Author Topic: Coleman liquid fuel stoves (expanded)  (Read 3803 times)

Coleman liquid fuel stoves (expanded)
« on: September 05, 2012, 09:09:01 pm »
I have several of these, two of the 550B stoves, a 442 Feather, a 533 (all single burner portable stoves) and a 424 "suitcase" two burner stove, whic h you wouldn't want to carry on a bike.  The 533 is sold in most decent camping shops but the 550B isn't currently sold in the UK.  Army surplus "Peak 1" versions of the 550B come up on eBay sometimes.  The 442 Feather seems to have been discontinued in the UK but is still easily available new.  The 424 is widely sold and has a big following among the night fishing fraternity, so is easier to find in tackle shops than camping shops.

All stoves except the 550B burn either white gas (i.e. Coleman fuel, Primus Power Fuel, naptha panel wipe or Aspen 4) or unleaded petrol.

The 550B burns either white gas or paraffin, the latter only if you change the generator tube.  The ex-Army ones come with the paraffin (kerosene) generator and these generators are also more common on eBay as spares.  The paraffin generator has a smaller jet size and will also burn white gas, albeit with less heat output that a proper white gas generator.

These are pump-pressurised stoves, but are generally self-pressurising when lit.  The fuel travels up through the valve and into the generator, which is routed through the flame.  The fuel vaporises in the generator and the vapour enters the burner head through a narrow jet, entraining and mixing with air on the inside to give a clean blue flame on the outside  (it's basically a Bunsen burner on its side).  The huge increase in volume when the liquid fuel turns to vapour is enough to keep the tank pressurised, except in very cold conditions or when running on full power with a nearly empty tank.

They all work best on white gas, requiring no pre-heating (just pump up the pressure and go, although they all flare for 5-10 seconds until the generator gets hot).  The 550B is finicky on paraffin, although pretty good on white spirit (which is a light paraffin), and needs pre-heating with fire gel if you're going to use this type of fuel.  Too much faff.  Unleaded petrol is genuinely toxic and tends to clog the generator tube.  Some people use petrol in the 550B but the rubber seals are not rated for some of the constituents.

The 550B has a big enough tank for a weekend's camping; two breakfasts, an evening meal and a lot of tea.  The 442 is about the same (marginally bigger tank; it's slimmer but taller).  The 533 has a much bigger tank and might last one person a week.  This makes it relatively big and heavy but you have to offset this against carrying lots of butane cartridges.  The 424 has a vast tank and should last a family for a week when full.

All have a good heat output, although only the 533 is up there with a hot butane stove on a fresh canister.  Unlike a butane stove, these will light in any conceivable temperature and they burn the same regardless of how much fuel is left in the tank.  They will not dirty your pans if run on white gas.  The 550B is the best if you need to simmer on a low heat, which it does impeccably; the 533 doesn't turn right down low before the cleaning needle messes up the flow and it goes out.  The 424 is a curious design where the second burner saps power from the first burner, and is affected by the first burner's control valve as well as its own.  There are good reasons why it has to be like this, but it takes a little getting used to.  The 424 is the only one that has a clever fuel/air mixing valve for instant lighting with a blue flame - the others all flare yellow for 10-20 seconds until the generator gets hot.

Reliability has been impeccable with the 550B, which I've had for a couple of years and used a lot.  Problems, if they occur, will usually be due to the generator getting coked-up or stale fuel in the tank.  Always burn the stove until it's empty before putting it away for winter.  Generator tubes can be cleaned with carburettor cleaner or soaked in Redex after removing them from the stove.  It is vanishingly rare to actually need a new generator.  All spare parts are available to rebuild a stove.

There are two main disadvantages of these stoves:

(1) Safety.  White gas is cleaner than petrol (harmful rather than toxic) but it gives off vapour and will engulf you in a fireball just the same.  Always have a light ready at the burner before you turn on the fuel supply, or you will flood the stove and get an epic flare-up.  Also ensure the tank is kept pressurised by re-pumping if necessary when using full power.  A tank that loses its pressure can start to burn internally (there is ample air in there), and you don't want that.

(2) The fuel can be tricky to find in the UK or Europe.  Go Outdoors and Millets sell Coleman fuel at a frightening price, and you can actually order it online from some places, although Royal Mail would probably have a fit if they knew it was going through the post.  Some garden machinery specialists sell Aspen 4, a sort of clean petrol for lawnmowers with no aromatic compounds. The cheapest option is naptha* panel wipe (it MUST be naptha, not cellulose) used by car body shops, which is basically the same as Coleman fuel.

Overall, highly recommended unless you are travelling as light as possible, in which case get a folding butane stove and buy 100g canisters on your way.


*not to be confused with napthalene, which is the solid waxy aromatic compund used in mothballs.  Naptha is the fraction of crude oil used to make petrol, among other things.
Never tell me the odds.