DIY Project: Making a Buddy Burner

There are lots of ways to heat food or boil water in a power outage.

But if the emergency is caused by a hurricane, blizzard or dangerous thunderstorm the last place you want to be is outside trying to cook something on the grill. And most gas grills and camp stoves are NOT suitable for indoor cooking!

Enter the simple-to-make Buddy Burner.

Buddy Burner

Yeah, you’re not going to be able to fix Thanksgiving Dinner with this, but it will allow you to heat a can of soup or heat water for a dehydrated food meal pack or coffee. And when you’re going to be without any power for hours (or days), a hot bowl of soup will taste like a Thanksgiving Day feast and will help warm you up.

To make a Buddy Burner you need the following items:

empty tuna and cat food cans

An empty and clean tuna or cat food can

Corrugated cardboard (you can cut up a small box for this)

A box cutter or sharp knife (to cut the cardboard)



Old CandlesParafin Wax – you can find this at hobby stores. But I use old burned and broken candles for this and save my paraffin wax for making new candles.


Empty soup can with pour spoutAnd empty and clean soup can. I crimp a pour spout into the top edge of the can to make it easier to pour the hot wax.



Fill a small pan with a couple of inches of water (Hint: I purchased a large pan from a garage sale that I use only for making candles and it allows me to hold three cans at a time for when I’m making large quantities).

Break up the parafin wax, or old candles (remove the old wick), into chunks  and put into the soup can, filling about halfway or so. Place the soup can of wax into the hot water. Keep the heat low so the water just simmers. You’re creating a primitive type of double boiler that allows the wax to melt in the soup can.

While the wax is melting, you’ll need to use the box cutter or sharp knife to cut the corrugated cardboard into strips. The width needs to be slightly less than the depth of the tuna (or cat food) can. The cardboard needs to be cut across the corrugation, so the long sides of each strip lets you see the small holes through to the other side.

Start wrapping the cardboard along the inner walls of the can, winding it tightly and adding strips until the entire interior of the can is filled with a spiral of cardboard.

The wax should be melted by now. I use a pair of pliers to pick up the hot soup can of melted wax out of the pan of water, and carefully pour the melted wax over the cardboard until it is full. (Hint: I lay down layers of newspaper where I am working to protect the surface). If you run out of wax before the can is full, you can melt more wax and add it. I add a little “wick” of cardboard to the center of my Buddy Burner to make it easier to light, but you don’t have to do this.

Let the Buddy Burner sit to allow the wax to cool and harden. I make up multiple burners at a time and save them for emergencies.

How to use your Buddy Burner:

If you have not created the cardboard wick, you can simply light a match and hold it above the wax to let it melt a bit and then lay the lit match right onto the puddle of wax. It doesn’t take long for a good flame to rise up across the top of the burner.

Of course you can’t place your soup can or pot of water directly on the Buddy Burner, as that would smother the flame. You can set a brick (or flat rock) on either side of the can, or create a triangle around the burner that will allow you to rest the pot suspended above the burner flame.

The Buddy Burner will burn a long time, enough to heat a pot of soup or boil some water. To extinguish the flame, take a square of aluminum foil and crimp it down over the burner.

Note: Of course, as with any open flame, you will want to keep watch over this process and keep small children away. The burner can gets very hot, so make sure it’s sitting on a safe heat-proof surface. Always use proper ventilation when using an open flame!

Added Bonus:

Fire Starter MatchesWhile I have the melted wax on hand I create some Fire Starter Matches as well. Simply wrap some toilet paper or paper towel tightly around the handle of a long kitchen match. Dip the paper covered handle into the wax and let cool. When the match end is struck, the flame will catch the wax on fire as well and last a lot longer, giving you a better chance to get that wood in your fireplace to catch fire.


What type of emergency tools do you have for heating food or boiling water?


  1. Lois

    What a great idea to use candles for heating up foods during a power outage.

    • indy

      Thanks, Lois. They work a lot like sterno candles, but I like the fact they are so inexpensive because I can make them by recycling items around the house.

      • Michael

        The buddy burner needs to be outside because of safety and because it puts out a lot of soot and I mean a LOT of soot. I’ve used these before and it’s important to mention this fact before someone decides to use it on the stove.

        • indy

          Yes – proper ventilation is always a must! I think of these as an emergency only choice, as there are so many other variations to choose from. But you never know when something like this might be your only option. Thank you for your comment.



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