Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Butterfly Kerosene Stove: Six Month Use Report

. . . .the good, the bad, and the mercifully little ugly.  I thought, now that we'd been using the Butterfly Kerosene Stove and it's attendant oven for six months now, that I'd would give you a bit of an update.

The stove, Oven, and Wicks.
The little Indonesian made stove is available in the US from St. Paul Mercantile, people we can  personally recommend you deal with.  They know their products and their customer service is exceptional.

The stove is a 16 wick, unpressurized kerosene cookstove with a steel catalytic converter, generating about 10,000 BTU when up full and up to temperature.  The oven is a well made reflector oven that sits atop the stove when in use.

Over the last six months we have used the stove here aboard Floating Empire literally on a daily basis.  Morning coffee and tea, breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinners.  The thing gets used constantly and has been our main cook source aboard ship.  So, here we go: Here are our experiences with the stove.

The Good

The little stove performs beautifully.  It produces a flame far hotter than alcohol or propane, without the attendant dangers of either of those fuels.  It lights instantly, just raise the edge of the catalytic cylinder and wipe a lit match along the raised wicks.  It will simmer, it will sear, it will do just about anything any other stove aboard ship can do, but it does it with aplomb.

The oven, as well, has been the source of breads, roasts, pies, and any number of meals.  As has been noted on some other blogs, the original Butterfly Oven didn't have tempered glass in the front, and that often broke.  The fine folks at St. Paul's found an aftermarket source for heat tolerant tempered glass and replace it in the ones they sell. (the oven is apparently a bear to assemble, and for a few bucks it's better to let the guys at St. Paul Mercantile do it for you.)

The thing is, the stove and oven just work, without complaint, complexity, or reliability issues.  The ample pot stand will accommodate the very largest vessels without complaint or worry of it tipping.  As long as there is Kero in the tank, a wick that will reach it, and an available match, you have a stove.  No pumping, no pressurized gas to mess with, the flame is visible, and we have cranked out some truly magnificent meals over the last six months on the thing (here see Onboard Cooking, one of our other blogs).

The Bad

The stove, of course, is not without it's foibles.  The kerosene basin isn't sealed, the wick assembly just being held by being wedged into it.  That means that overfilling the stove or tipping it--even when moving it--results in the stove leaking, potentially rather a lot.  There is a fuel gauge to help you when filling, but all it really does is warn you when it is getting rather too full.  Beyond that, it's accuracy is questionable.

The instructions say to basically double the wicks over and pull them through from the center.  The problem with this is that the wicks--which resemble cotton floor mop yarn--are of rather variable thickness.  Some slide in easily, others take pliers.  That would be fine, but it means adjusting the wicks as they burn becomes problematic.  The first time we attempted to adjust the wicks, it was simply impossible, even trying fingernails, pliers, hemostats, and tweezers to pull them up a bit.  We wound up, on consulting with the nice folks at St. Paul Mercantile (another shameless plug, these are really nice folks), simply making a small loop with which to pull the things through and burning them as single strands, which has worked just fine.

Removing the wick assembly from the rest of the stove is problematic.  The damn thing is REALLY wedged in there, and ugly creaking sounds when trying to pull it up by the wick lifting assembly scared us into not trying that.  I wound up prying the rim up to get the thing loose, which inevitably damaged the paint a bit.  My recommendation is that you pick one spot on the wick assembly for prying, accept the fact that you'll chip a tiny bit of the paint there, and deal with it.

The wide stance and very large pot stand will accommodate large, heavy cookware (we almost exclusively use cast iron here aboard), but smallish pots may literally fall through, or fail to sit evenly or securely (we use a bit of cooling rack over the pot stand to hold them).  The height of the unit may make for problems on normal countertops (Morgainne has a hassle stirring deep pots atop the already tall stove).  We'll be re-engineering our hearth top to lower it a bit as a result.

