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DIY Heaters for a Small Space

Initially designed as an ice fishing heater, this do-it-yourself pulse-jet heater can serve many purposes.

| January/February 1986

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    A blueprint of a small pulse-jet heater, which can be used to heat a small space, such as an ice fishing shelter.
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    A prototype of the pulse jet heater was experimentally installed on MOTHER EARTH NEWS' greenhouse.

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In the face of the brunt of winter's cold, you can bet your double-insulated britches that heat is a prime commodity at any price. But when it comes to temporary shelters or occasionally used spaces, adequate warmth is often a luxury whose expense can't be easily justified.

Indeed, you may well have wondered if it would ever be possible to find a compact furnace that's reliable, inexpensive, and easy to operate . . . and if that's the case, you're looking at it. Believe it or not, this heater functions on the same principle as the pulse-jet engine, which was used in the earliest missiles. But instead of propelling an aircraft, the "thrust" from this pint-size model simply produces enough heat to take the chill off your bones on a cold winter's day.

Originally, we developed this stove to heat a homebuilt ice-fishing shelter. But after many hours of testing and modification, we realized that it'd be a shame to limit such a handy device to a single recreational use. Because it burns kerosene fuel, it's tidy and convenient . . . and since it's made of 1/8-inch plumbing fittings and galvanized downspout parts, it shouldn't cost more than $15 or $20 to put together if you make a point to use salvaged, rather than new, parts wherever possible.

Design of a Small, Pulse-Jet Heater

By referring to our illustration (in this story's image gallery), you can see that the heater has three main components: a burner, a fuel supply and control assembly, and a housing that also serves as a flue.

The burner, even though it's a thread-together proposition, requires a bit of work with a hacksaw and a small drill bit to make it function as designed. To allow fuel into the wick area, four 7/64-inch holes must be drilled through the wall of the pipe nipple that supports the wick. Additionally, the flat washer immediately above the fiberglass cloth should be bored to a 7/16-inch-center diameter, and six .055-inch-deep saw kerfs should be cut into each of its faces. Likewise, the fender washer directly above that should have ten .030-inch-deep slots sawed into its faces. To prevent excess fuel from running past the base washer, that disk should be sealed to its elbow with a layer of furnace cement.

The only other area of fabrication in the burner is the drip pan, which can be folded into shape from a 4-1/4 by 6-1/2-inch scrap of aluminum roofing. The completed pan should measure 1 by 1-1/4 by 2-1/4-inch, and its corner joints should be sealed with furnace cement. The rear wall of the pan is a hanger measuring about 2-1/4 by 4 inches. Fiberglass batting placed in the pan helps absorb any fuel overflow.

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