On Outdoors: How-to series: How to make a gel fireplace for camping

By Jim Hagerty
Staff Writer

Every year, someone invents a way to make camping seemingly as comfortable as sleeping at home, and certainly more interesting. While for some, a sleeping bag and a bundle of firewood is enough to enjoy an evening under the stars, innovation wins out for others. Oddly enough, some campers go to some length to rough it without firewood and a makeshift fire pit. A homemade fireplace is one way to leave the wood at home and still enjoy a campfire.

A gel fireplace is fueled by alcohol gel, which burns more efficiently than wood. Most gel fireplaces on the market are used for home and commercial use, and can be suitable sources of heat. At the campsite, the addition of a gel unit can be an eco-friendly way to avoid smoky mishaps, and still feel like you’re camping.

Building a gel fireplace can be a bit of project; however, it can be done with some basic tools and found objects.

→ Find an old dresser and begin converting it into a firebox. Remove the drawers and slats, and line the inside with 1/4-inch plywood. Secure the plywood with wood screws.

→ Coat the plywood liner with two coats of fireproof paint. Any basic latex-based retardant paint will suffice. Most brands are sold at home centers and hardware stores. While any color will do the trick, black will allow flames to illuminate, allowing your fireplace project and authentic look and feel. Allow paint to dry thoroughly.

→ Make your gel fuel. Although gel fuel can be purchased at most stores, it can be made simply by mixing 3 to 5 ounces of melted soy candle wax with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of rubbing alcohol. Pour the mixture into two empty metal coffee cans or a series of metal soup cans. Add standard lantern wicks to each container. Trim each wick to measure 1 to 3 inches in length. Place each can in a refrigerator to allow the gel to set.

→ Install your fuel, logs and grate. Place gel packs in the bottom of the firebox. Position a series of flame-retardant logs on a standard fireplace grate in front of or directly over the fuel. Use a propane torch or long fireplace matches to ignite fuel and enjoy the heat.

Outdoors news and photos can be sent directly to Jim Hagerty at jim.hagerty@rockrivertimes.com. Glossies and hard-copy press kits can be mailed or delivered to The Rock River Times’ office at 128 N. Church St., Rockford, IL 61101. Jim can be reached at (815) 964-9767.

From the July 14-20, 2010 issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!