On a recent half-day ice-fishing adventure with our son, I got to experience some of the benefits of a portable burn barrel that he has been using for the past five or six years. He puts it to use throughout the year, but spring/autumn hunts and hard-water fishing are when it sees pretty consistent use.
I had seen it sitting on his trailer before, but on this occasion it was sitting on a frozen lake and that’s what impressed me with how convenient and effective it was to use.
It is a very simple device, just the agitator drum out of the washer unit of a laundry set. I think these pieces come in various sizes for different sized loads of washing. These absolutely free of charge units are commonly found in the appliance section of any of our community landfill sites. If you have the right tools with you, the drum can be removed where it sits and the remainder of the unit can just stay where it is.
The outside walls of these drums have a few hundred holes in them to allow water circulation during a laundry cycle. These holes allow a real serious air flow to the fire, but are not large enough to allow the fire to fall out.The only modification needed is to bolt or weld on four legs, which raise it 4-5 inches from the surface it sits on. You could also place it on stones, but they are hard to come by when ice-fishing.
By using the suggested legs, the hot bottom of the burn barrel does not melt (and then freeze) into the ice surface, nor will it char or start on fire the ground cover during non-winter usage.
Campfires and ice-fishing fires tend to grow in diameter as more fuels is added. The use of the drum focusses the fire in a smaller area and a small grate or oven rack on top is a place to put your kettle or fry-pan to make lunch or a hot drink. Any wind plays havoc with an open fire, blowing cinders which burn holes in our high-tech clothing or tent and sometimes end up in someone’s eyes.
With legs welded on, this portable unit might weigh 15 pounds. A good supply of firewood can be stood on end in the unit for transport and even the larger drums will fit easily into your skimmer, truck box or in the corner of your boat. A couple of BIC lighters or wooden matches in a waterproof container along with fire-lighter such as kerosene soaked chain-saw chips in a plastic jar is all you need to get a good-sized, well controlled fire going in quick order.