Tuesday, December 8, 2015
This is an awesome little fire-starter that I have backed on Kickstarter, and was lucky enough to receive a prototype to share my thoughts on.
The FireCone is a tunable alcohol burner that is operable for starting fires, igniting barbeques, emergency heating, or just holding a candle in style. It will burn a bunch of different liquid fuels; alcohol gel, 70% isopropyl alcohol, BioEthanol, Methanol, and denatured alcohol (methylated spirits).
The principle of the thing is that there are two pieces, the base and the cone. Liquid fuel is added to the base, and when lit, convection and conductive heat act to continually vaporise and drive the fire. The scalloped notches in both the base and the cone allow the operator to adjust the amount of air that feed inside the cone, allowing the FireCone to be tuned, just as you would a Bunsen Burner.
The internal cavity is the primary fuel reservoir but the external ring also works well, it holds around 30mL of fuel in total. The cone and the base are both textured, which both aids the wicking properties but also gives better surface area for gripping and moving it around when adjusting the flame. The cone part can even be inverted to offer even more burning surface area, but this eliminates the very specifically engineered convection currents you get when it is in its "volcano" configuration.
Here's some wood pyrochemistry for you: Wood ignites at between 190oC (374oF) and 260oC (500oF) by producing volatile gases. Around 590oC (1,100F), the volatile gases ignite when mixed with oxygen. The more oxygen a fire gets, the cleaner and hotter it burns, which is where the venting of the FireCone come in to effect.
As wood reduces to charcoal the temperature potential increases and some of the best wood stoves achieve temperatures up to 1095oC (2,000oF). As a woodstove starter the Firecone has been designed to survive those temperatures.
There are four metal options of the FireCone, bronze and titanium, investment cast in Oregon, and a high-carbon cast steel and a stainless steel model, cast in Korea. the fine investment cast detail (like a map of Oregon, the lettering on the bottom and just the quality of the finish and its unprecedented durability make it something worth admiring as art, as well as being super functional.
The biggest difference between stainless and carbon models is the rusting. Carbon models will develop a surface rust in an oxidized reddish brown pattern, whereas stainless doesn’t rust. There is always the fear with stainless steel that it could get brittle after many fire cycles, but the testers and manufacturers haven't been able to break one, nor could I.
They have been left in woodfires fire at least 50 times, run over by a truck, and then hit with a 35 ton wood splitter. Apparently with a little wire brush work or rub it in the sand the patina finish is incredible, I look forwards to seeing that myself…. but the carbon model will form surface rust. I'm going to season mine as I would any of my cast iron cookware. It may smoke a bit when I start them, but it will be cleaner to store.
Designed as a virtually indestructible alcohol burner that is tunable to start fires or make heat without smoke, soot or ash, he FireCone certainly lives up to all expectations. The fact that the adjustable inlet ports that provide tuning of the flame to various fuels and burning conditions is a real delight, and gives you considerably more control over your fire, without sacrificing the superb robustness of a two part cast metal tool. I'd barely even count it as "moving parts" as far as maintenance goes. Even with the base alone you get great utility but don't get a tunable flame. I can see it working as a base to cook off, and when inverted, the cone part might just be stable enough to use as a trivet.
As if you need to ask, why a titanium option? Being relatively light when compared to steel, it will heat up faster, and doesn't rust. Titanium withstands more heat and is more thermally stable than steel, which means if you expect to us it in arctic conditions it won't break, whereas carbon or stainless steel can become brittle and runs the risk of shattering.
Bronze is an age old, thermally stable, dense and hard material, making it perfect for rugged camp gear, but it's heavy. The four options break down into the following weights: bronze 780g (1.72lbs), the carbon and stainless (420ASTM) steels 710g (1.58lbs) and titanium a mere 400g (0.89lbs).
A couple of notes. Fire is hot, fire burns. Liquid fuels can slosh, spill and run. Running fire is bad. Always us caution with a liquid fuel and don't explode. Once it's been going the FireCone really heats up and retains that heat, so be advised when you've had it going and want to re-fuel it. The same vaporisation effect that makes it burn so cleanly, also works again t you when refuelling. Depending on your liquid-fuel, the conditions are in and the fuel wood you are trying to light, you may need to do a top up to get a really good burn going, so be aware, and be safe.
I've had a lot of fun trying mine out, burning methylated spirits mostly, but I also tried it out with a slosh of my Overproof (52%) Captain Morgan's dark spiced rum, which burnt with a delightful smell and cheerful light, but with the expected "why is the rum gone?" regrets. I started a little fire with it with no problems, and it certainly lives up to expectations.