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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Keeping the Fire Burning :: A Glimpse Around our Wood Stove

If you have been following the news, you might have noticed the recent propane shortage. A number of our friends had recently had their LP tanks filled, followed by their wallets emptied.  One of my friends was sharing that the price jumped from $1.65 per gallon to $3.25.  Another friend shared that their monthly bill went from $500/ month to $900/ month at this increase, and the LP company warned that prices might be as high as $5 per gallon by the end of the month.  They have turned their heat down to 60 degrees.

As I sit in my 76 degree house, my heart goes out to the families that are being effected by this shortage, and I realize even more the blessings of wood heat.

For those of you who may be considering heating with wood or are fairly new to using one, I thought I would share a little bit about about what we have acquired around our stove that keeps our fire burning.

Although there is much work that Ethan does cutting our wood, bringing it to the house, and splitting it (which the kids and I enjoy helping with as able), there is some work indoors to keeping a wood stove going, which I usually take care of being the one home.  This work is well worth it though, considering the money we saved not putting in duct work, a furnace, or paying a monthly heating bill.

Plus, it is relaxing to watch and has wonderful heat to soak up - it is a great place to check the kids' school papers in front of or just pause in front of (with often very long pauses!).

I have to admit that getting accustomed to using our wood stove included a bit of a learning curve, but now that we are in our 6th winter burning wood, we have slowly acquired a number of helpful tools so that maintaining a good fire has become pretty common place and routine.

One of the first and most important things that I felt we needed after setting up our wood stove was a way to keep the kids from serious burns.  At the time, we had a 4 year old, just turned 3 year old, and a newborn who would eventually be crawling.  It was very important to me to have some sort of protection around the stove, not only for my little ones, but also for those visiting who might be unfamiliar with wood stoves.  After digging around on the internet a bit, reading reviews, and looking at pricing I found an attractive safety fence that I am still very happy with.

This fence comes in 5 sections, one of which has a gate with a very secure latching system.  There were also optional extension pieces of various sizes (of which we ordered one), that allow you to perfectly fit the gate to the area needed. These sections can be adjusted to any angle, which also allows for getting just the right fit around your stove or fireplace. This fence is also a nice weight and is very sturdy once set up. It came with wall attachments to further help with security, but since I fold it up at the end of each season, I opted not to use these.  Plus, I felt that it was sturdy enough as it was, and without the brackets I can also pull it out for easier cleaning.

You might have noticed from the top photo that we have a black stove board outside of the fence, on the right hand side of the stove.  Although not beautiful, this is in place to deflect heat away from a beautiful roll top desk that my dad, who has a custom woodworking business, built for me.  The stove board gets tossed up in the attic with the fire gate once we are done burning wood for the season.

Also, on the outside of our gate, we keep a crock that contains some valuable items when working with our stove.  This crock holds newspapers and matches for starting new fires (matches can also be kept inside the fence for extra safety with little ones), fire starting bricks for those late night returns when we want fire quickly, a small dustpan and broom for sweeping up pieces of wood, Creo-Shot sticks for cleaning out creosote during the small fires of spring and fall,  and most importantly, fire gloves to not only safeguard when adding and moving logs, but to also make working with hot fires and coals more manageable.

Speaking of hot fires, one of the hardest things when first working with a wood stove is figuring out how to get the right burn within your stove.  This is something that we fumbled with for awhile.  If your fire burns too cool, you will get a creosote build up in your stove pipe, which can in turn lead to a chimney fire that could cause considerable damage to a home.  If you burn your stove too hot, you would avoid the creosote build up but could cause considerable damage to your stove.  Along with that, not burning your wood at the proper temperature means that you don't get the best efficiency out of the wood you have worked so hard to acquire.

In order to help with keeping our burn at the proper temperature, we now have a wonderful little magnetic stove thermometer that sits on the hottest part of our stove. The coil on the underside of the thermometer controls the needle which tells us if the fire is burning at a temperature that produces creosote, is in the best zone, or is too hot. By a quick glance at this thermometer, we can either add wood or dampen the stove accordingly.  This thermometer even has a wire handle, allowing us to move it without getting burnt.

Another item that we have on the top of our stove is a steam pot.  Actually, we now have 2 as I asked for a second one for my birthday.  I keep these steam pots full at all times to keep our air moist (unless I am trying to dry laundry inside and want less humidity in the house). When the burn is kept in the best zone, these pots produce a consistent steam to rehumidify the house. A wood stove does dry out the air quite a bit, and adding humidity back to the air is very important for your skin, as well as your wooden furniture. (As a cautionary note, these pots will spew out boiling water all over if you get your stove too hot. Don't ask me how I know! Although the photo doesn't show it, I usually keep the lid swung open to keep an eye out for water starting to boil, as well as monitoring water level.)

