Fritz, since when are you backpacking, and how did you start? How often are you out backpacking nowadays?As a teenager, during my fathers two week vacations in August, my parents took us children on camping trips using the family station wagon. These trips were a great antidote to my public school experiences. They helped me to understand better what my true needs were, and to recognize the value of simplicity and having less. And that I could satisfy many of my needs more directly by doing things for myself, without needing a "job" working for an employer. I often think that the educational system is intended to prepare us to be wage slaves, why else should it be "compulsory"?So, education was a bad experience for me. By contrast, there is a great deal more freedom of thought when camping and hiking than almost anywhere else--no T.V. or teachers or other sources of propaganda to interfere with the thought processes. And there is the entire natural world to learn from, along with skills of self sufficiency. So I became in love with the outdoor life, and have enjoyed biking, canoeing and hiking ever since. Although I usually get out for an hour or two walk every day, the Bushbuddy business now keeps me too busy to go camping for more than a day or two. If the economy doesn’t go into the toilet, I am going to have to deal with this and find someone to help me.
Are you yourself a lightweight/ UL backpacker? If so, what is your typical baseweight?During my younger years my loads were always heavy, but it was not as hard then to pack them. As I have gotten older I look more and more for ways to lighten my pack but I am not a fanatic about this. Also important to me is that my gear will last a long time, so I try to find a balance between durability and lightness. But always my goal is to not carry more gear than I need to be safe and comfortable.I grew up reading Horace Kephart, so I come from the old school, I would not be happy camping without a good sized axe in the north counry, and I still like my 6lb. Hudson's Bay wool blanket. These two items alone weigh more than the base weight of many ultra light hikers. So, though my pack is now lighter than it used to be, I'm not what anybody would call an "ultralight" hiker.I have come to regard my camping gear almost as a part of me, necessary for survival. So I always carry a pack of about 30 pounds, which includes a few days supply of food, even when just going for a short walk when there is no need to carry this much gear. I just enjoy the feeling that my survival doesn't depend on getting anywhere, everything I need is with me. The new product that I most appreciate is sil nylon, it has allowed me to reduce my pack weight more than any other single thing.
The BushBuddy is a very popular wood stove, on BPL.com there is already an "BushBuddy Appreciation Society" and also otherwise the demand for this masterpiece seems high. Can you tell a bit more about how you ended up starting your company, and how it developed over the years?The way that I came to be manufacturing the Bushbuddy began about 10 years ago. Until that time I used only an open campfire, but a friend showed me his Sierra Zip stove, and it worked very well. It uses much less wood than a campfire and was very fast to boil water. And of course, like an open campfire, it does not require packing fuel. I bought one for myself, but found that its biggest shortcoming was dependence on batteries. This will always limit how much you are willing to use the stove, lurking in the back of your mind is a worry that you will run out of charged batteries. Without a good battery to run the fan the stove was next to useless.So I decided to make a stove to avoid this problem of the batteries. The first Idea was a simple conical stove based on an old Gypsy design used by wandering tinsmiths to heat their soldering iron. It was very similar to the Caldera cone, except that I made it in three sections so that it could nest inside a pot. To use the stove, these sections could be stacked one on top of the other to form the cone, with a slight overlap at each joint.This stove worked very well, it could boil water as fast as the Sierra stove, about four minutes to boil a liter. In my efforts to compensate for the lack of a fan, I made it a little taller than it really needed to be. The cone is a good design because of the narrower opening at the top of the stove, which causes all of the hot exhaust gases to be brought into a small area where the heat is concentrated, and the gases are better mixed together, so that combustion is more complete. There was very little smoke when the fire was burning well. This is true also of the commercially made Trail stove and the Caldera wood burning stove. I sold a few crudely constructed stoves locally, assembled with pop rivets, based on this design.One of the nice things about the Sierra stove was that it would not char the ground below it, which allowed me to use it in places where I couldn't normally make a campfire. For example, one of my favorite places to stop for lunch if the weather is bad is under the shelter of a spruce tree. I started