Homemade Billy Can

How To Make a Billy Can

Simple Way To Great Coffee On The Trail

July 30, 2008 Comments (0) How-To Articles

Making A Billy Can–Reloaded

No, this is not a repost of Luke Causey’s "How To Make A Billy Can" article.  Yes, I am absolutely ripping off Luke’s Billy Can idea, but I’ll give credit where it’s due.  Actually, I was inspired by Luke’s article for a number of reasons.  The first being that a couple of weeks ago a couple of friends and I had an emergency "dry run" weekend.  We just took our emergency packs and headed out in the woods to shake out our gear.  Over the weekend, we discussed several topics, one having to do with whether or not to shape your pack around the short-term thought, or pack it with a long-term scenario in mind.  One friend, Terrill, has his pack set with more items for a short-term basis while I like to have gear that’s more oriented to a long-term living basis.  The funny thing, though, is that while our gear is different in that regard, we both use the MercWorx Sniper Pack as our platform.  So, as we discussed these opposing thoughts, I pointed out that for my pack, a cook stove that takes gas (like my JetBoil that I love so much) would be pointless after you run out of gas in a couple of weeks… 

Canisters With Soda Can

I wanted to come up with a long-term solution for my cookware that was compact, sturdy, and didn’t require gas.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love my JetBoil, and any occasion where I’m going hiking, camping, or backpacking, it’s going with me because those would be short-term jaunts.  But, for the emergency pack, it’s the Billy Can.  Luke’s article came across the desk right about the time these discussions were going on, and it was like a God-Send…

He was right, you can’t beat the little stainless steel coffee canister at Target for $5.595.  Now the link I provided is the set.  I couldn’t find just the little canister by itself online.  Maybe they only offer it as a set on the net.  But, you can find it in the stores as a single item.  But, while I was there, I went ahead and got the sugar canister as well, in case I wanted something bigger.  I was actually surprised by how small the coffee canister was when I first saw it.  I know that Luke had talked about it being able to nest a Nalgene Bottle inside of it, but I guess the scale didn’t really register.  While looking online at Target, I also found this "Metro Set" of stainless steel canisters that are various sizes.  It looks to be of the same seamless construction, but it’s got a nice little handle on top of the lid that would make it easier to put on and take off while cooking.  Only problem is that this set is available only onlilne–not in the stores.  I do think I’ll be getting these just to give them a try.  I think I’d like having the option of of a handle to work with the lid while cooking to help things move along faster.  You could use a branch to lift it off while cooking or just keep a leather pair of gloves in your pack, and that should do the trick! 

I didn’t really want to make a hanger for the Billy Can and attach it.  I just thought it would be a little cumbersome to deal with when trying to put the Billy Can into the side pocket of my Merworx Sniper Padk.  So, thinking a bit about what Luke said on the chains and S-hooks, I went to Home Depot and picked up a few items to see what I could put together.  I got five two-foot sections of chain rated for twenty-nine lbs of working weight.  I picked up some S-hooks, Quick Links, and small eye-to- hook turnbuckles.  As you can see in the picture with this paragraph, it’s relatively easy to gather together a few pieces that can be used to suspend the Billy Can over a fire using just the lengths of chain and the S-hooks.  As I worked with these parts, though, I realized that they slip in and out of the chain links relatively easy, are small, and easy to lose.  So, I set out making a little suspension rig that had all the parts permanently hooked together so little parts and pieces wouldn’t go missing while out in the wild.  That in mind, I took three sections of chain and linked all three to one Quick-Link.  That was going to be the top of my rig.

Eye-To-Hook Turnbuckles On Each Chain

Once that was done, on the opposite end of each section of chain, I attached an eye-to-hook turnbuckle with an additional Quick-Link.  It makes the rig a little more bulky and not as flexible as just balling up the chain when you want to store it, but set up this way, there are some advantages.  First, you don’t have to worry about little S-hooks getting lost in all your stuff.  Second, (in my opinon) this a fairly attractive and professional looking rig.  And, finally, you can turn the individual hooks in either direction in their turnbuckle to allow leveling the Billy Can if it’s needed since the hook is essentially a long screw.  Yeah!  It’s the little touches that really count in this world.  OK, I had my suspension rig worked out, now I had to settle down and make the holes in the actual canister to allow the hooks to grab hold.  That was a fairly simple process.  I took a piece of paracord and wrapped it around the lip of the canister and cut off the cord where the ends met together. 

Hole Started In Canister

I then measured the cord, divided by three, and then marked the cord in two spots to create thirds.  I put the cord back around the canister lip again and then marked the canister with a Sharpie Marker in the same places where the marks were on the cord. After that, I just started a hole (see the picture) with a steel spike and then cleaned it up and finished it by drilling the hole out.  One benefit of wrestling around the canister in this manner is that it took the canister out of its "true" roundness enough to make the cap fit snugly on the canister.  When I first purchased the canister, the cap just slid on and off a little too easily.  Now, after having worked on it, the cap is snug, so you can rely on it retaining any contents you have in side while traveling.  So, once you’re done cooking, quickly take the three hooks from out of the holes and drop it all into the Billy Can along with whatever else food, spices, utensils you’d like to store in there as well.  After all the work is done, you get the finished product you saw in the picture at the beginning of the article.

Nalgene Bottle Inside Of The Billy Can

The nice thing about the little suspension rig I put together is that I can also use it with the larger Sugar canister or the even larger Flour canister.  I can take one of those out with me instead when I want a cook rig with more volume.  But, for now, I’m staying with the little Coffee canister as my Billy Can for a few reasons.  First, it fits nicely into the side pocket of the Sniper Pack.  Second, it does allow a Nalgene bottle to nest inside of it quite nicely and when that’s done, you can slip the cap on the bottom of the Billy Can.  However, my Nalgene bottles all have the Guyot Designs’ Gryption cap so I can just hang them off of my pack with a carabiner.  That leaves me more room in the pack for other things.  But, some people like to store their bottles in the pack.  Finally, as Luke mentioned in his article, the Coffee canister cap makes a nice-sized make-shift cup in an emergency.  It will work as a bowl as well if you’ve got the appetite of a Smurf.  All things considered, when I was done and looked over what I had just put together, I came to the conclusion that I had a little too much time on my hands.  But, it was fun to do.  It’s a learning experience and keeps me off the streets.  I’m sure something along this line can be done with paracord or Kevlar cord as well, and I’m sure it would be more lightweight.  My thought was that the Billy Can could be very close to the fire or farther away at any given time, so I didn’t want to worry about cord or rope melting or burning.  This way, it’s done, and I don’t have to worry a cord will snap from the heat and spill everything into the fire.

If you’ve got more thoughts or better ideas than ours on this concept, feel free to post your opinions and suggestions in the comments area of these two areas.  Thanks for the inspiration and the starting point Luke!! 

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