Although not with our stove, this little thermometer/hygrometer that I have attached to our refrigerator on the other side of the room is a great tool to have too. Since I am most comfortable when the house is at 76-80 degrees - while I am also wearing a fleece vest of jacket - I often look at this to make sure that I'm not heating the rest of my family members out of the house.  I can also tell if I've neglected to fill my steam pots by a drop in humidity.

Sitting around the front base of our stove are a few tools that get used quite a bit and have earned their stay under or right next to the stove.  The little tin watering can was purchased for a couple dollars on a trip to IKEA with a dear friend of mine.  It is used to keep the steam pots filled. 

The tool somewhat parallel with the front of the stove, with a shepherd's hook like handle, came with our tool stand and is used for moving logs around within the stove.  The pointed tip is helpful for pushing logs, and the hook is helpful for grabbing at and pulling logs. 

Laying diagonally across that tool is what is called a blow poke.  At one end it has a mouthpiece that you blow into.  The air is focused through the tool and out an opening in the end.  This is a wonderful way to get focused air movement inside the stove to bring coals or weak fires to life, without creating a spray of ashes.  At the end of this tool is a claw, also helpful for moving logs around. 

Behind the stove, near the wall but close at hand, is a tool stand. This stand holds tools that aren't used every day, along with our wood bag - keeping it away from a stray spark or coal that might unknowingly exit the stove.  Since we need to carry our firewood down the hall and round the corner, I sewed this wood bag our first winter on the farm to keep the wood mess to a minimum.  It holds a stove's worth of wood, and about the only wood dirt that is spilled is in front of the stove - which promptly gets swept up and thrown into the stove with our little hand held broom/dust pan. (You can find my rough pattern for this wood bag here, or you can find similar ones for purchase.)

Also hanging on this tool stand is a broom (which came with the set and is mainly decoration) and two tools used for sorting hot coals and emptying ashes.

The scoop on the left with the holes is used to separate coals from ashes when a fire burns out.  Very rarely do I need to use a match to get a new fire going. Buried within the ashes of a burnt out fire are usually enough coals to get a new fire to flame.  All I need to do is push the ash to one side of the stove, work from front to back scooping up ash, shaking or tapping the coal scoop on the inside side of the stove to sort out the coals, and then dump the coals on the opposite side of the stove.  This provides a nice pile of hot coals which quickly starts up new fires, especially with the help of our blow poke.

While I have a nice pile of ash on the inside of the stove, I also take the opportunity to empty the ash. The long handled scoop on the tool stand allows me to collect all of the ash from inside the stove, which in turn is dumped into our ash bucket.  The ash bucket did come with a handy scoop for more carefully getting out ash from the front half of the stove, but when there is still a nice pile of hot coals within, the long handled scoop - and the fire gloves - are much appreciated!

Although not stored by our stove, I do want to mention one last tool that we use at least once a year.  A chimney cleaning kit is very important for the safety of your house and your family if you don't hire someone to clean your stove pipe.  The cleaning brush (sized to match your stovepipe) is attached to as many rods as needed to work down to the bottom of the stove pipe.  Cleaning out a chimney needs to be done at the start of every season, making sure that nothing has plugged the chimney (birds nests, leaves, whatever.)  It should also be used anytime you think you might be getting creosote build up in your stove pipe - especially if you have been burning a lot of cooler temperature fires.  This is a job I actually enjoy doing since I am the one that doesn't mind heights.  It gives me an excuse to crawl on top of our house and enjoy a view of our farm not many people get to see.
So there you have it - what it takes to keep the fire burning in our house. 

Apart from needing to keep the woodpile stocked, which Ethan really doesn't mind when he can find the time, the only time that I dislike having a wood stove is when we leave in the winter for a couple days and come home needing to put the kids to bed. Thankfully, our house is well insulated and has large windows facing the sun so it doesn't get too awfully cold. The few days being gone, however, are far outweighed by the savings we get of not having to pay a heating bill, by the cozy warm-you-to-the-bones heat emitted by a wood fire, and even by the family time we have together when we all go out to cut wood.

As many say, a wood stove warms you twice: Once when you cut the wood, and once when you burn it.

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Tools of My Trade
You can check out more details about some of the items above from the following Amazon affiliate links.  Many of these items can also be found at your local farm or hardware store.


RebeccaH said...

Love woodstove living, not currently doing it now, however, hope to again. Though now that the EPA has banned most woodstoves, how do you think it will be for most of us when and if they get around to notifying us that we need to get rid of our stoves. The climate is changing and not just weather wise.

The Beginning Farmer's Wife said...

I hadn't heard of the EPA ban, but it does look like they are working to tighten restrictions. From what I ready, they say that stoves in place can still be used, although I know that can be changed too. A friend told me once that we can't live with the fears of what might happen - if I did I don't think I would be able to do anything!

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