How to Make 55-Gallon Drum Heaters

Things You'll Need

  • 55-gallon metal drum

  • Garden hose

  • Trisodium phosphate or grease-cutting detergent

  • Nylon bristled scrub brush

  • Rubber gloves

  • Cutting torch or 5-inch electric disk grinder

  • 7 pieces of heavy gauge steel pipe (black gas line), 36 inch-by-2-inch

  • Welding equipment

  • 10-inch duct-mounted booster fan

  • 10-inch stovepipe duct adapter with flange

  • 2 grates from a gas or charcoal grill

  • An old cart-style gas grill

  • 4-inch-round, iris-style adjustable air dampers

  • Jigsaw with metal cutting blade

  • 3 steel 3 ½-inch butt hinges

  • 24 stove bolts, ¼ inch-by-1 inch, with nuts, washers and lock washers

  • Cordless or electric drill, with assorted bits

  • 2-inch metal hole saw

  • Self-drilling sheet metal screws

  • 2 pieces galvanized medium weight dog chain, 18 inches long

Old 55-gallon barrels can be converted to a wood stove.

With the rising costs of fuel oil, natural gas and other home heating fuels, alternative fuel heating sources are receiving more attention. For homeowners with cottages or hunting cabins, an alternative fuel heating plant offers money-saving options. One inexpensive and effective alternative heating source is a forced-air heater that you can build using an old 55-gallon fuel drum.

Making the Lower Half Barrel

Step 1

Wash down the inside of the drum to remove any oil for chemical residue. Use warm water and detergent, such as a grease-cutting detergent, or use trisodium phosphate. Rinse the barrel and repeat as necessary until the rinse water is clean and contaminant free.

Step 2

Cut the 55-gallon barrel in half lengthwise using the 5-inch electric disc grinder or a cutting torch. When complete, the barrel will resemble 2 troughs, each 36 inches long.

Step 3

Place the grates from inside the old gas or charcoal grill in one half of the barrel. This will be the lower half of the barrel.

Step 4

Cut a 4-inch-round hole in each end of the lower barrel half. Mount the 4-inch air dampers over the holes on the outside of the barrel. Fasten in place with the welder or sheet metal screws.

Step 5

Attach the three butt hinges to the back of the lower barrel half using the stove bolts, nuts and lock washers.

Step 6

Remove the grill casting from the old cart-style gas grill and discard. Adapt the cart as necessary, and weld the lower barrel half to the cart.

Making the Upper Half Barrel

Step 1

Drill seven 2-inch holes in each end of the upper barrel half. Arrange the holes to form an 8-inch circle. Arrange the holes with six holes equally spaced around the perimeter of the circle, and one hole in the center. Arrange these holes in a similar pattern on both ends of the barrel.

Step 2

Insert the 2-inch black pipe through the holes on each end of the barrel. The pipes will extend approximately ½ inch past each end of the barrel. Weld the pipes in place.

Step 3

Fasten the 10-inch stovepipe flange over the pipes on one end of the upper barrel half. Weld the stovepipe flange permanently in place, leaving no gaps in the perimeter weld.

Step 4

Fasten the duct-mounted fan to the stovepipe flange. Screw in place with sheet metal screws.

Step 5

Set the upper half of the barrel on top of the lower half, and attach the two using the hinges. When complete, the barrel halves should rest on top of one another, and open using the hinges so you have access to the internal cavity. Fasten one piece of dog chain between the upper and lower barrel halves on each end of the barrel so that the barrel lid will be supported by the dog chain when the barrel is opened.

Using the Heater

Step 1

Fill the lower half barrel with charcoal or hardwood, light the fire and close the lid.

Step 2

Adjust the air dampers to allow fresh air into the barrel to aid combustion.

Step 3

Plug in the duct-mounted fan. As the flames heat the internal 2-inch black pipe, the thermostatically controlled fan will turn on, blowing through the pipes. The forced air will be converted to warm air as it passes through the 2-inch pipes welded into the barrel. As the air exits the other end of the barrel, it will distribute the heat from inside the barrel into the surrounding room.


In place of the 2-inch black metal pipes, a commercially available heat exchanger could be welded inside the upper barrel half. This exchanger would conduct the heat from the inside of the barrel to the forced air exiting the barrel more efficiently. However, the part would require custom welded adapters, and possibly custom made fittings to be adapted permanently into the barrel.

Custom retailers sell cast-iron parts that also could be used to turn a 55-gallon drum into a wood heater. Parts and plans are available from these retailers, such as Vogelzang International Corp. and Northline Express.


The heater should be used outdoors or in a well-ventilated room. To adapt the heater for indoor use, the barrel must be vented to the out-of-doors using a 6-inch or 8-inch heavy gauge vent pipe, stovepipe rated.

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