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Mother Earth News waste oil heater (mother earth news is a magazine for those who might not know. Amanda bought me a subscription for Christmas bless her heart) December 29, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — housedouche @ 6:26 am

That’s right, I’m building a MEN waste oil heater plans circa 1980.  Actually, there’s a guy online who worked out all the bugs of the original MEN heater and simplified the design substantially so that’s the one I’m building/built.

Now I’ve been obsessing over this for the past several days and spent hours reading up on it.  I love to obsess I guess it’s a Moore family trait.  I was fascinated by this because at any given moment I have 10-15 gallons of used motor oil on my property and they only let you dump 5 gallons at a time at the local vato zone – what a pain.  ALSO, this used motor oil burns so hot and completely it puts little or no soot into the air like wood does, AND it’s slightly less messy than wood AND it requires a lot less storage space than wood.   AND, most important of all, it’s cheap – the heater body is made from an old gas water heater tank, which I just happen to have laying around.  Oh and one more thing, the MEN heater stands vertical instead of horizontal so it takes up less of my precious garage floor space.  Oh and I just remembered another sweet feature – it’s quiet!  And uses no electricity.

Sure it would be easier to just pipe out a natural gas line to the garage and flick a switch instead of collecting filthy dirty used motor oil but isn’t this fun?  And cheap?  I’m still looking for reasons why this hasn’t really caught on much.  Convenience maybe?  I dunno.

Now I built the heater and tested it out today.  First of all check out these two links. This is the original MEN heater design.  This guy, bless his heart worked out the bugs and made the thing a lot easier to build, operate and clean.

Here’s some step by step pics though if you care to know:

It begins much like the first wood burning heater I did, in fact, this is the same picture but instead of cutting a door hole, I’m cutting a smoke pipe hole.

As you know, (or don’t know) gas water heaters (as opposed to electric water heaters) have one burner at the very bottom of the tank and then a pipe running up the length of the tank to let out the exhaust from the burning natural gas.  The hot exhaust gas also helps heat the water a little bit on its way out too.   In a waste oil heater, this pipe serves as the air intake – and who would have thought that you could have a pipe directly over a flame and no smoke or heat would come out of it?  That’s because the rest of the thing is sealed so the only place for fresh air to come in is through that pipe so the fire sucks in air through that pipe directly above it and the incoming air actually spreads the flames out towards the sides of the tank and makes a bigger flame and radiates more heat – A sweet design feature.

Also, I deviated from the plans slightly and decided to use the bottom portion of the pipe as a pedestal for the burner.  This guy and MEN say you need a pipe but what do they know… I sealed the bottom of this pipe (pictured below)  so no fresh air could get in except through where it’s supposed to.  

Next, you’ll see my method of centering the copper tubing in the pipe – not bad eh?  

And here is my version of a burner cause I haven’t been able to machine (or have machined) a 6″ diameter inverted cone aluminum burner with a 12 degree angle yet so I was thinking maybe this 14″ dutch oven lid would have a similar effect?  

Not so.  I thought bigger might be better but I couldn’t get the thing to get hot enough to perpetuate a flame of used motor oil.  After some thought, I have a theory that I’m fairly confident of that the burner’s just way too big so all the heat gets dissipated throughout the lid/burner and keeps it from getting hot enough to vaporize the oil and get it burning good and hot and clean.  I did get it going with some charcoal bricketts though and the thing thew some pretty good heat but not the white hot heat roger sanders was talking about.  Plus it wasn’t the cleanest exhaust either so I really need to get the burner he recommends.

– This is peeping down the air intake hole at the top of the heater.  You can see the brickettes I was using to vaporize the oil and get it burning good and hot, but not hot enough.

Here’s my oil supply tank.  A $6.00 bucket I got at lowes so I can see how much fuel I’m burning and make sure it’s burning optimally and not using too much oil.   That weird thing around the rim is a paint strainer.

And hee’s the whole setup and true to form I added a few design features of my own that serve both a practical and an aesthetic purpose – the floor grate fins on the pipe to scrounge a little bit of heat from the exhaust before it leaves, the old doorknob handle and that sawblade not only looks cool but it provides a peephole so you can check on things.  Doesn’t work very well though.  That peep hole is too small I think.  A decent sized piece of glass would be much better.

And here’s my oil control valve and oil filter I had laying around from one of my dune buggies.  No sense fussing with clogs when you’ve got a perfectly good oil filter around.

Oh and that round thing you see partially covering the air intake is actually an important feature.  You gotta choke it back a bit if the flame’s too small or too much air will rush in too fast and blow out the flame.  Also a feature this roger sanders guy pointed out.

I did away with that oil filter.  That thick cold oil wouldn’t flow through it fast enough.  I also discovered that an 8″ frying pan with the handle cut off works quite well and makes the thing get hotter than blazes.   See?  red hot.  I need to add some cooling fins (floor grate) on there to dissipate that heat.  That’s just too much.   Here’s a video

Here’s how you light it.

And this is what it looks like when it’s burning good and hot.


3 Responses to “Mother Earth News waste oil heater (mother earth news is a magazine for those who might not know. Amanda bought me a subscription for Christmas bless her heart)”

  1. mick Says:

    Hi i made a heater somewhat like yours but for about 10 mins after lighting loads of smoke pufs out around the door any idea on how to seal this up.

    • housedouche Says:

      Yea mate just make sure you have a good draft going. Make sure you have enough flu pipe too. I have about 6 or 8 feet & as you can see it works quite well, although the first burner (the dutch oven lid) was way too big & wouldn’t get hot enough to vaporize the oil.

      anyways, I’d say draft is your most important thing. the hot gases rise & create a negative pressure inside the heater & you won’t have that problem. When I open the door it’ll smoke a but cause the draft can’t keep up with that big of an opening I guess. make sense?

      check out ozzirt’s heater on YouTube. I built another one like his which I currently use. it burns quite clean.


  2. Ava Miller Says:

    Wow!!! You did a great job! I’m maybe not a great fan about building one but I was impress how you did it with such expertise… Two thumbs up!!! Thanks for sharing!

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