Saturday, March 8, 2014

Homemade Gel Fuel

I received a wonderful gift from my sister to use her gel fuel fireplace for a while in my home.  I have secretly wanted a portable fireplace for the longest time, though I knew nearly nothing about them.

After a quick primer, I set about looking for an affordable gel fuel source and was disheartened they were so expensive, relatively speaking.  This was why my sister was willing to give it up for a while.  I experimented with some Sterno, similar to the gel fuels available- just not as high-flaming, to get a feel for the thing.  It is a bit intimidating to say the least.  However, after more research online, I found I could make my own gel fuel. All I could think was is it safe? Is it legal? Will I die trying?

I read and read and read about what the 'real' stuff was made of and realized it was the same and not any 'safer' per-se'.  I followed the directions found here. As fragile as most articles made the process sound, it actually worked exactly right the first time.  I was shocked and thrilled.

Here is what I did:
1-Rinsed and roasted 6 eggshells at 350 for 30 minutes, then pulverized in my blender
2-Added the powder to a loaf pan and added 5% vinegar to about 1/3 up the loaf pan, then stirred for a while to get the reaction going.  I did this occassionally over an hour or so. I then let it rest overnight undisturbed.  In the morning, I dehydated this in the oven at 355* for 40 min (was making breakfast at the time in the oven), then opened the door another 30 (which wasn't working as fast), then closed it another 30 minutes to concentrate it to 1/4 the original depth.  There was white crusting along the top original edge.
3-I strained this through a napkin and sifter to remove the solids and let the liquid cool for 30 min.

4-I measured this remaining liquid (1/3 c) and placed it in a plastic bowl. I measured 9 parts 91% isopropyl alcohol and added this to the bowl. I stirred and added 2 drops blue food coloring, in order to see it better in containers and for possible spills.
5-I was undecided about the safety of adding the vegetable oil yet, so I dug out my essential oils; the mixture was already gelling in the bowl. I put in 4-5 drops of cinnamon, cedarwood, and juniper, figuring that it might be enough to elicit the crackling.  It did not give off a smell, but did cover over the alcohol smell some.
6-I poured this into used sterno cans. It gelled randomly and was watery everywhere else as I was pouring. I forgot to add the salt or borax for flame color, so I just sprinkled some table salt on top and moved it a bit around with a chop stick. The mixture re-gelled in a few minutes.

6-I lit one for a test. It burned without a 'whump' and immediately with a bright white/yellow flame.  It flickered nicely and produced a 5 inch flame.  When I lit 3 in a row, it made a very nice real looking fire behind the fake log.  The flames joined over the middle and grew to 7-9 inches at times.  This was enough to convince me to leave it at 2 cans at most.  I did not burn them fully today, but they should last 2.5-3 hours.
7-after snuffing and cooling for 15 minutes, the mixture remained fluid.  I am leaving one uncovered to see if it will re-gel better covered, uncovered, or at all, after burning. Will post update next time.

Some things I will do differently:
1-add oils, color, scent immediately, then pour while liquid to set undisturbed in cans.
2-burn only 2 cans at a time for flame height/heat reasons
3-add more scent and maybe experiment with additional vegetable oil for crackle.  There was some sizzle noises 10 min into the burn.
4-definitely use a bigger snuffer- NOT the sterno covers.  I will use a large mason jar lid or purchase a sterno snuffer online.  Using plyers was awkward and I dropped the lids in the back or on the side multiple times, due to the size and heat of the flames.  NOT good in an emergency.

This product was EASY to make, just a little time consuming.  However, the store bought product retails for $3-$4 a can.  Mine cost MAYBE $1.75 for 3 cans and most items were already on hand.

NOTE: Another noteworthy product was an aeresol can of extinguisher from walmart, on same shelf as the regular red canisters. It was cheaper than buying an additional conventional extinguisher, yet it was advertised to spray longer than the 2 leading ones by almost 2/3 time.


  1. Replies
    1. NOTE: Do NOT light any gel fuel in loaf pan! It will be huge and uncontrollable. Only re use sterno holders!

  2. Well, I have never tried the gel fuel, but it’s an alternative source that I have really wanted to try on my backyard. This is a great project you have laid out in this post; I think it’s exactly what I need to come up with my own homemade gel fuel. I also found additional tips from the following article: