Bushbuddy snowpeak

Review: Bushbuddy Wood burning stove

My Bushbuddy stove is one of my oldest camping accessories. I somehow never got around to reviewing it even after owning it for more than two years. In the space of that time, a few other reviews, an interview with its maker and other pictures on various forums have cropped up. This was however not the case when I first bought it and it was only by a lucky accident that I stumbled upon the Bushbuddy website. The Bushbuddy is also one of my favorites. I also bought the lighter version of the Bushbuddy, the Bushbuddy Ultra early this year. I have about 4 fold flat (collapsible) Titanium and stainless steel stoves, but the Bushbuddy is still my favorite!

DSC_0624-150x150The Bushbuddy stove is hand made on a small scale by Fritz  Handel in Canada.  Unlike some of the many sellers out there on the www, he always seems to have time to reply to emails and be polite to others. I’d like to give you a background of how the Bushbuddy came to be the Bushbuddy as Fritz shared with me on email after I bought the stove, but Hendrik Morkel has done an excellent job of it when he interviewed Fritz. You can read about it at his blog ‘Hiking in Finland‘ and we can jump straight to the review.

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The Nichrome grate here is clearly visible below which is the suspended ash pan

The prices don’t seem to have changed much, maybe an additional Can $2 or so. I think I paid Can $100 with shipping to India. I initially chose the regular Bushbuddy since it is a bit more robust than the marginally more expensive Bushbuddy Ultra. I say this because the regular Bushbuddy is heavier as it is made from a thicker sheet of stainless steel. (However I soon succumbed to curiosity and bought the Ultra). It arrived packed in a cute little crate made from wood and the packing itself shows how much the maker cared that the Bushbuddy should reach safe and sound. On unpacking the Bushbuddy, having worked in a reputed sheet metal fabrication company for 8 years which is a household name in India, I could see the same attention to detail in the build quality of the Bushbuddy.

The packing of the Bushbuddy is a neat idea. Apart from protecting the Bushbuddy in transit, it supplies ready fuel to test it out -something that you can’t wait to do! The only cook pot that I had at that point was the Vargo Titanium 750ml Ti-lite mug. I broke a strip of  the wood used for packing, lit it up and had about 700ml water boiling in no time. It took only two thin strips of wood and the rest of the wood was spent  watching the beautiful flames and savoring the heavenly aroma  of burning wood. After burning everything from newspaper to plastic coated cardboard (yuck!) I finally found out that I could buy pieces of split mango wood from stores supplying items necessary for the Hindu

vedic ritual called the havan. I think I got it for Rs. 12/- per kilo. This wood turned out to be practically useless as it would refuse to burn without something else to keep it going. Hindus would (I guess) burn it after pouring clarified butter on it.

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Thou shalt not add too much wood too fast.

It took me quite some time to figure out how to use the Bushbuddy efficiently, without generating a roaring fire and burning away excessive, unnecessary quantities of wood. I also learned practically (what Fritz had already told me earlier which I had forgotten) that wood needs to be added in small quantities to keep it from smoking too much. Nevertheless as with all wood burners, expect your pots to get sooty.

In my travels across north India, I noticed some of the villagers smearing a thin paste of mud onto their pots before placing it on a wood fire, so that it could be washed away with the soot later on. Some others made a paste with ash and it served the same purpose.  This is a good idea if you think blackened pots are uncool and don’t want your fingers and pack to get sooty. Since I’ve bought the Bushbuddy, I’ve carried it regularly when traveling, often using it in guest houses just for the sheer joy of lighting it up. Here are some of the uses I put the Bushbuddy to.

  • For cooking -obviously
  • In Landour, Mussoorie as a hand warmer and mini indoor camp fire, both with wood and with charcoal as well. (used it without the pot support)
  • Used it as a stand for my Trangia burner for cooking, this was before I bought my Clikstand and I don’t recommend this to anyone.
  • Again without its pot support, used it for burning off any remaining feathers off a chicken.
  • Used it with a tea light candle to warm up a thick vessel in winter to assist the yeast which was leavening some dough for a loaf of bread.

DSC_0615-200x300The Bushbuddy’s uses are only limited by one’s imagination. My Bushbuddy is always ready for duty on the refrigerator. Come to think of it , you can use it as a glorified ashtray, to place your incense stick holder inside (to prevent ash all over the table), hold live coals for using as an incense burner, burning your bank/credit card statements, phone bills and other confidential stuff that you don’t want some garbage miner to get their hands on. If you use matches, you can drop the match into it after use without the fear that you might accidentally set your house on fire with what you thought was an extinguished match, set your candle stand in it to prevent difficult to clean wax run-off onto your table top etc…

The air circulation which aids the combustion is so effective, that even if the pot support is taken off and a close fitting lid put on the Bushbuddy, every coal inside the Bushbuddy will turn to ash. In fact, Fritz advised me that if I needed charcoal, I would need to pour out the live coals after cooking into a tin with a lid so that the coals would suffocate and die. The way we do it -when we put out a campfire is to sprinkle some water over the coals, but I like the tin idea better as if you overdo the water thing, your charcoal will not light on your next use. Another way to make charcoal would be to cover live coals with some dry earth.

DSC_0605-207x300The Bushbuddy is made out of two sheets of stainless steel. The Outer wall has large holes punched on the bottom (visible on the outside on the lower end) and the inner wall has similar holes on the top (visible on the inside on top of the stove). When you look down from the top, you can see the grate which is made from nichrome wire.  The only other nichrome wire I had ever seen was, the flat delicate kind sandwiched between layers of mica in the heating element of an electric iron. I was therefore skeptical about the longevity of this grate. However time has proved me wrong. Below this grate, hanging from strips of steel, is a circular, walled, stainless steel cradle which catches any coals which fall through the wire grate and of course the ash that falls through. Its pot support too has a ring of holes of the same size. When turned upside down, it nests into the top of the Bushbuddy. It has an opening on one side to enable adding fuel when the Bushbuddy is carrying a cook pot.

When the stove is lit and starts heating up, it draws in air through the bottom holes. This air can only take either of two paths through the stove, -up through the nichrome wire grate, and up between the two walls of the stove. When the air flows through the grate, some of it also swipes the cradle and cools it down reducing the heat radiated onto the bottom of the stove. The air passing between the walls gets preheated and the hot air exits forcefully from the  ring of holes on the top of the stove which vent into the stove. This apart from supplying fresh oxygen to the flame or the burning wood gas, and aiding in better/secondary combustion, also seems to force the flames to the center of the stove. I’ve always noticed that instead of burning haphazardly inside the stove, the flame hits my cook pot right in the center and then spreads outwards and around the pot. This makes the Bushbuddy unsuitable for barbecues, but works extremely well for cooking with a pot.

This cooling of the bottom of the stove is so effective that I have successfully made tea in the Bushbuddy by placing it on my bed (which is a foolish thing to do). However for the sake of the review I’d like to note that it did not scorch my bed. As advised by Fritz, I got myself a Snowpeak Trek 900 Titanium pot. The Bushbuddy fits perfectly into it. Its not only the Bushbuddy that fits in, as my Trangia in turn fits into the Bushbuddy and the Clikstand windshield between the Bushbuddy and the Trek 900 around everything else. You can see a picture of the nested Trek 900 > Clikstand windshield >Bushbuddy > Trangia towards the end of my review on the Clickstand.

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Note how snugly the Bush buddy fits into my Snowpeak Trek 900 titanium cook pot. My Trangia fits into its cavity.

Even though the Bushbuddy reeks of excellence and attention to detail, I still had my misgivings like that of the trustworthiness of the nichrome grating that I mentioned above. I was worried about the seemingly delicate pot support as well and also feared spearing my feet on it or stomping it shapeless in my cramped one room apartment if  I unknowingly knocked the pot support to the floor. Needless to say, none of this has befallen me. However as the comment I quoted says, the concept of a compact portable wood burning stove is not new. When I took it home for Christmas last year and lit it up, I had a crowd around me. One of my aunts’ said, “Your grandma had something like this”. A now deceased aunt piped in, “Yes, I remember it”. I’m sure it wasn’t a Bushbuddy that she had, but I’d never have known the fact that they had portable stoves back then if my aunts’ had not seen the Bushbuddy in action. It would have seemed like an irrelevant thing for them to tell me as they all unanimously think of wood burners in the past tense, but the Bushbuddy re-kindled old memories. I wish I could make them  understand how wrong they are! These skills, techniques and designs will work and do the job in every generation as it depends on dependable unchanging laws of science and not an any other underlying fickle money making technology which changes over time. Wood, fire and food will be around as long as the earth exists.

PROS:

  • Light, innovative and extremely well built
  • Burns wood frugally and efficiently.
  • Easy to setup, pack and transport.
  • My only stove which accepts all the sizes of Titanium pots that I own without any workarounds. All the others fail to support the smaller pots in my collection.
  • The ultimate stove for leave no trace cooking/camping.
  • Have never needed to worry about running out of fuel.
  • Incredible attention to detail.
  • A good stove for your bug out bag when teamed with the Snowpeak Trek 900. Although it might not fold flat, if you are evading someone, this is one stove which won’t let anyone know that you lit a fire and cooked your food or warmed yourself. With other stoves, you will still have to deal with the ash and the scorched earth which are dead giveaways of your presence in that area.
  • Can be used in a Dakota fire pit for discrete cooking without having to dig an additional air tunnel. All you need is a hole in the ground with some clearance around the Bushbuddy.

CONS:

  • Found finding fuel in the Indian monsoons a bit difficult. [Nothing to do with the Bushbuddy though as it would hold true for any wood burner]. However it was difficult enough for me to order a Trangia for backup!
  • Not suitable for grilling as the inside holes center the flame coming out from the Bushbuddy. Probably a round strip of steel which expands to fit the top inside holes of the Bushbuddy would remedy that.

Other observations:

Thanks to the super air circulation, everything seems to burn up too fast. I’ve not compared burn times with my other wood burners but have a gut feeling that everything burns pretty quickly. I particularly noted this when I was barbecuing using the bottom of my Kuenzi MF stove as a grill with the Bushbuddy underneath it. I kept alternating between large flames and very low heat and never got good long lasting coals required for barbecuing. The SAS survival handbook by John Wiseman does mention a similar technique in the chapter on fire. The Bushbuddy’s fire tray causes the Bushbuddy to act somewhat like a signal fire which is normally built on an elevated platform to allow in lots of air to allow for a fierce burn. I think a sliding throttle for the intake would do the Bushbuddy a great deal of good. It could be just a plain band of stainless steel which could be pushed up and down to reveal or partially close the bottom air intake holes. To be fair, to the Bushbuddy, it neither advertises itself as a grill nor comes with any such attachment, although I did spot a pic of someone who had built a small grill/toaster for it. The toaster application should work reasonably well.

If you’re still waiting for a recommendation, then I highly recommend it as like for many others, this has become a precious possession -especially as I now know that Fritz hand makes them (Thanks to Hendrik’s interview). Its not some dumb machine that has been ingesting sheet steel and spitting out Bushbuddies’ from its posterior. I have worked on 160Ton blanking machines doing exactly that for about 8 years 🙂 . Hard work and dedication show even if you’ve not met the maker in person. A part of Fritz will always live with all his Bushbuddy owners. Thanks Fritz for this fine product.

I’ve not yet used my Bushbuddy Ultra as it went straight into my bugout bag. I do need to try it out a few times before it becomes a permanent resident of my BOB 🙂

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