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Thread: Easy to fix old Coleman catalytic heaters

  1. #1
    Mike is on a distinguished road Mike's Avatar
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    Default Easy to fix old Coleman catalytic heaters

    MuttShop 125x125
    Coleman used to make some pretty cool liquid fuel heaters. These were catalytic heaters, so theoretically, you could use them inside a large tent.

    Around here where many people hunt in cold weather and ice fish, there are many of these available now at garage sales, thrift stores, and Craigslist. Some are in excellent condition and some don't work, but most are very easily repaired.

    Last year, I bought one of these heaters and found it full of kerosene. I put new fuel in it and struggled to make it work - extra heavy priming, you name it. Nothing. So I bought another one - this one didn't work either. What a frustrating disappointment.

    I was ready to toss them, but then I read an article on kerosene catalytic heaters that people use in their homes and learned about the maintanance that is needed.

    Low and behold, the solution was simply too easy. There is a wick inside that needs to be trimmed or replaced.

    Because there are several different models, I won't try to post photos or it will confuse some readers. Let me just say that you have to stabalize the heater so it won't move. Then grab the top dome with the screen and the white fiberglass underneath (usually it is all full of soot). Twist it counter clockwise. It will usually be difficult to do and if you look at the unit, you won't believe it can come apart, but it will.

    Once you get the dome off, you will see the tail of the wick hanging out that goes into the fuel can. You need to get that off too. Grab the metal wick holder by the base and give it a twist - ya, I know it looks like it is a single piece of equipment, but it will come off too.

    THEN, you will quickly notice that the top of the wick is black and hard and contaminated with soot. Take a sharp scissors and trim off about 1/4" of the wick to trim off the gunk. Pull the wick up to compensate for what you trimmed off, and re-assemble.

    You can clean the dome by pouring about 4 ounces of denatured alcohol on top of the dome. I use HEET automotive fuel system cleaner because it is alcohol and it is cheap. Pour it thick and all over the dome and light it. The alcohol burns hot and removes the carbon from the dome. It works surprisingly well and the dome will be mostly white when you are done.

    To use the heater after assembly, fill it with fuel, then turn it upside down until a fuel wet spot about six inches in diameter forms on the dome. Turn the stove upright, turn the lever to "high", and pour some denatured alcohol on the dome as a primer. Light the dome and let the flame burn out over the next several minutes. At that point, your heater should be working. It will gradually get hotter over the next hour or so.

    YOU HAVE TO USE COLEMAN FUEL. I tried unleaded car gas. I tried kerosene. Sorry. These cheaper fuels work for maybe one use - or not even, then the impurities in the kerosene and the addditives in the car gas gum up the wick and it stops working. It does work like a charm with Coleman fuel.

    If somebody somewhere along the line used leaded gas, that will ruin the catalytic plate and the heater won't work.

    I did test with a carbon monoxide tester and found that these old heaters DO work and do not produce any detectable carbon monoxide.

    These are really nice heaters. Per BTU heating warmth, liquid Coleman fuel is much more economical to use than bottled gas, making these old units warmer and more economical to use than Mr. Heater or Buddy heaters.

    Last edited by Mike; 11-16-2013 at 05:54 AM.

  2. #2
    Primitive camper! Bigdog57 is on a distinguished road Bigdog57's Avatar
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    Default Re: Easy to fix old Coleman catalytic heaters

    Excellent info! When I was a kid my Dad had the top unit you picture, and we used it for winter camping in our old 10X12 canvas cabin tent (itself long gone) - it worked very well. I have been cleaning out his workshop after his passing away last year, but have not found the old Cat Heater. I had hoped to resurrect it. I did find two old Coleman lanterns, and will get them fixed and working.
    Longtime Motorcycle Camper. Getting away from it all on two wheels!

  3. #3
    Mike is on a distinguished road Mike's Avatar
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    Default Re: Easy to fix old Coleman catalytic heaters

    Quote Originally Posted by Bigdog57 View Post
    Excellent info! When I was a kid my Dad had the top unit you picture, and we used it for winter camping in our old 10X12 canvas cabin tent (itself long gone) - it worked very well. I have been cleaning out his workshop after his passing away last year, but have not found the old Cat Heater. I had hoped to resurrect it. I did find two old Coleman lanterns, and will get them fixed and working.

    Bgdog57, family heirloom Coleman equipment can be precious treasures for many of us who did family camping. Many of us remember our fathers lighting up the night with the family Coleman lantern with all the familiar motions, sounds, and smells associated with it. There was a certain peace and comfort as Dad would go outside to fire up the Coleman stove while we huddled inside the tent with a cold rain outside. We knew that Dad would soon appear with hot chocolate for all!

    My mother gave me Dad's old Coleman stove. Sadly, the lantern was stolen from her garage.

    I know that I will be using Dad's old Coleman stove as I introduce my grandchildren to camping and woodsmanship. I am confident that it will be in fine working order when they introduce their children to the outdoors as well - three quarters of a century after that stove made its first pot of hot chocolate.


  4. #4
    Mike is on a distinguished road Mike's Avatar
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    Default Re: Easy to fix old Coleman catalytic heaters

    I found this old Coleman heater ad that has a very nice illustration of the internal workings of the traditional Coleman catalytic heaters. The ad gives good information also.


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