Wood gas 86 suburban

I have an 86 Chevy suburban that currently has a SBC in it. I’m pretty sure the engine is a good wrench 350. I believe the block is from the 70s. It runs a little rough and has about 120 psi of compression. I might swap in a BBC later
Im hoping to build a down draft wood gasifier, like the one in the FEMA plans. I have mainly soft wood here and intend to run on wood chips. I’m wanting to build a roof rack for my suburban that can be used to cool the gas and condense out contaminants. I’m still unsure how I’m going to mount the gasifier and filter, but I was wondering if I can put it on a pivoting spare tire rack so I can still use the tail gate. Any thoughts?
Advice would be appreciated


Hi Dillion. The word FEMA sends shivers down every woodgasers spine. The FEMA never was designed to be used for a long term sistem. It was designed to power motors in an emergancy, with minimal materials. They are noutorious tar makers.

Other thain that, only problem l see is a big engine needs a big gasifier and lots of wood. Wich is hevy and bulky, specialy with soft wood. Just something to concider


Thank you, I haven’t really done any wood gas projects yet. The FEMA plans are the only ones I’m familiar with at this time. I’d be happy to read about other systems if you have any suggestions.
I realize that it’s going to be bulky and take a lot of wood but I was hoping to have something that could do some real work. I daily a geo metro so I don’t need it to be practical even on wood gas.


Mr Waynes book is a good place to start. Buying it will also get you in the premium section of this site.

But the truth is, for your applications, a WK gasifier might be too heavy. You might get better off with a lmbert style.

Many many sucsessful projects are described in detail here. You got to do some searching and reading. Once you get your basic knolidge, just start asking questions, you will be amazed how generous people here are with help


I don’t know Kristijan i think buying the book and getting a membership would be the way to go for Dillon , i think once he gets to see how Wayne , builds his units and then watches Norman’s, picture and video build and then store’s that in the memory bank he can then watch a few of the others that have built and run Imberts and even charcoal systems and your systems , i think it would be money wisely spent .
Just my feeling is all


Dave, l agree 100%. If you look at my post, its what l recomended in the first line.

What l wanted to say is its going to be hard to follow the books plan by the letter, if he wants to stick to the rear mounted design. But its an excelent start! And certainly money well spent


What others say, don’t start with a FEMA, try some of the proven designs.
That was a good idea with the spare tire rack, strongly reinforced, and relieved when driving, for example a “shelf” under the gasifier that takes the most load when gasifier is locked in place, could work, as there is hot gas directly after gasifier there should be some kind of pivoting connection (not a hose) maybe just a threaded pipe union, in the pivoting point, with a loose nut to lock it tight when driving.


Hi DillionP,
Nice picture set. Your snow looks to be wet and heavy. And I do see your conifer softwood trees.

A couple of things to consider.
You Suburban is already very long in the middle wheelbase with a long after the rear axle overhang. Your one picture shows you like to go to extremes. I think hanging off the back will literally get you hung up a lot. These rigs are huge in the rear cargo area. The only way I see practical is to use that behind the real axle cargo area as your gasifier system space. You will need to sheet metal partition that off for woodgas carbon monoxide safety.
BobMac’s current in building Jeep Grand Cherokee project shows how to do this.

And any system big enough to fuel supply a heavy chassis driving small block let alone a later big block will have to be big and heavy. Putting the heavy system forward closer to the rear axle will help handling the weight. The BIG? I feel you will have to go down, cut down below the rear deckline to get some of that vertical space you will need. And most likely even cut up through the rear roofline.
Not willing to chop this old lovely then IMHO just do not attempt to woodgas it. Switch to an open bed pickup truck.
Southern Yankee, KyleD here on the DOW recently showed his slide in bed system in your era of GMC pickup. Find his topic. Look at his pictures. He says he used the Ben Peterson’s Woodgasifier Builder Bible book as his basis to build his.

