(C) Copyright 2017-2022 Paul Mobbs & The Free Range Network; released under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license (Version 4 International).
Created: June 2017.
Updated: January 2022.
Length: ~1,100 words.
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Ideally you can make a lightweight cooking grate out of the scrap metal commonly found in skips. This inevitably leads to a discussion about the ‘DIY Ethic’, and its important role in surviving the ‘suicide cult’ of the modern consumer lifestyle.
The example shown in this project uses 'bought' materials; as for those who have never/seldomly done ‘D-I-Y’ activities, the uniform nature of ‘bought’ components makes it easier to construct.
However, once you've mastered the concept, we hope that you'd try making one from scrap too. That's because the deeper motivations of this project are not only about non-fossil-fuelled camping stoves. It's about undertaking activities which develop an attitude of resilience and adaptation.
Dealing with future ecological challenges is not just a matter of changing consumption, but rather adapting our needs to fit tighter ecological constraints on our lifestyle. Thus the aim of the project isn't just to allow you to master cooking on sticks instead of compressed gas. It's about direct involvement in reshaping the ‘technology’ required to support more simpler patterns of living.
Despite its image, camping isn’t that ecologically sound. For most people, cooking outdoors while camping or backpacking invariably involves the use of fossil fuels – in particular liquefied petroleum gas (e.g. ‘Campingaz’). Few of the mainstream camping stores sell alternatives to gas- or petroleum-fuelled stoves.
If you’re concerned about the climate, or worst still, you intent to camp outdoors in a protest camp against fossil fuels, using gas isn’t particularly desirable. Problem is the alternatives are a niche market, mostly of affluent ‘bushcraft’ devotees.
There are ready-made wood stoves and grates on the market, costing from £50 to £150. As many are enclosed, they also are quite bulky. Some, especially the ‘wood gas’ stoves, require wood pellets or chipped/processed wood in order to function – which again needs to be bought/carried.
In order to promote the use of more ecologically sustainable fuel for cooking outdoors, the Free Range Network have produced this guide to constructing your own ‘stick fire’ grate. The guide outlines how to build the grate from cheap metal which can be easily sourced from D-I-Y stores – or you might be able to salvage much of what is required from a skip in the street. It also gives tips on using the grate, and UK law. The design is not fixed; while the pattern is standard, the dimensions should be selected to fit the cooking utensils which you have available.
While bushcraft-style activities have a core of ecological consciousness, how they are marketed within the consumer culture which negates many of those principles. The focus on marketing commodified ideas about how ‘more primitive’ cultures once lived, and high-end, highly finished merchandise to give access to that experience, is in our view pointless. We don’t need ‘things’, we simply need ‘skills’, which enable us to turn anything available into a tool to help us do what we need.
What do you get out of building your own stick grate for outdoors cooking?
Firstly, making the grate is a practical task, involving tools and reforming materials to make something – rather than buying it. That develops your creative abilities to serve your own needs, outside of the general economic process.
Secondly, it’s a more ecological approach to camping outdoors – using a fuel which has little impact on the environment.
Thirdly, in order to use the stick grate well it’s not just a matter of tending a fire and cooking; you have to learn about different types of tree and shrub, to know which is best to cook on, and where to find them – which requires practical experience outdoors and becoming conscious of the natural environment.
Finally, and not inconsequentially, you have to develop a sense of shared responsibility for the natural environment – not just in terms of making sure your fire does no harm, but also challenging Britain’s inequitable land laws which would seek to prohibit this essential, ancient human activity.
Making the grate is easy. With practice, you can master lighting and tending a fire to cook on – without the need to use fossil fuels. The true effort outlined here is challenging England’s historically inequitable land laws. It is only by moving towards a shared and equitable approach to land access – for example, the Scottish system – that people will be able to engage with, have a link to, and therefore have concern for the land.
In the end, that greater English/Welsh “land rights” project is the real aim in developing this guide, and encouraging people to build and use their own Free Range D-I-Y ‘Feral’ Stick-Fire Cooking Grate.