Friday, July 11, 2014


Years ago, my grandfather, handed me a small spade and told me he was going to teach me how to dig a hole. At age 6, I was elated. We were standing near the corrals of his ranch. He took a twig and drew two circles; one larger one, about two feet in diameter and then a smaller one about 2/3 the size of the larger hole. He then made a mark (about 18 inches)on the handle of the small spade to indicate the depth of the holes I was to dig. It took me the better part of the morning to get it to my grandfather’s liking. He finally brought me a cold soda and proclaimed that half my job was done. While I sucked down the cola, he leaned down and pulled out a handful of dirt — making a lateral hole at the bottom to connect the two holes I had dug. Later I learned the second half of the job was to keep the fire going so the ranch hands could use the fire for the branding irons. Again, I was thrilled. I was a COWBOY.
This is an adaptation of the Rustlers Hole that the old time cowboys used when building a wood fire in the field to heat their branding irons. A Rustler hole is simply 2 holes dug side by side. One is used for the fire and the other is connected at the bottom with a small tunnel for the draft. Once a fire is started, the fire hole pulls air from below from the draft hole and creates a “forge like condition”. It is a very efficient method for heating branding irons, as it used very little fuel and has close to complete combustion; reduced smoke and no visible flame. Very stealthy -- hence the name, Rustlers Hole. I dug these holes to burn refuse without creating a lot of smoke. 

The Rustler stove was created and the same theory was adapted in the southwest because the ground was so difficult to dig. It was made from adobe blocks, just clay or mud piled into the correct configuration, or sometimes made from stone. The result was the same; high combustion with minimal fuel and little or no smoke.

The unit I built is made from sand and cement; a little water and formed in a five gallon bucket. The chimney (fire pit)and feed holes were formed by 4 inch PVC pipe cut at a 45 degree angle. I cut the hole in the bucket for the feed hole. Then, because I knew someone else would like a unit, I cut the bucket almost in half — vertically and wired it together before the pours. After an hour from the cement/sand concoction pour, I removed the PVC and allowed the unit to cure for a couple of days.

Once out of the plastic bucket (even though the bucket was pre-cut — not an easy chore), I scraped off any concrete residue and took the unit outside to begin the seasoning process. The lower, horizontal hole is not correct. I must have tipped the PVC when adding the concrete. Therefore, any fuel placed in the lower cavity tends to fall out. I can remedy this with a fuel tray… It will hold the fuel and the air will rush through the bottom of the impediment. If one was to be cooking on this unit I would modify it in some way to accommodate a larger fuel reserve.

The physics of the unit are just right. Combustion, once it is fired off and drawing sufficient air, is almost 100 percent. This means a lot of BTU’s are created with very little fuel. Also, the fuel burns thoroughly and emits very little smoke. It will be a great addition to my landscaping efforts. All organic refuse will be burned without emitting the billowing smoke of most leaf fires.

This unit is handy. I have an acre of ground that supports a host of mature tropical fruit trees and some Royal and coconut palms. The palms are messy and the old fruit trees are constantly dropping dead branches. I usually make a lap around the yard with my wheelbarrow each morning and dispose of the fallen organics using the Rustler stove.

I paid a couple of workers to clean the yard originally. (it was vacant for several months before I acquired it.) As a result, I have a huge pile of leaves, branches, and palm fronds. Burning them in my Rustler stove is not practical so I use my Rustler hole for the larger items. I can keep up on a daily basis with the smaller concrete stove. However we had a storm recently and large sections of the fruit trees blew down. I used the Rustler fire hole to dispose of most of the larger fallen branches. Once the fire was burning efficiently, it burned the green branches and leaves without creating a lot of smoke.

The holes need maintenance after the rains… the stove — not.