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How to Build A Simple Box-Style Solar Cooker

A Box-Style Solar Cooker can be constructed in a few hours for very little money. Follow these instructions to build one.

You will need the following supplies

  • Two cardboard boxes. Use an inner box that is at least 38 cm (15 in) by 38 cm (15 in), but bigger is better. The outer box should be larger than the small box all around, but it doesn’t matter how much bigger, as long as there is 1.5 cm (0.6 in) or more of an airspace between the two boxes. The distance between the two boxes does not have to be equal all the way around. Also, keep in mind that it is very easy to adjust the size of a cardboard box by cutting and gluing it. Note that you can build the Easy Lid Cooker with a single cardboard box.

  • One sheet of cardboard to make the lid. This piece must be approximately 4 cm (1.6 in) to 8 cm (3.2 in) larger all the way around than the top of the finished cooker (the outer box).

  • One small roll of aluminum foil.

  • One can of flat-black spray paint (look for the words “non-toxic when dry”) or one small jar of black tempera paint. Or, you can make your own paint out of soot mixed with wheat paste.

  • At least 250 g (8 oz) of white glue or wheat paste.

  • A sheet of clear glass, acrylic, polycarbonate, or some other clear glazing (consider reusing old window glazing). An inexpensive cover can also be made from a turkey-size Reynolds Oven Cooking Bag®. (These are available in most supermarkets in the U.S.). They are rated for 204 °C (399 °F) so they are perfect for solar cooking. They are not UV resistant; thus they will become more brittle and opaque over time and may need to be replaced periodically. 

Build the Base

Fold the top flaps closed on the outer box and set the inner box on top; then trace a line around it onto the top of the outer box. Remove the inner box and cut along this line to form a hole in the top of the outer box (Figure 1).

Decide how deep you want your oven to be. It should be about 2.5 cm (1 in) deeper than your largest pot and about 2.5 cm (1 in) shorter than the outer box so that there will be a space between the bottoms of the boxes once the cooker is assembled. Using a knife, slit the corners of the inner box down to that height. Fold each side down forming extended flaps (Figure 2). Folding is smoother if you first draw a firm line from the end of one cut to the other where the folds are to go.

Glue aluminum foil to the inside of both boxes and also to the inside of the remaining top flaps of the outer box. Don’t bother being neat on the outer box, since it will never be seen, nor will it experience any wear. The inner box will be visible even after assembly, so if it matters to you, you might want to take more time here. Glue the top flaps closed on the outer box

Place some wads of crumpled newspaper into the outer box so that when you set the inner box down inside the hole in the outer box, the flaps on the inner box just touch the top of the outer box (Figure 3). Glue these flaps onto the top of the outer box. Trim the excess flap length to be even with the perimeter of the outer box.


Finally, to make the drip pan, cut a piece of cardboard the same size as the bottom of the interior of the oven and apply foil to one side. Paint this foiled side black and allow it to dry. Put this in the oven so that it rests on the bottom of the inner box (black side up), and place your pots on it when cooking. The base is now finished.

Box Oven Construction, Figures 1-3

Build the Removable Lid

Take the large sheet of cardboard and lay it on top of the base. Trace its outline and then cut about 7.5 cm (3 in) beyond the outline.  Fold down the edges on the outline marking to form the lid edges. Fold the corner flaps around and glue to the side lid flaps (Figure 4). One trick you can use to make the lid fit well is to lay the pencil or pen against the side of the box when marking (Figure 5).

Orient the corrugations so that they go from left to right as you face the oven so that later the prop may be inserted into the corrugations (Figure 6).  

Don’t glue this lid to the box; you’ll need to remove it to move pots in and out of the oven

To make the reflector flap, draw a line on the lid, forming a rectangle the same size as the oven opening. Cut around three sides and fold the resulting flap up forming the reflector (Figure 6). Foil this flap on the inside.

Next, turn the lid upside down and glue the glazing material in place. If you are using the turkey size oven bag (47.5 cm x 58.5 cm, 19 in x 23 1/2 in), it can be applied as is, i.e., without opening it up. This makes a double layer of plastic. The two layers tend to separate from each other to form an airspace as the oven cooks. When using this method, it is important to also glue the bag closed on its open end. This stops water vapor from entering the bag and condensing. Alternately you can cut any size oven bag open to form a flat sheet large enough to cover the oven opening.

To make a prop, bend a 30 cm (12 in) piece of hanger wire as indicated in Figure 6. This can then be inserted into the corrugations as shown. Use one on each side of the lid for more support.

Box Oven Lid Construction, Figures 4-6

Improving Efficiency

The oven you have built should cook fine during most of the solar season. If you would like to improve the efficiency to be able to cook on more marginal days, you can modify your oven in any or all of the following ways

  • Paint the outside of the cooker black.

  • Make a new reflector the size of the entire lid (use it in place of the lid).

  • Make the drip pan using sheet metal, such as aluminum flashing. Paint this black and elevate this off the bottom of the oven slightly with small cardboard strips or wood blocks.


Completed Solar Box Oven


Additional Resources:

Why and How to Cook with a Solar Cooker by Earth Water Alliance.

How to Make a Copenhagen-Style Solar Panel Oven by Earth Water Alliance.

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