Of Wood Cookstoves

I remember the wood stove we had when I was a little girl. It was our only heat and a much-appreciated presence on winter days. Mother raised bread behind the stovepipe. The spring chickens first lived in a box on the floor back of the stove before they graduated to the bathtub. Hot water came from a tank attached to the right-hand side of it with a circulating pipe rigged up to pass near the firebox. I started out cold mornings sitting on top of the stove. As it got warmer I scooched away from the firebox. Then I leaned on the stove. When it got hot enough so I couldn't lean on it anymore I was thawed out enough to function anyway. I never could understand how my mother managed to get up in that icy house leaving my father and me in our warm beds and make the fire. Now I understand better. Necessity is the progenitor of toughness. I mean, when you have to, you can.

Now I have an electric stove and 2 old-fashioned wood ranges in my kitchen. I use my younger Montag Duchess white-enameled stove in winter as a cupboard and the top as a work area. In summer it moves to the backyard under a canopy to be my canning stove. I like to bake in the electric stove, and it's a blessing on hot summer days because I can cook a meal on it without heating up the kitchen too much. But I prefer the wood stove for frying, stewing, such delicate businesses as making cottage cheese and cream cheese, and for its friendly and practical warmth on cold days since it heats the kitchen area. That stove is a big black box with the name "Monarch" on it in 9 places, warming ovens on top, and lots of fancy metalwork. It's a good stove too. Installing a Stove: The old-style wood-and-coal range is a large iron box, which may or may not be on legs. It should be placed well enough out from the wall not to be a fire hazard and set on a fire-retardant sheet to protect your wooden floor. Stove pipes need to be assembled carefully and cleaned regularly Chimneys must be insulated properly A spark arrestor on top of the chimney will protect your roof. You may be concerned about how to keep squirrels and birds out of a fireplace chimney and about creosote build-up.

Leveling a Stove. When you first set up a wood cookstove it's important to get it level. Put a frying pan on top with a few drops of water in it for an indicator. The drops of water should go to the center of the pan. Getting Acquainted with Your Stove: The firebox is usually on the left. At the bottom of the burning area is a movable grate—an iron grill with interlocking fingers—which is opened by a special handle to let ashes fall down into the ash pan, a trap that occupies the lowest level under the firebox. You can keep the grate shaker hung near the stove along with the scraper, poker, pot holders, hatchet, and lid lifter. The poker is a long metal rod with a handle used to move chunks of wood away from the sides of the firebox, or to do whatever poking you need to in the fire without burning your hand.

Alte Bands Gen

Warming ovens Damper

Oven on-off control

Water reservoir

Oven eleanout door Asbestos sheet

Warming ovens Damper

Oven on-off control

Water reservoir

Oven eleanout door Asbestos sheet

About Dampers and Drafts: In addition to fuel, fires have to have oxygen to burn. The range is connected with the chimney vent by means of the stovepipe. There is a damper in the pipe and probably another at the front of the grate and another at the back or side of the firebox. Technically, the ones that are above the fire are "dampers," the ones in front of it are "drafts." The dampers and drafts are used to control the amount of air flow. A new fire needs lots of air. The 2 lower dampers are probably shifted by metal handles to open or close air holes into the firebox. The stovepipe damper is a plate just the diameter of the pipe with an outside handle. It may be adjusted to obstruct the pipe and slow (dampen) the fire by limiting the airflow (draft). The "flue" is the hole inside the chimney or stovepipe through which your draft flows. If you let your fire get big and roaring a little bit before you damp down, it will help burn up and blow out the cinders in the stove and stovepipe that can't be reached so easily any other way. Of Stoves, Air, and Weatherization. No matter what you burn for heat, you'll save money and the environment if you burn less, and you'll burn less if you insulate your house. Find out where you're losing heat and try to stop those leaks. Drafts are a major culprit. You can buy a helpful pamphlet ("Cut Those Energy Bills") from Storey's or Vermont Castings. But don't cut off your oxygen supply completely! Keep in mind that if your house is very tightly sealed, there may not be enough natural leakage into it to provide adequate air for your stove. That would result in a weak draft, smoking, difficult starting, and poor performance. (Test to see if cracking open a nearby window solves the problem.)

Here's another problem with weatherization in a wood-stove-heated home: in a home that is just leaky enough to provide a good, fresh draft for the stove and a frequent exchange of room air, the pollutants that leak from the stove can't stay around long enough to concentrate in the room air. But as you tighten your house against drafts, air exchange from outside air happens less often; indoor pollutants have time to accumulate, and this can be a health problem. Not all the pollutants—notably carbon monoxide —can be smelled or seen. So, if you are burning wood, the room where you keep your stove has to have a conscious system to vent and renew the air with an air-intake system that will feed your fire with outside air instead of recirculated room air. And always burn a hot, clean fire to minimize the amount of pollutants produced in the first place. starting a Fire: On very cold mornings, if there is no other heat, I let the children build the fire. It keeps them occupied while the house is warming up. Otherwise, they just stand around the cold stove and complain. The basic idea is this: You strike a match to get heat enough to light paper, which will burn and create heat enough to light kindling, which will burn and create heat enough to ignite bigger, and then bigger, hunks of wood, which will burn with enough heat to kindle coal. That's because each thing has its "kindling point," meaning the lowest possible temperature at which it will catch on fire. So you start with the thing that has the lowest kindling point (the match) and work your way up.

