Saturday, December 5, 2015

Our wood cookstove

If you remember, last December I received an early Christmas present: a wood cookstove. Specifically, an airtight Baker's Choice purchased through a regional brokerage in Montana called Obadiah's Woodstoves.

We took possession of the stove on December 11 of last year. For several months it sat, wrapped, in the barn.

Last March, needing to put the stove roughly in place to gauge how best to install it, we brought it into the house with the aid of the tractor.

And there the stove sat on wheeled furniture movers, all through the spring, summer, and early fall (when we were at our busiest).

October rolled around, and it was time to start working on the installation. Don wanted to build a fire-proof flooring and backing that would meet code. After some research, he ordered ceramic tiles that looked like stone.

These tiles are cleverly made so all sides fit snugly together (without the need for mortar) and the seams look like natural breaks in the "rocks."

Next step: to clear away the spot where the stove will go.

We laid out the tile just to get an idea of the size/spacing and overall look.

Using a felt-tip marker, Don marked where to cut away the carpet and linoleum. We don't have to build a platform underneath, because our floor is solid concrete.

Marked and ready to cut.

The carpet was fairly easy to pull away; the linoleum required a bit more work.

And a bit more persuasion.

Then it was finally time to lay the floor tiles. Don smeared a heavy layer of adhesive on the back of each tile, and pushed each one into place.

Sometimes he used a rubber mallet to tap a tile snug against its neighbor, then a paper towel to wipe away any adhesive that squeezed out. The result was very handsome.

Unlike the floor, however, the backing against the wall required a heat shield. Don made slats 1.5 inches "deep" (and two inches wide) to place along the wall to make an air space.

He used both glue and screws to affix the slats.

Then he installed cement board over the slats.

After that, he started applying the tiles and building the wall.

The end result:

Then it was time to move the stove itself into place. We wheeled it over to the front of the pad...

...then offered to host the weekly potluck so we could utilize the strong backs of all our neighborhood menfolk. The stove weighs about 475 lbs., so it took a bit of manhandling.

Next up: pipe.

The reason we chose to place the cookstove where we did is because our house already had a triple-walled pipe up through the ceiling and roof (though, oddly, it was placed right in front of a window). Maybe the former residents had cookstove; we don't know.

Because the pipe through the roof was placed in front of the window, we were tasked with getting jointed pipe in order to extend from the cookstove up to the existing pipe in the ceiling, 11 feet up. This turned out to be a bigger challenge than we anticipated.

Don measured carefully, then went and purchased the straight pipe and the jointed connectors. However it was challenging to keep the pipes supported while installed. Younger Daughter and myself climbed on stools and ladders as necessary to hold things up.

However the task required more hands than we had available, so we employed the judicious use of duct tape at times.

The last bit of pipe required a bit of trimming. Don had both tin snips and a crimper.

At last we had everything hooked up. Don put in screws to keep the piping where it was supposed to be (the screws allow us to disassemble the pipes when we need to scrub them).

Next step: Though a triple-walled pipe extended above the roof, it wasn't high enough to draw properly. We needed to add another section of pipe. Fortunately we already had two triple-walled sections of pipe on hand.

But adding the pipe extensions was a fairly complicated maneuver because of the pitch and slipperiness of the roof. Our "redneck" solution? Brace the extension ladder in the bed of the truck.

The ladder was tied in place. The result was a surprisingly sturdy means to access the roof pipe.

Don climbed up and removed the cap...

...and made an expensive discovery: Our existing triple-walled pipe is seven inches in diameter, but the roof pipe is six inches. Crud.

This meant springing for new six-inch triple-walled pipe. Cha-ching! This set us back about $120. Triple-walled pipe is expensive.

The next day Don decided to set up the ladder using the bucket of the tractor rather than the bed of the truck. This turned out to be an even sturdier solution to access the roof.

Lydia watched the proceedings with great interest.

The new pipe extension locked easily into the older pipe. Don made sure to put the cap on the new extension before climbing onto the roof.

A metal band gives extra strength to the locking connection between the pipes. Here he's screwing the band tight.

He still has support brackets he wants to install on the pipe to add strength during high winds as well as snow sliding down the roof; but now the cookstove is ready for use. Exciting moment!

Inside the brand-new clean woodbox...

...we laid a fire the same way we do in our old antique parlor stove...

...and lit it.

Big mistake. We weren't used to the air-tight nature of this stove. We had so much smoke billowing out that we had to open every window. We used bellows to try and ignite the fire, but it kept going out and just smoking. We tinkered with the air-flow knobs and messed around with the ash bucket door while smoke kept pouring out of the stove.

At last, more by accident than design, we got the fire lit, and the stovepipe warmed up and began to draw. It made all the difference in the world. The smoke cleared, we closed the windows, adjusted the vents, and the stove began pumping out warmth. It warmed and warmed and warmed the room until it was a gasping 75F, far warmer than we're used to. (After years of a cool house, we're not used to a very warm environment.)