The other thing this old beast is carbureted.
So do send off for the Mother Earth News Woodgasifier plan set too as an “Imbert” system starting point. Much, much more successful then the F.E.M.A. crappola.
Their’s is a very tall system, but they did base off of carbureted Chevy V-8’s so include carburetor adaptation information too.
Ron Lemler here has built two MENS systems. One for his classic old Ford pickup. One on his IHC tractor. Look up his topics for pictures and comments.
I think at least two other guys have built and operated MENS systems. DOW findable with the magnifying glass search tool above.

The WK system would be the least tall. But wider in layout. The BenP’s Book system in between the tall MENS and the wide WK.

Steve unruh


Your compression reading, assuming that they test basically the same in all cylinders indicate that your rings are good and your valves are seated. 120 psi means that you have a stardard truck engine with eight to one Compression ratio. A little low for wood gas but it is what it is. You probably won’t be climbing a rock like that on WG. Still, it is most likely a sound engine and your minor issues would probably be fuel delivery or ignition related, so easily remedied. Trying to build a gasifier for this truck that would still allow you to use the rear cargo area unimpeded may not be impossible, but it teeters right on the border line. I wish your truck was mine. It’s very nice. If you are not willing to cut it up to get a gaifier in it then I’d take SteveU’s suggestion and find a pick-up to remodel.


Thank you I appreciate all of your guys feed back. I bought the book a membership.
The reason I wanted to use a tire rack to mount it wasn’t so I didn’t have to cut it up but so I could still use all the cargo area.im not to concerned about the wheel base I don’t off road it anymore, I might take it hunting but not climbing rocks and plowing snow. It’s also a 3/4 ton so I don’t feel the weight should be to big a concern.
Thank you guys. I’ll have to do some reading but I’ll update you all as my plans become more clear.


The rack that would hold it would need to be rated for the weight. Not sure what class Reese hitch you could get for it, but I’m guessing the tongue weight would be around a 500lb limit for a 1500. But when it sticks out like that, a cargo rack will strain the hitch so the weight limit would actually be less. For an engine like a 350ci it would be a big ask to hang it off the end without some serious reinforcement to make a raw wood system capable of supplying the engine.

A charcoal unit might work but then you’d have to constantly make charcoal and you already said that would be a problem. That SBC would be pretty hungry for fuel so it would be a pain in the neck with charcoal.

If you had a way to support a rear rack by tying it to a roof rack with bars, you might have enough weight capacity. Won’t really know without knowing the class of receiver hitch you can get for the Suburban.

@Wayne how much do you reckon a V10 sized WK gasifier weighs?


Hey Cody

Just a wild guess would be about 500 pounds including the heat exchanger .

When the gasifier is sitting in the front of the bed on a pickup truck the weight is not noticed .


ok, the sbc for me has been a proven performer on woodgas, I love these old burbs and I have had several of them over the years I view them as a battle wagon, a real shtf scenario get out of town and haul all the goods and family with no problem. Now that being said… I had a 86 suburban at the time I got into woodgas, and even thought about doing it as my first project. I was skeptical of woodgas performance since anything you can find on the internet just is all blah blah blah loss of power cant climb hills blah blah blah. Having now put down several thousand miles in my chevota pickup my perspective on this has changed a lot, for instance here are a couple videos showing the performance capabilities of my truck