Starting Clean. Before starting a new fire, you first need to clean out the ashes from the previous day's burning. Shake the grate with the shaker to get all the old cold ashes down into the ash pan. Take the pan out and empty it onto the garden or into the lye barrel, compost heap, or garbage. If you were using coal yesterday, be thrifty and pick out any half-burned chunks to save and finishing burning later. Having all those old ashes out helps the new fire get air. Besides if you don't empty your ash pan now it will be overflowing by noon with ashes and hot cinders. Then you will have to empty it and the tray will be burning hot and very unwieldy to carry anywhere.

Laying Burnables into the Stove. Separate sheets of newspaper. Wad them up individually and put them into the firebox. Or use any discarded papers or paper containers. Add some of your most finely cut kindling on top of the paper, then a few bigger chunks of wood on top of that, then a couple of yet larger sticks on top of that. Arrange all the wood in as open a style as possible, not pressed together so that lots of air can get in there. Not only does the fire in general need air, but at first every individual stick needs an air supply. I carefully arrange them log cabin or teepee style to ensure this. Once it gets going you needn't be so particular. And start with plenty of sticks. One stick of wood never burns well alone. (There's some profound philosophy there if I ever get time to ponder it—a sermon even.) Now light the paper with a match as near the bottom as you can. Adjusting the Dampers. Fire travels up. Always start your fire with all the dampers wide open. As the fire gets going, keep it supplied with fuel of the appropriate size for the stage it's at. As it gets going better you can gradually cut back on the draft. You will waste fuel and have a hard time heating your stove and oven if you let all your hot air go directly up the chimney, which is what it will do with all the dampers left open. So when your fire is going really well, cut back the draft—by turning the damper in the stovepipe—until it starts smoking. Then turn it back enough so you have no smoke. If the chimney damper is shut too tight, you'll have smoke all over the place. If it's open too wide, the fire will roar and consume like crazy— but it won't make the room warm. Close the damper at the back or to the side of the firebox, shut or almost shut. Adjust your front damper to the point that the fire's health seems to require. The hotter your fire the more dampening it can stand. If your fire is too slow, give it more air. If your fire still isn't burning well, try loosening up the pile of fuel.

Cooking on a Wood Stove

Shopping for a Wood Stove's Needs. Lehman's carries an excellent line of wood-stove items: cast iron (enamel-lined) or stainless steel tea kettles, enameled frontier coffee-makers, old-time flat irons that heat on the stovetop, pokers, lid lifters, scrapers, lids, books . . . and stoves themselves; 888438-5346; www.Lehmans.com.

The Top of the Stove. The oven of a wood stove is hard to work with but the top more than makes up for it. The heat on top of a wood stove is more even and potentially milder than that on an electric or gas stove. You will be delighted with your fried eggs because the texture of eggs cooked alone or in mixtures is directly affected by the temperature at which they are cooked. Cooked below the boiling point of water the egg white is firm but tender, and the egg yolk is tender and like a salve. Eggs cooked at too high a temperature are first tough, then leathery, then crispy. Fry your eggs in a little butter in a cast-iron pan on the right-hand side of the wood range.



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It's basic knowledge that the different parts of the stove top have different temperatures. The hottest area is usually just to the right of the firebox. (If the draft isn't good, the hottest may be right over the firebox.) You can adjust your cooking temperature just by moving the pan to a suitable place on the stove top. Start it boiling over the hot part, then settle it down to the rate you like by moving it over some distance to the right. The far right is the traditional place for making cottage cheese and keeping dishes warm when a meal is waiting for the eaters. Pot Handles and Holders. This kind of stove is hard on perishable pot handles—wooden or plastic ones. The stove top is hot all around the pan as well as under it and a wooden handle such as that on a coffeepot may even catch fire. The traditional handles are metal and you pick them up with a pot holder. You can make a pot holder by folding an old washrag in half and the folding it in half again and sewing down all around the edges. Or you can sew down enough layers of cotton rags to get a manageable thickness and then attach a loop to hang it up by It can be round or square, about 7 inches across is nice. Crocheted ones burn you through the holes unless they have an extra cloth filling or you use them several at a time stacked like pancakes. Keep the pot holders hanging on nails handy to your stove. You'll be using them a lot.

Stirring on a Wood Stove Top. You need long-handled wooden spoons. You can use a clean stick if you haven't wooden spoons. Wood doesn't conduct heat. The long handle helps you keep your arm away from the heat. Any metal spoon will quickly heat up and burn your fingers. Then you'll drop it in the pot. The old-fashioned flat irons, griddles, waffle pans, and other "hot air" pans—including the kugelhupf (apple-dumpling pan)—are meant to be put right on the hot range top. (If you want to use these pans on an electric burner, put a metal pie pan over the burner—otherwise they'll get too hot in one spot.)