Temperature regulation takes some getting used to.  The catalytic burner takes about three minutes to come up to temperature, producing, if you have things adjusted right, a hot, clean, blue flame.  Until then, the temperature is low a bit, and any attempt to set the stove is unreliable.  Once up to temperature, anything from a slow simmer to blast furnace heat is possible, but you have to remember that the wicks only move a fraction of an inch, and very small moves of the knob can have rather large effects, and that there is a certain lag between the adjustment and the results.  Moral:  take your time, making adjustments in small increments until you get used to the device.  Using the oven is similarly touchy, and took us several tries of "too hot/too cold/too hot/too cold/should this be smoking like this?/I think I just put the stove out" before we got the hang of it.

We DID, however, quickly get the hang of it.

When turning the stove out, you'll look down and see it still burning, and will be tempted to blow it out.  Don't!  What you're seeing is residual kerosene at the top of the burner rack burning off.  Blow it out, and the odor of unburned Kerosene will waft through your galley.  Be patient, it will go out in a few moments.

There are a few construction issues I have with the stove.  The screws holding the shaft guide for the adjustment knob are small, and only in sheet metal.  They still work fine, but their lack of solidity is a bit disconcerting.  The filler spout, rather under the stovetop, can be difficult to fill without a long nosed funnel (which I bought at the auto parts store). The stove has a lot of sharp edges, and you must be careful when cleaning.  Speaking of which:

The Ugly.

Yeah, I know I'm a slob, but this isn't my doing.
There are some largely cosmetic problems as well.  Almost immediately when we got the stove, the paint on the catalyst began flaking off (it still is, though it's mostly gone).  This affects the performance of the stove not at all, but it's messy.  The array beneath the wick riser is very difficult to clean (I suppose I'll really scrub it next time I have to take it off to replace the wicks).  See the red coloring?  No I didn't bleed on it. In parts of the US, kerosene is required to have a dye to differentiate it from taxed, fuel grade kerosene.  That dye stains the paint on the unit, and is highly resistant to removal.

The Summary

Would I buy this thing again?  In a freaking heartbeat.  I have cooked aboard with electric, wood, propane, butane, and wishful thinking.  I will never use those again aboard ship.  Kerosene is simply too good and safe and inexpensive and convenient a fuel, and this stove/oven combo does a beautiful job of that.  Seriously, for all the minor flaws, once you get comfortable with it, I absolutely guarantee you will be fully satisfied with it's performance, it's fuel sipping economy, and the wide range of things you can cook on it's ample pot stand.

The Butterfly 16 Wick Kerosene stove is a great, reliable, and inexpensive solution for any vessel, cabin, camp, or tiny home.  At only about $60 for the stove alone and $130 for the stove/oven combo (At time of writing here in 2015 of course), they are a MAJOR bargain.  We recommend them without hesitation.


Hey new stuff at Onboard Cooking and Life, Art, Water.  Check em out.


  1. Nice to read a follow-up on the stove. Even better to know you're still impressed with it.

    A couple questions:
    1. Any significant smoking/odor until up to temp?
    2. Are you buying high-purity kero or just the cheapo stuff?

    Around here (PNW) the quality stuff is available at some fuel docks, it's called Pearl oil. Boaters use it in their diesel stoves if they can get it, it burns very clean, but has a lower viscosity, so the metering needs to be modified.

    In WA state, and perhaps elsewhere, marine diesel is dyed purple to indicate that no road taxes have been paid on it. I can't believe that vehicles would ever run on it, since fuel docks aren't the cheapest place to get fuel, but somebody thought it would be a problem...

    Thanks for keeping the blog going. I expect that although there may not be many comments, many are vicariously living the shantyboat dream through you and Morgaine's efforts.


    1. Hey Tom, nice to hear from you again.

      Regarding the Stove, there is very little odor at startup, just a tiny bit on first lighting.

      As for kero, we're using just regular fuel pump kerosene, and it seems to work just fine. These stoves are marketed rather heavily in the third world, and I'd imagine the quality of fuel may vary wildly from place to place. Unlike pressurized stoves like Diesel stoves, these wicked stoves can accept a wide viscosity range without a problem. Our stuff is dyed as well here in Md.

      Thanks for writing.


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