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Old 08-16-2007
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stoves: propane vs alcohol

I always value the feedback I get here so another question.

I'm looking to replace an old propane stove/oven. To be honest propane makes me nervous and I hate even lighting the thing. So which way to go, propane or alcohol (not the drinking kind!). Or perhaps even diesel and keep things simple.

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Old 08-16-2007
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Alcohol is not hot

Alcohol stoves are relatively safe to use. No real explosive dangers. The advantages of the alcohol stove are that it is relativley safe, easy to get fuel, and maintanice free. The downsides is the flame is not hot. Think Sterno fuel. It will cook stuff, but will take a L-O-N-G time. I have one, but just use it to boil water.

Propane will be hotter and easier to cook with. It is relativley safe, but is a lot more explosive than alcohol. Your grill outside ise probably Propane driven.

A lot of people have propane stoves, so it isn't really a big deal. The advantages of propane is that it will cook stuff quick, is hotter than alcohol, and pretty clean. The downside of propane is that it is a little harder to find, you need a cyclinder, plumbing, and a regulator to use it, and a place to store the tank on the boat.

Diesel? I wouldn't burn that to cook with, too sooty and smelly.

DrB
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Old 08-16-2007
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Slocum,

My advice would be to stick with the propane. Yes, it is heavier than air and therefore you need to be mindful of certain precautions when using it, but the other fuels you mentioned also have their own issues. Alcohol stoves require a fair bit of attention too, and you have to treat the fuel storage much like you would gasoline. Kerosene/diesel stoves burner elements require pre-heating (usually with alcohol), which can be a hassle, and over time tend to leave a residue/aroma on the boat's interior. If you or any of your crew has a sensitive nose (as one of my kids does), this could be a nauseating problem.

Your boat is already set-up for propane. If you maintain the system properly and take basic precautions, it should provide reliable service. If you don't have a remote solenoid shut-off for the propane system, be sure to install one or have it installed if you're uncomfortable doing that sort of thing. Use the solenoid religiously, like an on-off switch for your stove. If your propane stove is cantankerous, definitely rebuild it or replace it with a new one that has all the safety features (like thrermo-couples).

If you can't sleep at night because you are really worried about propane saftey issues, many propane stoves can be converted to CNG, which is lighter than air and therefor safer. But be advised that CNG can be hard to come by. I have heard that there are outfits that will ship it to you. This might work if you're not out cruising and don't use a whole lot of fuel.
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Johns advice is good if your already set-up for propane stick with it i have Alcohol it is a little slow but whats the rush have a glass of wine and relax
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Old 08-16-2007
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With all due respect to Mr. Pollard, I would like to correct a couple mistatements in his post. Alcohol evaporates and is lighter than air. Stove alcohol takes a big spill in a closed space to be ignited from airborne fumes in the same manner that Gasoline or propane is eassily ignited and alcohol cannot be ignited from a spark as is the case with either of these other two fuels. From a fire safety standpoint, stove alcohol needs to be handled with all the care that you would handle your favorite booze.

Modern catalyzed alcohol, (non-pressurized) stoves do not have the flare ups as the alcohol stoves of yore and deliver nearly the same heat as the typical marine propane burner so the cook times are not noticably slower than propane stoves. I removed the propane stove from my boat and installed an Origo alcohol stove and have been extremely pleased with the Origo.

To me the big problem with Propane is that it is actually easier to ignite than gasoline. Boats with gasoline engines come with sealed explosion proofed switches, alternators and other electrical components, as well as bilge blowers in addition to passive bilge vent systems. Boats with propane systems generally come with none of these protections. In my lifetime the only sailboats that I personally have heard of exploding have all had diesel engines and propane stoves.

CNG is a reasonable alternative, but it puts out even less heat than a catalyzed alcohol burner.

Jeff

Last edited by Jeff_H; 08-16-2007 at 09:34 AM.
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Old 08-16-2007
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Jeff H,

I have had little personal experience with alcohol stoves aboard boats. So my understanding of the risks associated with alcohol is partly anecdotal, partly from boating safety curriculum. I think my comments were valid -- any fuel requires attention, and needs to be stored carefully. If I had several gallons of alcohol stove fuel aboard, I would give the same thought to where to stow it as I would gasoline, or propane for that matter.

