Deek’s Veggie Oil Heater

Hey Kent,

First off, thank you for this opportunity as guest article-author on your blog, and and additional thanks to yourself, and the others out there (Janzen, Kahn, Stiles, Pino, etc) who have been very helpful and supportive of what I’m doing (in regards to my 100% independent tiny housing book, and video/tv show).

As for the “Tiny Yellow House” series on youtube, the vegetable oil space heater (woodstove alternative) that was briefly shown in Episode #2 is something that I understand you (as well as I) have gotten a ton of email questions on.

All in all, since its rather difficult to just blurt out every constructive detail of the heater, I’ve sent you a hand sketched diagram of it instead, that was drawn as part of my follow-up to the book “Humble Homes, Simple Shacks…” which I’m still working on as we speak…er…as I type. The sketch, albeit busy and detail laden, should help give people the general idea I came up with, and I’m sure there ultimately will be twenty better ways to build this thing. All in all, while using a multi-wick system (more flames = more heat), this veggie-oil heater gives off a rather decent amount of heat that should be adequate for well-sealed tiny cabins, or should at least prolong your season or stay in a cabin, depending on your climate, naturally.

As for a few other bulleted points on the heater….(in case there’s a lack of clarity in the drawings)

  • It works on candle-theory heating, and is simpler than it seems (its not a drip-feed method (into a combustion chamber)).
  • The heat reflector behind the unit is an old busted Sabian 18″ crash cymbal (one of many casualties from my drumming hobby/career)
  • Since with the “Gypsy Junker” cabin, we were dealing with such a small airspace, instead of sucking up and utilizing all the cabin’s interior air for combustion/burning in the heater (its wicks), I cemented an outside air feed (two runs of copper tubing I had laying around) into the base of the heater. These tubes give the heater an air feed from directly outside, instead of wasting the interior’s already heated air. The cabin is probably drafty enough where it really wasn’t necessary, but it wasn’t much extra work, so I opted for the external air feed set-up.
  • The front of the heater shown in the show, is actually its external shell, that spins around the heater (by a long-bolt handle) to reveal the cut opening in the heater’s main coffee-can body (the jumbo, caffeine-addict, large cans). By this opening, you can refill the heater with oil, when need be.
  • For safety’s sake, I’ve also planned on installing a removeable fence/guard that snaps in place next to the heater, dividing it from the sleep platform area. The last thing you want to wake up to is the smell of roasted sleeping bag. Zero fun. Ok, second to last thing, as the smell of human flesh (yours) might take the cake. So, if building this thing, be cautious (Carbon Monoxide detectors and the whole nine yards…). Construct at your own risk! You’re dancin’ with fire, afterall.
  • In the drawings, it was tough to illustrate, but when you make the vertical cuts for the stove opening, you actually do not cut the newly created flap/tab out (no horizontal cut), but instead fold this “tab” upwards to serve as a heat-radiating and absorbing “strike plate”. This way, instead of the wick’s heat being lost immediately up the flue, you’ve placed an steel obstacle in its way, harnessing and holding some of the heat you would have otherwise lost.
  • With the fuel-can/wick holder (a low-cut coffee can), you can use anything you have on hand, as long as its low and gives you a large surface area for the oil, otherwise the oil burns down too rapidly, and wastes your wicks quickly. You’ll see what I mean through a little trial and error…

Anyway, you know that scene in “Raiders Of The Lost Ark” where the one villian opens the Ark of The Covenant, only to have his face melted away by its contents? Well, don’t expect that kind of heat, but by this method (and again, perhaps with some more experienced tweaking), this lil’ heater works half-decently. Its also made out of recycled junk, so you can’t beat the price!

I hope my keyboard yammerin’ helped at least a little.

Anything else that I’ve left out or forgotten, your readers can feel free to email me at and I’ll gladly tell you what I know. ($2.99 the first minute, $0.99 each additional minute. Verbal Coupon Code: “Lady Cleo”). No seriosly, feel free to email and I’d be glad to try and help as best as I can.

Also, to anyone who wants to pick up my book, I’ll include some hardcopy plans of the stove, as well as some other diagrams/details, etc- that I wasn’t planning on releasing until book #2- as a thanks for supporting independent, broke, authors (in this case: me). I also am doing a few appearances down the road. As part of the CT Author’s Trail Summer Series (I’m originally a CT resident and still skulk around the state rather frequently) I was just invited down to speak at the Sprague, CT Public Library on July 29th (for anyone out in CT), and I’ve been invited to speak at a few colleges (NY, MA, and VT) and other events in the fall as well, on which I’ll keep you posted.

THINK: “Gallagher-meets-a Tiny House Seminar!” Bring a poncho!

Oh yeah, my retro-released kid’s book is up on my site too (with a cameo of my hokey VT cabin).
Kent, again, thanks for all, and thanks to the reader’s who took an interest in my little homebaker tiny-house videos.

