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Old 02-28-2013
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Re: Propane or alcohol

(This is probably 7 years old)

Over my sailing career I have used marine stoves of almost all descriptions, but over the past 19 years I have used an Origo Alcohol stove on all of my own boats. I love these stoves, simple, safe, reliable, cheap to run. Despite the complaints from those who have never used one, Origo stoves are not any significantly slower than your average marine propane stove.

Alcohol has a bum reputation which mostly dates back to the days when Alcohol Stoves used pressurized burners such as the old Kenyon and Homestrand stoves. While I have cooked many meals on these old style alcohol stoves, they took some skill to operate and were limited in the amount of heat that they produced. I do not recommend them as they were not very safe or reliable, especially since proper replacement parts are so hard to come by and these stoves used require that you replace many key parts every few years.

Origo stoves do not use pressurized alcohol burners. Instead they use burners that supposedly catalyze the alcohol, allowing for more uniform and reliable combustion. They are much easier to light than pressurized alcohol. The Origo burner consists of a container that is filled with alcohol and which has a mesh at the opening. The amount of heat produced is controlled by a metal flap that partially covers the flame rather than throttling the fuel supply.

You often hear claims that alcohol is not as hot as propane. This is a bit of misinformation that comes from a basic misunderstanding. While Alcohol has a lower heat density (heat produced per pound), the actual amount of heat produced by any fuel on any specific stove is related to the design of the burner. An Origo burner produces 7,000 BTU Each Burner. A typical marine propane stove burner produces 6,000-6,500 BTU each burner. Three-burner propane stoves and asymmetrical burner 2-burner propane stoves will sometimes have a single larger burner which can produce as much as 11,000 per burner but most propane stoves do not produce this much heat and propane burners lose efficiency and output over time.

There are tricks to using the Origo like any other stove. I bought one of those small liquid stove fuel bottles with a pour spout at a camping supply place and that greatly simplifies the filling process and makes it bullet proof reliable. Also some burners come with a small indent in the screen and some don’t. If I have a canister without the indent, I carefully push the screen down so that the indent is about a 1/4" deep and the size of a quarter and that also simplifies fueling. I also find that one of those extended length butane lighters made for barbeques makes lighting easier. I keep hearing people claim that Alcohol has an invisible flame but in the Origo, the flame is roughly the same color blue as a propane stove.

The canisters should only be refueled once they are cool to the touch. My experience with the Origo burner canisters are that they are cool to the touch within minutes so refueling is not a big deal, and they will burn for 4 or so hours on a complete refill. I use about between a half and 3/4 gallon of alcohol a year in pretty heavy weekend usage (maybe 10 weekends a year) and a longer cruise (typically a week to 12 days).

When I was researching the decision about what stove fuel to go with and which stove to buy, I liked the sound of diesel stoves, since I liked the idea of only carrying one kind of fuel on board. As a I researched this further I found that most diesels, like most kerosene stoves still ended up needing alcohol as a pre-heater and that pressure alcohol type flare-ups were still possible, only now it was with a fuel that was much harder to extinguish. The neatest stove that I encountered was a diesel stove in which the combustion took place in a sealed chamber, and which was ignited by a piezoelectric system. This stove also functioned as a water heater and offered options which could be set up to heat the interior of the boat in winter. The only problem with this stove was that it was very expensive compared to the Origo and it potentially put a lot of heat into the cabin.

My current boat came with a propane stove on it that I switched to an Origo. The propane system flunked survey for all kinds of good reasons. I ended up removing the propane stove in large part because it was cheaper to buy and install an Origo stove and oven than to upgrade my boat's propane system to modern standards, but mostly because I do not trust Propane.

I know that people love propane and bad mouth Alcohol, but I would not be so quick to say, "Propane good, Alcohol evil". In my lifetime, virtually every sailboat explosion or major fire except one, that I have direct knowledge of have been boats with propane stoves and diesel engines. And although these stats change from year to year, out of the 5 fires originating with stoves shown on the Coast Guard statistics site last year, only one was alcohol, and my guess is that it was probably a pressure alcohol stove since it would be so difficult to start a fire with a properly installed and used Origo.

Over and over again I hear people who would not think of having a gasoline engine for fear of explosion, advocating propane stoves which requires all of the safety precautions of gasoline (and them some), but which rarely get the same kind of attention with such items as bilge blowers, and explosion proof alternators, switches and other electrical components.

For me this is a no brainer. I have spent too many sleepless nights nervously trying to track down the source of a propane leak.

Respectfully,
Jeff
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Curmudgeon at Large- and rhinestone in the rough, sailing my Farr 11.6 on the Chesapeake Bay and part-time purveyor of marine supplies

Last edited by Jeff_H; 02-28-2013 at 05:23 PM.
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