Thursday, September 15, 2011

Propane

It was gray all day Tuesday, but out over the sea for 10 minutes, a window opened up for sunset:
Andrew D. Barron©9/13/11
Wednesday morning was beautiful; here looking to the south towards Nesika Beach over the headscarp of an active landslide at Sisters Rocks. The whole stretch of 101 that I cruise around on is practically an active landslide.
Andrew D. Barron©9/14/11
Some day I will get to sharing a few of the lovely frames taken by the reclaimed Autoreflex T. Now that I know it works mechanically and that the unknown expiry film also works, I am shooting it with more confidence.
Andrew D. Barron©9/14/11
Begin lengthy propane discussion for those interested in attaching camp appliances to bulk tanks.

I spend a lot of time roughing it and field geologists love their gear. Disposable fuel canisters are a way of life but have always bothered me. When I picked up the suite of junk cameras in Weed, I also picked up a standard gas regulator for $5. After much second hand searching, I decided to fork over for a new Manchester 5# tank (though a Worthington tank would work, saving about $10). I knew what I needed thanks to a gear-junkie geologist I worked for in April. He used his gear for river rafting trips. A 5# tank holds the equivalent of 5-6 disposable canisters because the 1# canisters are notoriously underfilled, and often, you can overfill a 5# tank. I’ve paid $4.50 for those tanks on a number of occasions. Propane is $2.98 a gallon here. So in terms of gas, 5x as much for 2/3 the price. There are the tank costs though. I tried to figure out how long until the tank will pay for itself. It will take about 3 refills to be cheaper than using an equivalent amount of disposable cylinders. Since that is 15-18 cylinders, it will take some time but much less than the anticipated lifespan of a 5# tank. In practical application though, it is more about having a longer supply of propane without taking up too much more space. The little tank costs more than a larger, regular 20# tank.

I learned a lot about propane fittings! A modern tank has both a Type 1 fitting and the older POL, a left-handed thread fitting best tightened with a wrench, but often a handwheel is included. The Type 1 fitting is big and easy to remove, but made of plastic and prone to break. POL fittings are smaller and made of brass and I prefer them.

Longer hoses tend to cost more. For connecting a camp stove or a heater, it seems like a good idea to have a long hose about 8’, though they also come in 5’ and 12’ lengths. All of my propane camping gear has built-in regulators, so all I need is a hose with a male 1” disposable fitting and a POL or a Type 1 tank connection. Many reviewers say that hoses of this nature have a short life span, and they are often overpriced at camping suppliers. You will find a few brands: Mr. Heater, Century, and Coleman. Some nice looking hoses are made by Marshall Gas Controls in San Marcos, TX. To my eyes, the Mr. Heater hoses have a longer shank (better?) that attaches fittings compared to Century. Marshall Gas Controls hoses were seen at a Federated Auto Parts store and use a ring crimp and much beefier hoses.

I put together this bit with a short 2’ Century hose and a mixture of fittings for about $20 where prices are high and options are limited. Here the 5# tank is attached to my Coleman two burner stove, picked up for $5 at a yard sale 1997.
Andrew D. Barron©9/14/11
These fitting leak, so I will need to get proper gas pipe thread sealant instead of plumbing tape. This inexpensive solution allows any number of replacement hoses in the future.

Over time in the field, I have found that a single burner, tank mounted stove boiled water more quickly and is more convenient for that consistently groggy first use: coffee. Wind is often a bummer, and I started thinking about a way to build a wind screen. I imagined a matching octagonal sheet metal attachment. So I made a prototype from a cracker box (and with tea kettle in place). This would also keep heat losses down in this familiar set up:
Andrew D. Barron©9/14/11
Doing the prototype, an idea occurred, and instead I cut out the bottom of an old enamel pot with slots to lock onto the burner flanges. See it here. My sweet little camping tea kettle sits inside.
Andrew D. Barron©9/14/11
The enameled metal cut easily. This helps deflect incoming wind and to funnel and keep heat around the tea kettle. I had to test it. Without the guard, it took 5:44s to boil 20 ounces of water. That is consistent with what feels like an eternity before that first pour in the morning. With the guard, it took only 4:19s to reach boil. An impressive ~20% reduction and time and fuel. This kind of conservation could be very helpful if fuel is sparse or expensive.

The single burner can be directly attached to the bulk tank using a 90 degree fitting, but I wonder if this is safe, especially for cooking. Perhaps in an emergency. Instead, I am considering building a stand for the Coleman Perfect Flow one burner stove. My first idea is a case for the propane tank that doubles as a burner mount.

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