In a recent
article, I reviewed three ways to improve the otherwise poor
stability of most top-mounted canister stoves (and lanterns). By far the best
method I found was the do-it-yourself option, which I call "Super
Legs". Attaching a set of these legs to your stove canister will
significantly enhance steadiness and safety, while also allowing you
position your stove in places you would never have thought possible. This is
great news for anyone who has ever wished he or she could place a stove on a
rock or log in order to raise it to a more convenient working height.
Constructed as described, a set of Super Legs weighs less than ½ ounce (actual weight depends in part on the mounting method you select) and can be built in just a few minutes using common hand tools.
Note that most of the photos contained within this article are linked to larger versions that can be accessed by clicking on the red "(+)" in the caption area (or on the photos themselves).
Though there are probably any number of ways to build canister stabilizer legs, the best method I've found thus far is to use household clothes pins. To get started, you'll need:
1. Two ordinary spring-type hardwood clothes pins. The exact length doesn't matter much, so almost any brand will do. You can purchase a package of 50 or 100 at Wal-Mart, Target or similar stores for $1 to $3. Though it might be possible to use plastic clothes pins, I think you'll find that wooden ones are far easier to work with.
2. A standard metal flat file (perhaps 8-10" long) that has ridges on both the top/bottom as well as the edges.
3. A rasp (sometimes called a "four in hand file") or other means (such as an electric sander) to remove about 1mm of wood from each of three clothes pin halves. The metal file noted above can also work, but it's slow going.
4. A bench vise or other means to hold the clothes pins during the filing process.
5. Although optional, I recommend that you "rubberize" the bottoms of your Super Legs in order to improve traction on slippery surfaces (like rocks). The easiest way I've found is to dip them in a liquid plastic compound. Wal-Mart, Home Depot and other hardware and automotive stores sell these products either in the form of liquid electrical tape or as tool handle rubberizing dips. The Wal-Mart version is made by Performix, is called "Liquid Tape Electrical" and can be purchased in the automotive department. A 4 fl oz can costs $4.74 and includes a built-in brush for applying the rubberizer (though I think dipping is easier than brushing). Home Deport sells the Star Brite brand in the electrical department for about a dollar more.
6. Finally, you'll need some means of attaching your Super Legs to your stove canister. Possibilities include tape, nylon straps with side-release or ladder buckles, cable ties, Velcro sport wraps, wire, parachute cord, or even a hose clamp. I discuss several of these methods below, but to get started, a 45" long piece of nylon cord double wrapped around the legs and tied tightly with a square knot is easy and secure. A bow can then dress the leftover cord out of the way.
Step 1: Separate the two halves of both of your clothes pins (you can discard the metal springs). Next, insert one of the four halves into a vise with the outside surface facing upwards as shown below.
Step 2: Using your metal file, increase the depth and width of the notch that was formerly occupied by the outside flange of the metal spring. The idea is to make it just large enough so that the bottom lip of your fuel canister will fit securely inside. You'll want a good, square edge on the bottom of this notch in order to support the weight of your canister and stove while in use. You'll note that the canister lip, however, won't yet actually drop into the notch. For it to do so, you'll need to remove some wood from the face of the leg as described in Step 3.
Step 3: With the leg in the same vise position, use a wood rasp or sand paper to remove about 1mm of wood from the top surface of the leg over the segment shown above. You'll know you've got it right when the lip of the canister drops fully into the groove described in Step 2. When removing this material, be sure to protect the the square bottom edge of the canister groove. If it becomes rounded, it may not hold the weight of your canister/stove/pot and your entire setup could collapse while in use. I'd suggest temporarily wrapping the square edge with electrical tape during this process to protect it.
Step 4: [Note: This next step is optional and may or may not not be helpful, depending on how you attach the legs to the canister. If you use parachute cord or cable ties, this step is recommended]. Remove the leg from the vise, flip it over, and return it to the vise. Use your file to "square-up" the edges of the curved groove formerly occupied by the main body of the spring. This squared groove should be wide enough to accommodate two wraps of parachute cord (about ¼") and will help keep the mounted cord or cable tie from slipping out of place. See graphic below.
Steps 1 to 4 summarized in graphical form:
Step 5: Repeat Steps 1 to 4 for each of the two remaining legs. And while you're at it, you might as well complete the fourth leg, making a spare for your repair kit.
Step 6: Rubberize your new canister legs by dipping the bottom ends about ½" into a can of liquid electrical tape (or equivalent). As mentioned above, this step is not mandatory, but is highly recommended. Let the first coat dry for about 15 minutes, then apply a second coat. A good way to create a "drying rack" is to tape the top ends of the legs to the edge of a table or workbench in the vertical position with the coated ends pointing downward. Gravity will pull any excess coating to the leg bottoms, which is where you want it (although the products mentioned above are actually not very runny).
Optional Step: To seal and preserve the wood on your new Super Legs, you might want to dip the exposed portions of the legs into a varnish or similar protectorant. A couple of coats of either an indoor or outdoor sealant (preferably water-based) will do the trick. I've used Minwax Polycrylic clear gloss finish from Home Depot (about $6.00 for a ½ pint can) with good results.