carrying around a stainless steel pie plate as a base to set the stove up on. By putting some dirt in the plate, I was able to use the stove under a spruce tree, making a really cozy little camp. Usually I could also suspend the pot by a string from a branch above the stove, which was much safer and more convenient than putting the pot on top of the stove. But the big drawback of using the pie plate and dirt was the added weight of the plate, and the difficulty of finding dirt that was not also filled with organic matter, especially in winter. Also, after the fire had burned for some time, the heat traveled through the dirt and the spruce needles below would begin to char and smolder, requiring dousing with water or snow. To overcome these problems, I tried making a platform of stainless steel with fiberglass insulation, which was ridiculously heavy, but it didn't work any better than using dirt. Eventually the heat traveled through the dirt or insulation, the insulation only slowed the rate of heat transfer.I struggled with this problem for a while. Putting the pie plate on legs is an obvious solution, but another might be to use an active means of cooling the bottom of the stove, such as might be provided by routing the incoming air feeding the fire under the bottom of the stove, so that heat coming from the bottom of the fire would be continuously carried away, preventing it from reaching the ground. One evening I began to sketch out a new stove design starting from scratch that might do this. The heart of the idea was to place a shallow cone shaped heat shield, with a small central hole to admit air to the fire, below a grate which supported the fire. The conical shape would allow ash to slide down the slope and out the central hole. This hole would be relatively small. limiting how much heat would be radiated toward the ground. The air coming through the central hole would provide only a small amount of cooling of the heat shield, but more cooling might be provided by using a double wall around the firebox, to create a draft that would draw cool air past the bottom surface of the heat shield. A baffle was added to make the incoming cool air pass close to the heat shield. To simplify construction, I decided to make the firebox a simple cylinder shape, but with this double wall around it. Still in the planning stage, as I was doing all of this "construction" on paper, I then asked myself, "What to do with this hot air coming up through the double wall?" Why not route it into the fire box just above the fire, where it might facilitate more complete combustion? I was aware that some of the newer home heating stoves being manufactured employed "secondary combustion" which worked by doing something similar. This would be simple to accomplish by closing off the top opening between the walls and drilling a ring of holes around the upper inside wall of the firebox. I hoped that the incoming heated air would also help to focus the hot exhaust gases into a smaller area the way the conical stove did. With the addition of a separate low container as a stand to place the stove on, a lighter weight equivalent of the pie plate, to catch the ashes and sparks that fell through the central hole, as well as to spread and diffuse the heat that radiated out of this hole, I hoped that the stove would remain cool enough to place on a bed of spruce needles indefinitely, without igniting them.
Can you tell a bit about how long it takes you to make a BushBuddy, and how many you're making per year?I do not make the stoves one at a time, but in batches of 24. Per stove, it works out to about 2 hours each. Last year I sold a total of 860 stoves.
What is the most sold BushBuddy - the normal version or the Ultra version? Where do your customer come from?I have not counted the actual number of each model that I have sold, but my impression is that it is about equal. Thanks to the reach of the internet, customers come from all over the world. I have even sold two stoves to people at McMurdo base in Antarctica, as unlikely as that might seem. But mostly it is the more advanced countries that buy the stove.
What do you think of the Bushcooker wood stove, and other wood stove designs out there? Do you maybe even own some of them?I have mentioned the Trail stove and the Caldera cone. I do not own either of these stoves, but I think both are good stoves for wood burning, though with the drawback of charring the ground. I have not used the Bushcooker, but it appears to be very similar to the Bushbuddy. I did notice on the Outdoor Station video with Bob Cartwright that the internal construction of the Bushcooker is different, there is no ashpan below the grate. The primary air comes in through holes around the side of the lower part of the firebox wall, below the grate. This would make the stove easier to manufacture, eliminating the need to make the ashpan, and potentially lighter. There would be less shielding of the bottom of the stove from the radiant heat of the fire with this design, but that may not be as important to many people as making a good, useful stove available at a lower price.
