Workshop alcohol lamp

A handy addition to your workbench is a nice clean-burning alcohol lamp. While a good gallon of denatured alcohol is fairly pricey at $16, it does put out a very clean burning flame with no odor, and a gallon lasts a long time. Other alternatives are cheaper kerosene which burns really nasty and smells bad, and isopropyl or rubbing alcohol, high proof it 90% or so, but it also puts out a strange smell and I don’t like breathing its vapors. So I prefer ethanol, because it burns so cleanly, and also this is something that one can make at home – – A sugar wash with 13 pounds of sugar and some yeast will produce in theory a gallon of good high-quality ethanol. That should run about seven bucks. Of course to use it as fuel you have to distill it, and there are plans on this blog for making a simple solar still to do that. Of course you need a federal permit to distill alcohol for fuel, but I imagine that in times of disaster or long emergencies there would not be much problem doing that.

Back to the lamp. Mine’s glass so I can see the fuel level, it’s fairly lightweight and very portable and quite easy to light. One disadvantage is that it is hard to see the blue flame in bright light, but you can always wave your hand over it to see if it’s on or not. Ha

It’s handy for many things and so far I use it for burning incense, and melting glue sticks without having to plug-in a stupid AC device, softening & shrinking plastics, quick heating the tip of a soldering iron, and here is a little piece on using it to replace the cover of a lithium ion battery.

I have recently gotten into lithium ion batteries, and while they are a lot of fun and a great learning experience they are dangerous. Top left photo shows the battery which has had its insulating ring degraded. The problem is that at the top of the battery the anode and cathode are very close together. If you accidentally shorted them together the battery will suddenly discharge. There’s a danger of it getting hot and even catching on fire. First I stripped off the old plastic outer cover and removed the old bad insulating ring. Next I put on a new cover and a new ring and fired up the alcohol lamp. After a little bit of practice you learn just where the sweet spot is in the flame and by waving the battery over it quickly you can shrink the outer wrapping. Works great.

Solar powered coffee roaster

 This will roast a quart of coffee on a lazy Sunny afternoon, and is also good for roasting raw cacao beans,  toasting grains and other yet undiscovered things.   It has to be manually tracked so in other words you have to go out about every 20 minutes and change the position of the reflector. Until I can build a tracking system this seems to work fine for me because generally on a sunny day I am outside anyway.  I  have installed a stop button on the wiring to the motor and this is so that I can stop the basket from turning as you see in the video so that a portion of the beams will quickly toast and blacken.  After a few beans are dark it seems to work more efficiently. 

 While the motor is rated at 24 V DC, it turns far too quickly at that voltage to be doing any good. I am currently running it off of a 3.7 V lithium battery, and have found that for this particular motor it runs at a really good RPM for doing this roasting.  I have used it for quite a while and the lower voltage does not seem to affect the motor at all. It certainly seems possible that you could use other DC motors, like those from an old automobile that roll up the windows or some other DC type motor.  In post collapse times there will certainly be a great abundance of auto motors to scavenge and use. 

 The focal point is quite bright and I highly recommend that if you use it focusing parabolic dish that you get some kind of welder’s goggles or polarized filter to look at it.   Sometimes I forget and it really messes up my eyes. 

 I made the dish reflective by gluing on 2 inch mirrors bought online. Regular carpenters white glue works for this and it seems to hold quite well except every once in a while a mirror will fall out. I just glue it back on. 

 Parabolic dishes are quite ubiquitous and it is easy to make them reflective by gluing on strips of aluminum foil, or mylar, or mirrors which are unfortunately a bit expensive.  They can also be used for starting charcoal briquettes,  making char cloth and charcoal, and even heating up a quart of water to boiling and just over 20 minutes. 

Dangers of parabolic reflectors

There are horror stories about solar reflectors catching things on fire. Even a standard commercial solar box oven is as dangerous as a mirrored parabolic.

The two Sun Ovens (above right) were cooking away on a nice sunny day, and I noticed a warm spot as I walked by. I searched around and finally found it.

It’s pretty easy to see the burn mark. It started on the right and moved toward the left as the sun passed across the sky.

Pretty easy to find the focal point and it gets real hot real quick.

And then I noticed that the two ovens were pointing at a wooden bench in the yard. When I looked closer I saw a little bit of smoke and then found that they were starting the bench on fire. It’s probably a real good thing I was paying attention, because I might’ve burned down the house.


It is always best to put your parabolic‘s away when you are not using them. Somewhere out of the sun or at least turn them upside down so that the sunlight cannot get at them. If you must leave them set up in the yard then make sure they are away from any combustible material. As the sun travels from east to west the reflected image moves from west to east and anything within that focal point is liable to catch fire. Be careful and be safe. Thank you.