Don’t Alter Your Woodstove: A Cautionary Tale

By , November 20, 2014

When we bought our homestead, it already had a woodstove. It was a fairly large, ‘70s-era Earth Stove that was nearly burned out. The former owners told us they had removed some of the fittings, including heat baffles and firebrick panels that had been in the burn chamber. This caused a lot of problems, although it took us a long time to learn exactly what was wrong, and why.

The stove provided all of our heat and cooking through a year of periodic visits, and for another year of actual residence. Every time we lit it, we battled to keep it burning at a proper level without asphyxiating us.

We couldn’t open the stove without a heavy back draft of smoke billowing into the room. Only when we’d managed a hot, roaring fire could we open it briefly to add more fuel. Anything less smoked us and our belongings.

We studied and puzzled, seeking solutions. Enough time passed that we began to notice subtle changes. If we allowed ash to build up to near overflowing in the burn chamber, the fire behaved better. When we cleaned the ash out, we got smoke again.

Finally, we figured it out. The stove, being designed to use with the firebricks installed, worked best with a burn chamber of a specific size. Without the firebricks, the chamber was too big, and the stove couldn’t draw very well!

We went to the beach, found enough flat rocks to cover the floor of the chamber, laid them in, and tried again. Problem solved!

In the meantime, we searched for a replacement stove. We found what we wanted at a local hardware store, owned by the family of the Realtor who had helped us buy the property. We paid for the stove early on, but they allowed us to keep it at the store! Occasionally we’d walk in, a clerk would hand us some tools, and we’d go back to the showroom and remove a couple of pieces from the stove. We’d haul these home and stow them under a bed. Little by little, the stove moved to the property, including the glass front door, which arrived on the Realtor’s back when she hiked out to have dinner with us. When we’d hauled everything but an extremely heavy shell, we moved it to the property by barge with the remainder of our belongings that hadn’t already been hauled out on our backs or by canoe.

We still have the old stove. It’s waiting for us to build a sauna, for which it may provide heat. But we’ve learned a valuable lesson: don’t alter your woodstove!

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