Attachment to Your Canister
Once the rubber coating has dried (in probably a couple of hours), you can mount your new Super Legs to your canister using any of the means discussed above (or others of your own device). A few related notes:
1. Electrical or duct tape is easy to apply and can be secure if wrapped tightly several times around the canister. It's not my favorite attachment method, however, since it can sometimes stretch, allowing the legs to slip out of their grooves. Another minor downside with some tape is that the legs can't easily be shifted to one side or the other once mounted. With some other techniques (like parachute cord or cable ties), the mounted legs can be moved around the canister rim a bit to accommodate the terrain if necessary. Also, tape can sometimes leave a sticky residue when removed.
2. Nylon cable ties (a.k.a. "tie wraps") are generally a better choice, creating a very secure and lightweight mount if installed tightly. You'll probably have a difficult time finding a single tie that's long enough, however. Most popular fuel canisters have circumferences in the 13½" range, and while the longest cable tie widely available is 14.5", the actual working length is not quite sufficient to reach around the canister (except on the 4 oz Snow Peak / Jet Boil models). Longer ties (24" and up) are made, but they're pricey and must often be special-ordered.
So instead, just use two 14½" ties that are connected "head-to-toe". Wal-Mart sells packages of 25 black 14½" ties for $1.98 that appear to be well made. You need to be careful with low-quality products, however. I've had "dollar store" cable ties fail under tension and you certainly don't want to risk having your Super Legs fall off while your stove is boiling a pot full of water. If you're a "belt and suspenders" kind of backpacker, you might even want to apply a second cable tie next to the first as insurance.
One downside of cable ties is that they can't be tightened after they've been installed and trimmed (they usually must be cut and replaced to be tightened). On the other hand, it should rarely be necessary to do so while on the trail. Just in case, however, you might want to include two or three extra ties in your repair kit (the weight is negligible) if you use this approach.
3. As noted above, nylon parachute cord, which normally has a static breaking strength of around 300 pounds, is easy and secure if installed properly. A 45" piece will allow the legs to be wrapped twice, then tied off. Make sure that both wraps of the cord fall inside the groove discussed in Step 4 above. When tying the cord, pull it tightly and you'll probably feel a bit of initial stretch in the nylon, Once stretched out, however, the cord should maintain its tension for the duration of its attachment. I'd recommend using a square knot for the tie-off and a bow to dress the remaining cord out of the way.
4. Perhaps the most elegant means of attachment is the hook-and-loop (Velcro) sport wrap. It holds very well, can be easily tightened on the trail, and can also be quickly detached to move your Super Legs to a different canister. REI sells an 18" model that looks about right, though I haven't actually tried it. I do have the REI 24" version that works on 8/16 oz canisters, but is a bit too long for the 4 oz Snow Peak / Jet Boil cans.
If you can manage to sew a few stitches, the best approach is probably to make your own. You'll need some 3/4" wide sew-on type hook-and-loop material (Velcro or equivalent) and a 3/4" wide plastic triglide. Wal-Mart sells packages of ¾" x 36" sew-on hook-and-loop fastener for $0.99. The triglides are available from REI or other well-equipped outdoor stores. Be sure to save your leftovers for another project that I'll be writing about soon.
To make a custom sport wrap, first cut an 18" length of loop-side (fuzzy-side) fastener, then sew one side onto the triglide as shown below. You'll need to loop the Velcro about 1" back through the triglide to create the overlap for the seam. Next, cut a 7" length of the hook-side (scratchy-side) fastener and sew it to the other end of the first piece, with the hook side facing in the same direction as the loop side. Overlap the two pieces about an inch (with the hook side on top) and sew around the overlap edges to create a strong seam. Finally, trim the free end of the hook piece into a semi-pointed shape so that it can pass easily through the triglide when you fasten the strap.
Built as described, your new sport wrap will weigh about 0.2 oz and should fit all popular canisters sizes, including the small 4 oz Snow Peak / Jet Boil bottles. This design uses proportionately more hook-side material (about twice) than do the REI wraps, which makes it especially secure for this application.
5. Stainless steel hose clamps hold extremely well, but are a bit heavy (about 1.1 oz). If you like this approach, however, you'll need the #72 size with a clamping range of 3" to 5" (diameter measurement). Home Depot carries such clamps in the plumbing department, where they're normally sold for attaching dryer vent hoses. See photo above.
One trick I discovered when mounting the legs with some of these methods is to attach leg #1 first, tighten the wrap, then insert legs #2 and #3 into the space under the wrap next to leg #1. You can then slide legs #2 and #3 along the rim into their final, equally-spaced positions, further tightening the wrap as they're moved. For more photos of Super Legs in action, see the review article.
I don't want to seem like an alarmist, however. With a little care on your part, you shouldn't have problems at all and will almost certainly find that Super Legs are extremely safe and effective. The maximum weight you'll probably ever need to support is three or four pounds, well within the capabilities (by a wide margin) of this design. In fact, you may want to note the picture below which shows an MSR canister equipped with Super Legs attached using a homemade sport wrap supporting more than 100 pounds (104½ lbs, to be exact).
Please let me know about your experiences with Super Legs through the Base Camp Feedback Forum.
Copyright © 2005 James E. Wood. All Rights Reserved.