Awww geeze, not another blog!

Welcome to A Fine Blade!

This blog will focus one of my lifelong passions and one of man's most basic tools - the knife!

As time and events permit we'll tiptoe into other territory where we can use the knife as a metaphor in discussions about current events and have a little politically incorrect fun.

Because you see, knives rank just below guns as the most politically incorrect subject on the web today.

Guns & Knives = Bad. Gay Marriage & Recreational Drug Use = Good

We'll see if we can't have some fun with that.

So stay tuned, and welcome aboard!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Stove In

I can feel fall's approach.  Seriously, I can!  Even though the days are peaking at 95 degrees and the sun stays up until 9 pm I can sense that wonderful season's slow approach.

Or maybe it's just wishful thinking.  Either way, I want fall to get here real bad.

I figured one way I could hasten it's arrival is to tackle a small chore I've been delaying until cooler weather - the repair of a few antique camping stoves.  My thinking was that if Mother Nature saw me doing something that I would normally only do sometime in late October she'd think she'd think she was running late and would drop some nice, cool, dry fall air on us ahead of schedule.

Still waiting, Mother Nature...

Yet the stove 'repairs' proceeded.  More accurately it was griping, cursing and fumbling with stoves and stove parts.  Little actual repair got done.  None, in fact.

Background.  I collect camping stoves almost like I collect knives - in volume.  I didn't start out to collect stoves.  Unlike knives, I have no strong attraction or affinity for stoves.  For me the real attraction is fire.  At heart I'm a five year old kid who likes to play with matches.  No, I'm not sick, or warped, and I didn't have bed wetting issues as a child.  Here's a little secret - damn near EVERY five year old boy wants to play with matches.  And lighters, candles, road flares and, if given a chance, flame throwers.  It's part of being a boy. What happens as we grow up is we learn to control the fascination.  Some do this by become rocket scientists who get to play with highly volatile liquid hydrogen and oxygen.  Some become firefighters and learn ways to first start fires, then put them out.  Some go to Vegas and put on stage shows with tigers jumping through flaming hoops.  Or some, like me, find a fascination in tools that produce flame in a controlled environment, like camping stoves.  I'm not so much a pyromaniac as the master of the flame!  (Insert Dr. Evil demented laugh here.)  I work to control fire, to bend it to my will, to have it do my bidding.  Like heating up a rehydrated package of chili mac.

Along the way I've picked up stoves that were somewhat complete but didn't run too well, if at all, but they interested me for one reason or another.  Some were old Swedish stoves like the vintage Optimus or Svea self-priming brass models.  Some were early versions of modern classics like the MSR Whisperlite.   Lately I've accumulated a number of older Coleman single burner stoves.  But the two that I tried tackling today are real classics.  First is a Coleman 530, an immediate post-WWII single burner stove that was copied from a version Coleman manufactured for the US military during the war.  This stove was extremely popular with soldiers during the War and Coleman figured there's be a strong market for a civilian version once the war ended.  Coleman was right - it became immensely popular and sold well for a few years after the war.  However, by the late 1940s Coleman figured out that the newly mobile American population wasn't doing much backpacking.  Car camping was the thing and everyone wanted a Coleman two burner stove.  By 1950 demand had tapered off and Coleman stopped production of the 530.

Late WWII ad by Coleman for
their post-war 'pocket stove', which
would be introduced as the model 530
The 530's are exquisite stoves, perhaps one of the best made stoves Coleman ever produced.  They were all brass, nickel plated brass and stainless steel.  The fit and finish was first rate.  They must have been prohibitively expensive to produce, and maybe that's one reason Coleman shut down production.  Still, Coleman claims to have manufactured over one million of these little jewels between 1946 and 1950, and you can still find good plenty of good examples on eBay.

The next stove is one that is directly descendant from the USGI 'pocket stove' and although a 1950's design it remained in service with the US Army right through the 1990s.  This is the M1950 single burner 'squad stove'. This stove was actually a Coleman design but it was never produced for civilian use.  The Army asked Coleman to update their WWII design to make it easier to service while in the field.  I think the requirement was that it also had to fit inside of a squad cook kit.  Coleman did a great job and the resulting stove was virtually indestructible and would burn about anything you could get in the tank.  It's also kind of squat looking and lacks the elegance of the WWII design, but in this case form had to follow function.  The M1950 is all stainless steel with just a bit of brass.  It's about as lovely as an M60 tank.  But it worked, and worked well, and it heated rations for American soldiers from the frozen fields of Cold War Germany to the rice paddies of Vietnam, and lots of places in between.

