The beauty of steel barrel stoves are in their simplicity of design and their affordability. Even though old rusted steel
drums should be avoided the 55 gallon drum can be obtained by anyone almost anywhere. Attractive in a DIY novel innovative kind of way, variations on the theme are starting to creep into the domestic market. Cast iron fittings such as the door and flu attachment can be purchased to embellish your stove and a second barrel added to increase heat exchange. There are many variations on these designs, the barrel can be upright and free-standing, attached to another barrel on its side or on top of each other, and these are all available in kits minus the 55 gallon drum.
To build your own the only tools needed are a drill, a reciprocal saw, tape measure, L-braces, black stove paint, simple hand tools and best of all only a basic level of skill. You will need a sturdy 55-gallon steel barrel with both ends attached. With a hammer and screwdriver, cut out the end of the barrel that has the plug-in it. This will be the floor of the fire-box. The bottom end will be the cooking surface. After the end is removed, clean the inside of any chemical or other residue.
The stove-pipe opening should be on the cooking surface end of the barrel, near the back and close to the seam. Set a section of stovepipe on the top of the barrel about an inch from where the seam runs down the back. Using the inside of the pipe as a guide trace a circle on the top of the barrel. Remove the pipe. Trace another circle inside the stove-pipe circle. The radius of the small circle should be about 3/4 inch less than that of the large circle. Drill a pilot hole in the small circle. Using a reciprocal saw, cut out the small circle and discard it. Next, mark and saw 1/2-inch wide tabs up to the large circle. With pliers bend these tabs up. The stovepipe will fit down over these tabs. Later you will bolt the pipe to the stove top with two “L” braces.
Cut two rectangular openings in the front of the barrel, opposite the seam. There should be two crimped rings running around the barrel, dividing it in thirds. The smaller rectangle (12″ x 8″) should be cut in the upper section. This will be the opening to the fire-box. The larger rectangle (14″ x 10″) should be cut in the lower section. Leave the bottom ring intact, it gives strength and stability to the barrel. This larger rectangle will be the door. Save the small rectangle piece for making the draft. Do not flatten the rectangles because the curves fit well.
Use a pre-loved house door-hinge, the wear will allow for thermal expansion and contraction. Center the door over the opening, drill holes and hold the hinge to the barrel and the door. A single hinge should be sufficient enough to hold the door in place. The door latch is made from two 3″ x 3″ “L” braces. One bolted to the barrel and the other to the door. remove the end off one brace so it is a 3″ x 1″ brace. Then cut or file a notch about 1/4″ deep into the top of the one-inch end about 1/2″ from the bend. This notch will accept the brace bolted to the door and hold the door closed. Bend over the end of the other brace to make a handle. Bolt both braces into place, ensuring the one on the door extends past the edge of the door enough to engage the notch in the one bolt in that brace. It might take some adjustment, but the latch can be made to hold the door snugly in place.
Building codes and homeowners’ insurance rules have changed, and federal laws governing wood stoves have been adopted. These stove designs may not comply with various federal and local regulations. It is advisable to check with appropriate officials before installing these stove in the home.
Barrel stoves tend to be much less efficient than a dedicated wood stove for using fuel. Since they are
often not airtight it definitely affects the quality of the burn. They are also hard to regulate as far as temperature goes. An improvement on the design can be in using a discarded electric water heater tank. The walls are 3-4 times as thick as a 55 gallon drum making the fire-box easier to make airtight and if constructed properly be easy to load, and will have excellent fire and temperature control. Lay the water tank on its side and add legs and the loading hopper box with a hinged lid then weld in an exhaust stack or smoke boot. Make sure all the parts fit snugly and the whole thing is airtight. The most crucial part of all is the draft control. If constructed well and doesn’t leak you have good and positive control of the stove’s blaze and temperature at all times. When finished paint all its outside surfaces with Rustoleum Bar-B-Q black paint or high temperature engine paint.
The uses for these home-made stove ovens are as varied as their design. Commercially available units come in all shapes & sizes however it is important to note that the life expectancy of a new barrel is around four years depending on how often it is used. Older rusted barrels are not recommended, nor are barrels that have been used to store chemicals as these could prove to produce toxic fumes when heated. it is recommended that the barrel be painted with a good quality stove paint to improve its radiating capacity and its longevity.