How easy, or difficult, is it to compete versus the mass market manufacturers, like Trangia, MSR and Primus? Have they maybe already tried to approach you and buy the company/ product/ patents?Because I am only one worker in a small home business, I do not need to sell a large number of stoves to make a living. Last year was the first year that I sold so many stoves. I think there will always be a niche for the worker at home who can provide unique products that the large manufacturers are not interested in making because they need a very large market. By selling direct, I can make a better wage without making the selling price too high than I could by selling through a retailer. Every extra mouth along the way needs to be fed, so it is more efficient to feed lower on the food chain. The internet has really created a revolution that is only beginning to be felt. Today it is much easier to sell directly to the customer than it used to be, and there is an opportunity for many more people to create a cottage industry. Working at home could become much more common. I expect that there will be other companies making similar stoves, but that is a good thing, maybe some day I will be able to go camping again. No companies have approached me about buying my company. I have no patents, so there is really nothing to buy, anyone can just as well just start building similar stoves.
Once more back to gear: Can we expect in the next years new innovations from you? Different designs, even lighter or something completely new?Many people have asked that I make a titanium version of the stove, and I am planning to do this. It should weigh about 3 1/2 ounces. When it is available I will announce this on my website. Further into the future I would like to offer also a model that incorporates a small thermoelectric generator that would enable batteries to be charged for use in a flashlight, or for the ever growing number of electronic gadgets. This would not add much weight and would provide a reliable source of charging when there is little sun, maybe even making it unnecessary to carry extra batteries or a solar panel.
What is your own favorite stove, backpack and shelter? Did you maybe even DIY?Of course, my own favorite stove is the Bushbuddy Ultra. I use a home made packboard with a frame made from the tempered aluminum spar from a discarded helicopter blade. After a good big spruce tree, a homemade sil-nylon tarp is my favorite shelter.
What was your last longer backpacking trip? Are you trying to get lighter and lighter still, or did you already reach your perfect setup?My last trip was two years ago, I am now just too busy to get away from home for very long. As for having found my perfect setup, have you ever met anyone who has done this? As Horace Kephart said about the possibility that someone might some day invent the perfect kit, "Our greatest pleasure in life would be swept away". Of course I am interested in improving my kit, that will never go away!
Do you think ultralight backpacking wood stoves will become more popular and break into the mass market, or will it continue to be something for a small group of people?I think that we are going to see some very difficult times in the near future. Most of the people of the world still use wood for cooking, because it is the least expensive fuel, and because it is renewable and people can gather wood for themselves. I think more people will be cooking with wood out of neccessity. For hikers, a woodburning stove is environmentally sound because it reduces the use of fossil fuels. And damage to the environment is minimal, a few twigs can be gathered over many miles of trail with really no impact, except for areas of extremely high human traffic. And who wants to travel where there are so many people? And of course, wood fires are fun!
Glen Van Peski of Gossamer Gear told about the yearly "Brain Trust" hike of some North American cottage manufacturers, are you usually also taking part in it or are you too busy running the company? Are you otherwise in touch with any of the other cottage manufacturers, like Trail Designs and Four Dog Stoves, and talking about developments and the like?Even if I was not so busy, I would rather communicate with other cottage manufactures by phone and email than to travel. If I go "out" for even a short time I am always so glad to come back to this wilderness where we live. There is no place that I would rather be. I have not been in touch until recently with any other cottage manufacturers besides Patrick Smith. Don Kevilus at Four Dog stoves recently bought a Bushbuddy Ultra stove from me, and gave me some good contact information for buying titanium. I am also now in contact with DJ Leavitt at Titanium Goat.
Fritz, I thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there something you would like to add?I hope that more people will be encouraged by this story to start their own home business. It has been a very positive experience for me. For anyone thinking of doing this, I think the most important thing is to have other sources of income during the beginning years. Also, you do not want to borrow money and have the pressure of needing to sell your product so that you can repay creditors. My advice is to be patient and finance the growth of your business from profits, not from borrowed money. If the business doesn't grow, then there are no profits, which prevents you from investing money in a bad idea. Borrowed money is often wasted, and there are few things more discouraging than paying for a dead horse. I also think that people generally make better spending decisions after they have earned the money than they do before they have earned it. This is partly because they will have had more time to think about the purchase, but also because they fully appreciate the effort that it took to earn the money. And, as it becomes clearer every day, fractional reserve banking is the biggest scam of all time, so don't participate in your own enslavement. Thank you Hendrik for the opportunity to answer your questions.