Derek “Deek” Diedricksen
Author of “Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages…”
Host of “Tiny Yellow House” TV (in late May we shoot an interview with Jay Shafer of The Tiny Tumbleweed House Company, as well as a few other noteworthy subjects, so keep your eyes peeled).

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mike - May 4, 2010 Reply

nice; it’s actually a bit more complex than i originally thought. awesome though…

Deek - May 4, 2010 Reply

If you need any info, mike, let me know- as it really is pretty simple- even if it doesn’t look it….

Steve Hathaway - May 4, 2010 Reply

Maybe I’m not understanding the drawing/photo, but looks like the flexible duct is tucked inside the “tin can flue collar”–which seems at odds with how flues for hot water heaters, etc. are supposed to be put together–and the reason those H2O heaters’ flues’ joints are set-up is keep CO (or CO2?) going through the flue and out of the living space. Won’t this way of connecting things allow (some) CO/CO2 to flow outside the flue (say that six times fast).

Maybe with the small amount of combustion that’s less of an issue, but I’d hate to have someone find out otherwise, the hard way.

Deek - May 4, 2010 Reply

Unfortunately a drawing can only show so much, as I prefaced- sorry…
Yes, the aluminum flue is tucked into the collar, but sealed excessively with some furnace cement. Although, with such low combustion taking place (more or less the equivalent of having a few candles in a cabin (but in this case, inside a confined shell that radiates their heat), I’m doubtful as to whether or not the sealing (or reversal of the “tuck direction” would even be needed. Reversing the direction of the flue-joint overlap, say, with a metal band-tie, would be incredibly easy too- if concerned.
Like I said in corner of the drawing, “build at your own risk”, and I’m sure there are twenty better and more efficient ways to construct this thing….
Thanks for the input though, I do appreciate it and by no means would want anyone getting hurt- and WITHOUT A DOUBT I always recommend a CO detector in ANY cabin with fire-based heat. In almost every state its now a law to have them, so I’d hope people would have the common sense to use them in a vacation cabin scenario as well.
Thanks again…

Glen Aldridge - May 5, 2010 Reply

What a neat idea. I have been looking for a use for my used cooking oil & this might be it. Just what do you do with used cooking oil anyway? As an added bonus it gives me justification for my high cholesterol diet.

Libby - May 5, 2010 Reply

This heater idea is great–I think we’ll likely build one for our bow-top gypsy wagon. I’m curious how long the wicks last. If you were using this kind of heater in a tiny primary residence, would you find yourself changing the wicks every few hours?

Deek - May 7, 2010 Reply

I haven’t yet tested the heater overlong spans of time, but as long as you keep the oil filled to a high level on a regular-ish basis, the wicks won’t burn down as rapidly. All the wicks are, worst case, are all-cotton clothes line (you can buy 100 ft. lengths for under $2.00 in many places) so you’ll have a lifetime supply of wicks more or less.
I’ve run this little heater for 5-6 hours at the most- a few times now- and haven’t replaced the wicks yet. They’re easy enough to change at least, as you just thread them through the metal upside-down baby food lid.
Author of “Humble Homes, Simple Shacks…”

Abel Zimmerman - December 26, 2010 Reply

Curious, what size of space are you heating with it — and what climate are you in?

Just trying to sketch the picture — nice use of materials!


Michael - September 16, 2012 Reply

Why not a double walled flue?
Have the outer, or larger diameter tube draw air in, and have the inner tube venting the hot air into the cabin.
Then you just let the incoming air get preheated while providing an exchange of air for the cabin and thermally force venting the stove.
No CO issues.

tom - January 11, 2013 Reply

I enjoy making things for my home and was wondering if you would send me the plans for your veggie oil heater

Ermott - August 17, 2013 Reply

This looks like an excellent method by which to burn down your house. Old tin cans are hardly a substitute for a proper firebox liner.

At the very least consider making the parts that are near or are involved in containing the fire out of stainless steel stove pipe, the sort you use in a boat.

Danny - October 25, 2013 Reply

Hey,another grrrrreat idea.Too bad there are so many critics with no imagination.It is people like You who made this country great and people like them that have just about destroyed it with their laws and codes. If they ever saw the way I have lived the last forty years they would soil their pretty silk underwear LOL.I can live for a month on what other people spend each day and city hall has made it hard. YOU ARE A REAL AMERICAN !!

insurancenerd - November 20, 2013 Reply

Just a tip as a farm underwriter. This would make your entire structure (home, etc) uninsurable. Oil heating has pretty strict codes.

Kayla - - January 15, 2016 Reply

Great job, Deek! I also plan to build one, but never have enough time to finish it. It’s nice to know that you also pay attention to the safety by installing a removable fence.

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