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Kerosene Stove Maintenance and Storage
 

Just after World War I, Boss and Perfection began using a "burner unit," or catalytic converter, on their stoves.  The basic design is unchanged to this day because it works.  In essence, the catalytic converter is comprised of two perforated bare carbon steel cylinders with two through-pins holding the cylinders within a strong enameled steel outer cylinder.  The design allows the inner cylinders to "float" or move, so they can seat squarely. 

The photo above shows the base of a catalytic converter. Click on the photo to enlarge it.

The two inner cylinders of the catalytic converter are spaced so that one fits inside the wick(s) and one fits outside, so the wick(s) are between the two perforated cylinders.  The wick(s) bring fuel to the base of the cylinders through capillary action.  When the catalytic converter is up to operating temperature, the fuel vapor is combined with oxygen flowing through the perforations.  The flame is then between the cylinders, not from the wick(s) - the rings convert fuel vapor to clean, virtually odor-free flame heat.  This principle applies whether the wick is an edge-burning type in a gravity flow stove, a single circular wick as in a Boss or Perfection, or a multi-wick stove as are many stoves made by Butterfly.

The two steel cylinders of the catalytic converter are soft and easily damaged.  Even if made from hardened steel, the heat produced by the stove in use would quickly anneal the cylinders and make them soft.  Normal bouncing during transit, storage or use can result in nicks or an uneven bottom edge of the converter rings.   If the bottom edge of the burner rings is not perfectly flat, an air leak and cause extra oxygen to enter the space between the cylinders, upsetting the delicate air/fuel mixture and causing an flame spike.  And that air spike will cause sooting if it is high enough to impact the bottom of a pot or pan.

 

An "flame spike" can be caused by too high a wick in a multi-wick stove as well as an air leak.  To determine the problem, grab the wire handle (see photo above) on the catalytic converter and move it slowly from side to side while watching the flame.  If the flame spike does not move, the cause is a wick too high.  Remember the location (10:30, 3:00 o'clock, whatever), cool the stove, remove the catalytic converter, and trim down the offending wick. 

If the flame spike moves with the catalytic converter, the cause of the flame spike is an air leak.  That is easy to fix.  Place a new sheet of sandpaper of 120 to 150 grit on a flat surface, like a Formica countertop.  Place the catalytic converter base down on the sandpaper close to you and hold an edge of the sandpaper down against the countertop.  Then gently stroke the catalytic converter away from you, one stroke!, while keeping the catalytic converter as flat as possible.  Lift the catalytic converter and return it to the near edge, then make another stroke.  Now you can examine the bottom edge of each cylinder.  The shiny spots were high spots that were sanded down.  The dull places are too low and will cause an air leak.  Repeat the sanding strokes until both cylinders are shiny rings all the way around.  Bingo, no air leak. 

That whole operation takes less than 10 minutes, and your kerosene stove will now burn properly.  Now the wicks can be raised higher, producing more heat without a flame spike causing sooting on your pots and pans. 

OBTAINING AN EVEN WICK HEIGHT (MULTI-WICK STOVES)

All kerosene stoves depend upon an even flame height for maximum efficiency.  If there is a "flame spike" caused by a wick which is too high, the maximum heat output of the stoves is limited because that one flame spike soot up any cooking utensil if it impacts the base of the pot or pan.  When all the wicks are exactly the same height, the flame and will be even all the way around, so maximum heat output can be obtain and minimum simmering temperatures vastly easier to control.  

Every multi-wick stove has raised guide ribs on the inside and outside of the wicks.  Those guide ribs indicate the maximum height of the wicks when fully raised.  When wicks need trimming, or with new wick installation, the wicks are pulled up with pliers to be slightly above the height of the guide ribs.  A sturdy pair of scissors is then laid across the guide ribs and the top of each wick is snipped off.  There are times when that method does not work well - too enclosed a space to snip evenly, scissors not sharp enough, etc.  In this case, burning the wicks down to a level works extremely well.  The wicks are cotton so they will burn when dry.  Remove all fuel from the tank.  Old wicks will be wet with fuel.  If adjusting new wicks, put some fuel in the tank, let the wicks absorb it, then empty the fuel tank.  Adjust the wicks so the lowest wick is just barely above the wick tube, light all the wicks, and reassemble the stove.  As the last of the fuel is burnt from the wicks, the wicks themselves will burn, which will burn off any carbon deposits.  The wicks will burn down to the top of the wick tubes - and they will be nice and even in height, perfect for the next use of the stove. The wicks are supplied long precisely so they can be trimmed down repeatedly, so this process is not wasteful. 

Because kerosene stoves with catalytic converters burn efficiently and clean, I adjust the wick height at night so I can see the flame height.  And because burning cotton has a distinctive aroma, I do this work in the greenhouse.  A garage or any well ventilated area without a strong draft would work just as well.

STORAGE

Be sure to store the stove "dry," empty of fuel, to avoid any condensation in the fuel tank.  After the fuel is emptied from the tank, light the wicks, assemble the stove, and let it burn for a half hour or so until all fuel is out of the wicks - the flame will go down demonstrably. Lower the wicks while peeking under the catalytic converter so that just a little flame is showing (perhaps 1/8" or so of wick exposed), then re-seat the catalytic converter.  In an hour the wicks will have burned down even with the top of the wick tubes and be ready to use again.

At this point, the stove should be taken apart and given a nice coat of polish.  Normal liquid auto polish should be applied to all surfaces, inside and out.  All it takes in about 15 minutes, and the pores of the enamel are filled, the stove will not rust in storage, nor will spilled food cause any stains. 

 The catalytic converter should be examined.  If dirty or sooty, the guide rods should be removed and the cylinders washed in hot, soapy water until clean.  If not too bad, a thin brush can be employed to brush off the cylinders.   If the stove is to be stored indoors in a dry place, nothing else need be done to the catalytic converter.  If, however, the stove is to be stored in a garage or anyplace with a high humidity, the cylinders need to be oiled to prevent rusting.

Finally, store the stove in a tight fitting box, and seal the box.  The next time you need the stove it will be absolutely ready to use.  Just fill with fuel, wait a half hour for the wicks to suck up fuel, and light it.