now as a matter of personal preference my trucks are all manual transmissions, I do not like the loss of power and loss of control experience of a automatic transmission. Withholding that statement, I think a th350 or th400 auto would be a better option for a woodgas application behind a sbc specially in a heavy 3/4 ton burb. I have just recently finished gasifier construction on my v10 dodge and with the way it is constructed (it a a Wayne Keith design with a few little changes) I did not weigh the gasifier itself, but I would estimate the full gasifier to weight between 250-350lbs. That does not include cooling rack which can be built light weight on the roof as you already mentioned, or the hay filter which is a space taking part of the system that doesn’t weigh all that much even when its full of hay and soot. I think if I were to woodgas a burb it would be based on instead of a hitch design, I would opt for the early 60-70’s era truck camper special bumper slide out system. This braces inside the frame rails and is a extremely stout way to mount something on the back of a truck, more or less a c channel liner that slides inside the factory frame rails. I never mentioned that as a option for Bob in his jeep build as it is a unibody construction, couldn’t be done this way. Now that is a lot of weight hanging off the back of the truck! BUT, as a burb owner you undoubtedly know about the saggy ass syndrome they are known for. The factory never used a leaf spring in the back that was capable of lasting a long life and not sagging out something terrible. This I corrected with a heavy set of Deaver springs in my truck and a 1 inch lift block though I despise lift blocks as a whole many manufacture’s use them in factory form such as pretty much all late model ford trucks and a lot of late model dodge trucks including my second gen trucks. I absolutely think it could be done with proper leaf springs, possibly air bags to really stabilize the thing as they are well known for body roll at highway speeds and benefit biggly from a sway bar. This would come at the cost of already taking a very un aerodynamic brick and making it worse. Then a huge loss of departure angle in a truck that already doesn’t have one to start with. Remember if the rear bench seat is removed and the middle seat folded down you have a 9 foot flatbed surface under a steel roof, that’s a lot of space! It would be a hard toss up to do a rear mount for simplicity but lose the use of either the barn doors or more likely yours being an 86 the tailgate system. My thoughts on mine was to chop the top behind the c pillar and graft a blazer top on behind it, with a separable wall between. This would be 2 rows of bench seats for passengers and gear and a rear 4-6 foot bed space for gasifier and wood storage. I have proven in both my builds ( one being in the bed of a toyota mini truck) that a WK style system can be crammed in a relatively small area if sacrifices are made. This I think would be the best option for weight distribution, ease of maintance on the system, and maintain the best usefulness of the truck itself. Bearing in mind it is a heavy girl, and will use a lot of wood, so a steady wood production and chunker system is in order to keep the beast fed good and proper. When you get premium approval do some deep dives build thread reading and all the builds that have been done. Then take a close look at the miniature somewhat wk inspired build in jo volvo. This system can be made compact, cant be kept serviceable, and work well. Several builders here have made in truck car systems, so a burban is a royal landscape layout to work with. My option would require much custom body work, and would not be very stealth, but in my still young brain of hotrod ratrod culture mindset, would look absolutely awesome in your burb. It would get you down the road at a small loss of power, seen mostly in hill limbs and flat out acceleration. Engine modifications would be a necessary evil for that truck if it were mine honestly, at the very lease raising the compression, possibly a little larger camshaft and of course cranking the timeing up to get some of that net loss power on wood back. BUT all of those can be done later down the road. As others have said already the word fema should make any REAL woodgas driver run far and run fast in the opposite direction! All of us here want to see you succeed and we will help in any way we can to get you up and going and heading in the right direction. Where abouts are you located? As Steve has duely noted, that terrain sure looks pacific northwest-esk to my eyes! Perhaps a local that would want to see a woodgas truck in action, there are a couple builders in that local. Bobmac with his v8 dakota, Mike gibbs with his big block ford f250, Steve the stationary generator to wood expert, a few others who have come and gone on the forum and myself


Hi Dillon,
There are a lot of ideas on this forum and it would be easy to get lost if you try to read everything. I would start with Wayne’s Wilbur Smith build and then look at Tone’s Tractor with gas? thread. And the Tools, Tips and Tricks thread just has soooo many good ideas.


Hi Dillon, Welcome!

Already, ur on the right track! You have purchased access to the premium side of this forum and believe me, there is a mountain of info to be sifted threw. Everytine i finish a posted topic i find many many more i wishing i had time to read and learn from.
I hope you dig in and stay for the long haul! Its always fun and exciting to see others making progress on thier builds and another project come alive on wood!!!

I for one am thankful to everyone that contributes here. Posting their wins and fails. Failurs are just as important to post as there triumphs. Maybe even more so, it helps those coming along later learn that mush faster and something that seams so minor might just be the key to helping the next person succeed.


Thanks for your input.
I’m located in Tillamook county Oregon.


That rear roof and side wall section behind the second set of doors really just looks like a PU topper. Body on frame, you are not relying on any part of the body for structural integrity. You could easily remove it and still come out with a factory looking finish. When you get up into that size of engine and vehicle weight you are best off with a WK to get any real performance, however Kyle is getting good performance off his Ben Peterson style Imbert.
Both designs require a fair degree of fabrication skill.