W> POTATO LEFSE This Scandinavian dish was traditionally baked right on top of a wood range although you can use a pancake griddle. Boil 5 large, peeled potatoes, then mash them and add A3 c. cream, 3 T. butter, and I t. salt Beat until the mixture is fluffy. After it has cooled, add enough flour to roll out thinly, as for pie crust or even thinner, using your rolling pin. Start with walnut-sized balls. Roll out to tortilla-sized pancakes. Use the center panel of the stove or you can bake on a grill or in a heavy skillet Clean and oil it and then bake there, turning as often as you need to keep from scorching.

®> WHEAT LEFSE Mix A t. salt with 3 c. whole wheat flour. Add A c. oil and I c. water; mix and knead. Roll dough thin as for Potato Lefse. If your dough is sticky, add a little more flour. Cook like the Potato Lefse. You can eat plain, or buttered, or like pancakes, or like tacos with a filling rolled up inside (keep them hot) like mashed dry beans, green onion, and tomato.

<i> WELSH STOVETOP COOKIE Jennet Gray, age 10, Fruit-vale, ID, gave me this recipe. It was passed down from her namesake, Jennet Havard, born November 30, 1875, in Wales—Jen's great-great grandmother. Mix 4 c. whole wheat flour, I c. brown sugar, I T. baking powder, I T. freshly ground nutmeg, and A t salt Cut in I c. butter. Add I c. raisins or currants. Add 2 eggs mixed with c. milk Roll out !A-inch thick and cut into large circles. Cook them on the stovetop in a frying pan (or in an electric fry pan at 350°F). Brown one side. Flip over and brown the other. Jen's mother is a remarkable lady who worked every summer for years out in the woods for the US. Forest Service—until she got so disturbed about timber overcutting that she went back to college for an MA. in political science and guidance about finding a way to influence and limit the unfortunate industry-dictated policies she knew so well.

The Oven. The oven of a good wood range is beside the firebox and is heated by hot air circulating from the firebox over, down the far side and under the oven. If your oven is not heating or is heating unevenly, the problem may be accumulated soot in those areas. My mother taught me to clean them out once a week. You can lift off the top of the range to clean the top area and sides. The bottom is reached through a little door under the oven. There is a special tool for cleaning there called a "stove scraper."

Ovens vary among stoves and with the kind of fuel you are using and the weather. You'll have to get to know your individual oven and fuel. Throw away your former standards for baking. Just be grateful if it isn't raw and isn't burnt. Disregard suggested cooking times. Your oven may be faster or slower or both. Keep an eye on what's happening in there. If the oven doesn't have a built-in thermometer, by all means go out and buy one of those little portable oven thermometers that you can hang or set inside. That way you'll never have to bother with the famous flour or paper tests. The problem isn't finding out the temperature—it's controlling it!

If your oven is too cool, stoke up the fire with more fuel. If the oven is too hot, leave the door open a crack and ease up on feeding the fire. If one side is obviously getting more heat than the others, the oven is hotter there and you will need to rotate your baking pan occasionally during the baking. If you have several pans in the oven, rotate them all to take turns in the hot spot. If the top is browning too fast, cover it with greased or wetted brown paper or aluminum foil. You can put a whole pie into a paper bag. Old fashioned cast-iron frying pans, Dutch ovens, and gem (iron muffin) pans are helpful, since the cast-iron absorbs heat and distributes it evenly throughout the surface of the pan. Wood cookstove Repair: Assuming you don't lose a lid lifter, or, worst yet, one of your stove-top lids, the first problem likely to come up is that the stove liner (the firebrick material that lines the inside of the firebox and protects the metal) will first crack and then gradually crumble away. This takes years, but it eventually happens.

I didn't know how you could replace these worn-out firebox parts. Barbara Ingram told me of a way to reline any stove that has a firebrick-type liner using something called "refractory cement." Buy a can of it and a small putty knife. Apply a very thin layer to the part to be relined. Let it dry until hard. Then apply another very thin coat. Keep it up until that area is built up to match the rest. Refractory cement will resist temperatures up to 8,500°F and is the stuff they use in blast furnaces. Katya Morrison, Mount Airy, MD, shared her experience too. "After using our wood stove a while, the lining of the firebox cracked. We tried plain cement made with just sand and it has lasted beautifully and was easy to do."

Karen Prahl, Washington Island, WI ("an island 7 miles out in Lake Michigan off the NE tip of Wisconsin"), says: "Some brick and block companies sell a dry powder mix that, when mixed with water, can be used to lay a liner to protect the metal surfaces. We have not had a chance to pursue this item and see how it works."

Now that's really putting our heads together!

I wrote the above paragraphs 20 years ago. Now (2002), you can go to your local wood-stove store. Or mailorder furnace cement, firebox inserts, or obsolete stove parts from Lehman's (888-438-5346; www.Lehmans. com) or The Cumberland General Store (#1 Highway 68, Crossville, TN 38555; $4 for their 289-pg catalog; 800334-4640; fax 931-456-1211; www.cumberland general.com).

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