M1950 Squad Stove

In the early 2000s the US military started to surplus these stoves out and thousands of them hit the market in new or like new condition.  Unfortunately I missed that buying frenzy, and the days of new-in-the-box $60 stoves are long gone.  There are still plenty of good examples available, but today they command almost double what they were selling for a decade ago.

I was lucky in that I managed to get both of my stoves from friends or off of forums where folks are less interested in making a buck.  The sellers of both of these stoves made no secret of the fact that they didn't work (in fact, the M1950 came to me in pieces).  I figured getting them up and running would take just a little elbow grease and a few spare parts.


After complete tear-downs, replacement of key parts like the burner valves, testing, more disassembly and reassembly, more testing and lots of cursing and runs to the computer to check the internet references for repair info I now have to admit defeat.  Utter, shameful defeat.  The day started out so promising and my workbench looked so neat and organized.

The M1950 in the process of being field stripped

The M1950 was the clear basket case of the bunch.  It had been rode hard and put away wet.  Repeatedly. The first thing I did was remove the valve assembly.  The fastest way to get the valve assembly off of the tank is to clamp it upside down in a vise and use a strap wrench to unscrew the tank.  This one was on tight!

 Next pull the pump assembly and have a look down into the fuel tank.  Yuk.

Lots of crud in the bottom of the tank.  A good scrubbing with some small
stainless steel nuts and white gas got most of this out.  Just drop in the nuts,
add the gas and swirl.  Rinse and repeat!

Once most of the crud was out of the tank it was time to clean up the threads.  Whoever worked on this stove last was in love with gasket sealant.  It was everywhere.

Using a brass bore brush to clean up the tank threads
One of the saving graces of the M1950 fuel tank is that it's made out of stainless steel.  A lot of them look like hell on the outside (mostly due to lousy paint jobs) but all that I've seen were still perfectly serviceable.  They can take a lot of abuse.

One key step on reassembly is to make sure the fuel valve properly aligns with the valve stop which is part of the pot support/windscreen.

The fuel valve needs to align with the stop tab on the
windscreen.  For testing you don't actually reattach the
windscreen.  This is just to make sure all parts are
properly aligned

OK, everything rebuilt, back together and ready to test.

3, 2, 1... Failure!

Poor pressurization, fuel running everywhere, the serious risk of setting the neighborhood on fire.  I was so startled by the results I forgot to take pictures.  I ALMOST had to run and get the fire extinguisher!

There it sits.  Shamed, alone and hissing highly
flammable gas vapor while in the OFF position

What's next?  I'm not sure.  Something is clearly wrong with the valve assembly.  It is not closing properly when the valve dial is placed in the OFF position.  I just don't know where to look.  Yet.  Luckily I hang out on a great stove related forum where folks trade expert advice all the time.  That's my next stop.

The Coleman 530 was only marginally better.  The only thing I did was replace the gas tank seal (the old one was as hard as rock candy) and pumped her up.  After a few minutes of warming up she finally settled down to an acceptable roar with only the hint of yellow tipped flames (which could have been due to the light breezes we were experiencing).  However, this stove wouldn't turn all the way off, either.  I ended up having to blow it out and let all the compressed gas escape through the flame jet.  Clearly there's a bad seal in there somewhere.  That's a chore for another time.

So there I sat, a day's worth of effort all but wasted.  I needed a working stove fix bad, real bad.  I needed to see some nice, even blue flames spouting from a well behaved stove, something that loved and respected me.  I grabbed two of my favorites that just happened to be summering in my storage shed, an ancient and venerable Coleman 502 and the more recent (and less venerated) Coleman Exponent.  Both are excellent stoves.  The 502 is a classic in its own right and I intend to do a posting on it in the near future.

But for today, it was pump, light, enjoy.  These two fine friends saved the day.

Coleman Exponent (successor to the Peak 1) on the left,
a Coleman 502 (1964 vintage) on the right.
Look closely and you'll see nice even blue flames
being put out by each stove.  

Stay sharp!


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