You're right that alcohol vapor is less volatile and not as explosive as propane or gasoline. But when ignited, the alcohol vapor tends to burn almost invisibly. There have been many instances when a small leak of alcohol fuel went undetected, and a quiet fire began behind the stove or locker where it was stored (usually ignited by use of the stove itself). These fires can be very insidious, because they usually are not detected until they having really taken hold.

I have heard many good reports about Origo alcohol stoves, and that's what I'd go with if alcohol was my preferred fuel. But I wouldn't want to imply that alcohol is without risk. Care must be taken with all fuels, and that's all I was tring to say in my previous posts. Apologies if that was not clear.
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Old 08-16-2007
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Certainly propane is less safe than alchohol and makes a big bang when safety and maintenance is not attended to properly. Still...most of the rare explosions one hears about are the result of carelessness or neglect rather than "accidents". So...I am comfortable using propane as a fuel and vastly prefer it to alcohol as a convenient and effective cooking fuel. I have owned alchohol stoves before and remember waiting forever to try to get a large pot of water to boil. While there may be improvements in more modern alcohol stoves...the heat of the burners can't be that close to my LPG stove. I have never seen any tests of this and would be happy for a reference...but in the meantime will submit a link on camping stoves. One would think these would be designed for maximum efficiency since you have to carry your own fuel. The table shows all of the alchohol burners taking 2-3 times as long as the gas stove to boil 2 cups of water.
http://hikinghq.net/stoves/stove_compare.html

That is similar to my experience on board.
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Old 08-16-2007
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Quote:
Originally Posted by camaraderie View Post
Certainly propane is less safe than alchohol and makes a big bang when safety and maintenance is not attended to properly. Still...most of the rare explosions one hears about are the result of carelessness or neglect rather than "accidents". So...I am comfortable using propane as a fuel and vastly prefer it to alcohol as a convenient and effective cooking fuel. I have owned alchohol stoves before and remember waiting forever to try to get a large pot of water to boil. While there may be improvements in more modern alcohol stoves...the heat of the burners can't be that close to my LPG stove. I have never seen any tests of this and would be happy for a reference...but in the meantime will submit a link on camping stoves. One would think these would be designed for maximum efficiency since you have to carry your own fuel. The table shows all of the alchohol burners taking 2-3 times as long as the gas stove to boil 2 cups of water.
http://hikinghq.net/stoves/stove_compare.html

That is similar to my experience on board.
Agree.

I have a lot of experience with camping stoves and almost all campers that I have backpacked with use either White Gas or Propane Canisters. Nobody I know uses Sterno (alcohol) stoves for major cooking. While WG burns a little hotter it is much more hazardous than propane canisters. WG needs to be handled smartly, especially when cooking inside your tent. Yeah, I know that you are not supposed to cook inside your tent, but when it's pouring rain or snowing, cooking in the vestibule is the only way. WG also needs to be primed (pump), whereas Propane doesn't.

Agree with others, if you have the plumbing, and it is in good shape and safe, propane is the way to go. Alcohol is safer, but you won't be able to cook much except boil water.

DrB

PS - White Gas is typically what is used in Coleman Liquid Fuel stoves.
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Old 08-16-2007
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Having endangered a set of eyebrows from a pressurized alcohol stove flare-up, I would say that if propane's shortcomings alarm you, go with Origo alcohol stoves. They are the only type of alcohol stove that people seem to agree perform the safest and the best with alcohol, which is not a great fuel otherwise due to its low energy vs. high price.

Of course, on a smaller boat, I would consider a single-burner "camp gas" gimballed stove or even a Coleman in the cockpit, properly secured. Both get the fuel and the burner close together and closer to the "outside", thus avoiding many of the issues of propane.
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Old 08-16-2007
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I had to make a similar decision a few months ago, except I was deciding what to replace a pressurized alcohol stove with. I decided on the Origo 6000 (with oven) and have been happy with the choice. The oven takes a little getting used to as you start from "high" and learn how far to turn down to get the whatever temp you need. The burners seem fast enough for me, and as someone else mentioned it's pretty much maintenance free.
I'm the only one I know among my friends who uses an alcohol stove, they all have propane, and for me it was simply a matter of personal choice as I didn't like the idea propane on my boat. I do use it for the bbq, but once it didn't light for a few seconds and, my mistake for having the lid down, made a mini explosion when it did light and I felt the force of it on my stomach. Didn't want to chance anything like that down below.
Good Luck
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