of the other brace to make a sort of handle. Bolt both braces into place, making sure the one on the door extends past the edge of the door enough to engage the notch in the one bolt in that brace. It might take some adjustment, but the latch can be made to hold the door snugly in place. You may want to substitute another kind of latch if you have a better idea.
The Firebox Floor
The round disc that was cut out of the bottom of the barrel will be the firebox floor. This will be supported by 3″ x 3″ “L” braces. Six braces spaced evenly, with an extra one at the door, fit well. If you want to use more, it would not hurt. Drill holes in the barrel about an inch below the upper ring. Make sure they are all the same distance from the top, about two inches below the door opening. Bolt the braces to the sides. Be sure the braces hang from the floor and cannot be seen from inside the firebox. Place the disc on the braces, drill holes, and bolt the floor into place. This is a lot harder than it sounds and would be easier with two people. There will be a crack around the edges, which will be filled in with aluminum foil later.
The air draft at the bottom of the door is a little tricky to make. Cut a piece of curved metal from the leftover piece from cutting the door opening to the firebox. It should be 2-1/2″ high and 9″ long. Make 1/2″ wide vertical markings from end to end. This draft slide is held in place by six carriage bolts. They have a round shaft with threads, topped by a square, which is topped by a rounded head. Your hardware store can help you locate them.
Drill five holes (two at the top, two at the bottom, and one on the left end) big enough for the shaft of the bolt to pass through, but not big enough for the square to pass through. The slide will move back and forth in the space between the stove door and the round head of the carriage bolts. Install the five bolts and move the slide to the left as far as possible. Then drill a hole in the center through the slide and the door. The size will be dictated by the knob you will use. Through this hole bolt the slide to the door. This will hold everything in place while you drill the air holes. Next, drill three air holes, 3/8″ in diameter, in alternating 1/2″ spaces. (See diagram on page 32.) Be sure to drill through both the slide and the door at the same time so the holes will all line up when the draft is open. The plain 1/2″ spaces will cover the holes in the door when the draft is closed. Remove the slide and drill or cut an opening in the door to allow for the movement of the knob screw. Replace the slide and install the sixth carriage bolt on the right end. Allow space so that the slide covers all the holes in the door when the draft is closed. Finally, attach the knob. This involves a lot of drilling, but it makes a great air draft.
When you are completely finished making your homemade barrel stove, take it outside and pack it full of firewood and make a huge rip-roaring fire. This will burn all the old paint off the outside. It will also help you locate any flaws or mistakes you may have made while it is in the safety of the outdoors.
Paint is optional for your homemade barrel stove, but about two cans of stove spray paint will make it look much better. Count on some smell when you first use the stove and for a while afterward.
The crack around the floor of the firebox can be filled in with aluminum foil. If it is packed in tight it will keep ashes from falling out, but the entire floor will soon be covered with ashes. Always keep a good covering of ashes to protect the firebox floor.
If you plan to leave the stove in one place you might want to line the inside with half fire bricks. If you plan to use it as a portable stove, the fire bricks probably will not be such a good idea.
Use bolts only. Do not be tempted to scrimp and use sheet metal screws—the bolts will hold much better. Drill the holes in the “L” braces a little bigger to accommodate bigger and stronger bolts.
Use two 2″ x 2″ “L” braces to attach the stove pipe to the top of the stove. The pipe will fit over the bent-up tabs but it will be better to bolt it in place with the braces.
Use small bolts to hold the sections of stovepipe to each other and the elbow. Some people use pop rivets, but the bolts do not leave a little hole.
Always set your homemade barrel stove on a fireproof floor (concrete, brick, rock, etc.), or use a stove mat to protect the floor as well as the proper distances from walls and have a fireproof barrier as needed.
As with any fire, keep small children away and teach older ones to respect it. The homemade barrel stove can get hot, so be careful yourself.
This homemade barrel stove is sturdy enough to use for several years on a regular basis. However, one moderately strong man can lift it up onto a pickup truck and haul it wherever it is needed as a portable stove. This stove does not have an oven, but you could use a box oven or a pot oven on the top.
The cost of materials (excluding the barrel) should not be more than $25-$30 (Ed. Note: In 2004). An effort has been made to use only simple tools, basic skills, and inexpensive supplies. As homesteaders, we are always on the hunt for low-cost construction techniques, and I wish you luck constructing your first homemade barrel stove.
Originally published in Countryside November / December 2004 and regularly vetted for accuracy.