I put on the kettle, which soon boiled...

...and made myself a ceremonial cup of tea ... just because I could.

Later for dinner, Younger Daughter made herself an omelet.

We were warned -- and it was true -- that the first time the stove had a fire in it, there would be strong fumes from the paint vapor burning off. Sure enough, it was so thick in the house we had to open all the windows again, and Younger Daughter brought Lihn, her parrot, into her bedroom and closed the door so the bird wouldn't be affected by the fumes. It lasted a couple of hours, and then it was fine.

We're still learning all the bells and whistles of the stove, of course, but one of the first things we learned is how unbelievably efficient it is, particularly when compared to our antique parlor stove. With its airtight nature, we're estimating we're using one-third to one-quarter as much wood. A log will last all night (it's delightful to come downstairs to a warm house in the wee hours of the morn).

Whoo-hoo, we have a wood cookstove!


  1. great JOB!!! love the looks of the stove and your choice of rock panels, we have been looking for some stone that looked like your but we have not found any that looked like that!

  2. A grand accomplishment! The wait to get just the right stove has paid of!

  3. if you haven't figures it out yet.....
    burning a few pages of newspaper will pre heat your chiminey and lessen the smoking at startup.
    of course, if you don't let the stove go stone cold, you will only have to remember this trick once a year.

  4. YEOWZA!!

    I knew you guys must be up to something pretty important, and sure enough ya was!

    I love the tiles Don found.

    Congratulations!! That's a major addition to the house!

    A. McSp

  5. Jealous. I'll admit it- I'm jealous.

  6. So very happy for you!!

  7. Great installation job, I too am Jealous

    Carl in the UP

  8. Did you perform the experiment of watching the kettle?
    You know, to determine if a kettle like a pot never boils - if watched.

  9. Congrats! we have the same exact cook stove that we hope to get installed this coming week. We will be doing an out and up installation. I noticed that you didn't continue with the heat shield following the stove pipe as it went up to the ceiling. Won't the stove pipe get hot enough to potentially cause a fire or are you using an insulated stovepipe?

  10. We start ours with newspaper or junk mail and some tinder and kindling, with the air flow knobs open and the flue switch in the open position. After 5 minutes we add larger wood, and 5 minutes after that we close the flue so the heat goes around the oven before going up the chimney. If the winter air is real dry, I'll let the oven get hot, and then I'll turn the lever on that lets the heat go around the water reservoir. It took me a few weeks of using the stove to get the right times and amounts and air flows figured out. Play with it. it's kind of fun... and a good excuse for another cup of tea!

  11. OMG! Awesome job. So beautiful and the stonework you did is just amazing.

  12. Your chimney pipe is not "triple-wall", but "solid-pack", pipe. It has two layers of metal, with insulation packed in between. It looks like Metalbestos brand. (now called Selkirk) It is hard to tell from these pictures, but the support box does not look like a standard installation. You might do some research and double-check this installation for safety. Enjoy your cook-stove safely!

    1. I'm one of those "Dummie" book readers, what is a support box? Also why/what is the black (looks like paint) break between the floor stones and the wall stones? Very happy to know this stove will help keep your house warm with less wood supply needed!

  13. would you be so kind as to tell us where you got that tile, we have looked and NOT found anything quite like it!
    Thank You,
    just add the name of where you got it in this comment section if it makes it easier!

  14. Just GREEN with envy over here! How nice for you!

  15. Yes, newer stoves are MUCH better than old ones - I have known other people who upgraded and have a warmer house while burning less wood. Hopefully you will be able to go to using just this stove. Do you h ave a blower to help distribute the heat?

  16. Surfing a while back I ran across some videos about preheating the chimney before starting a wood burning stove. These are not the exact videos I viewed back then, but the idea is having access to the chimney directly and providing heat via a hair dryer or commercial device built into the chimney. By heating the chimney directly the process starts the chimney draw pulling air through the stove's bends and turns, rather than trying to force the draw from the fire box.

    With no promotional interest in either of the videos or the products, here are two videos showing the idea:

    Ron - upstate NY

    1. Found the set of videos. They are from Obadiah's and focus on the Esse brand stoves. It is a nice collection of topics:

      This is the You Tube channel:

      And this is Obadiah's page for the Esse. This link should take you to the Esse Ironheart Cookstove and click on the videos tab.

  17. Very very cool! Have fun playing!

  18. Very nice! And love your redneck solutions!! I admit i am so jealous. This year we upgraded to the second cheapest wood stove at Menards so now we have the ultimate luxury, a glass door!!

  19. We acquired a beautiful enamel wood /coal cook stove several years ago. It took me about a week to weld and patch the cracks holes etc.. Had to put in a flexible stainless chimney liner.The stack runs about 26 feet. Unbelievable draft. It is really amazing how neat these old stoves are. Not as efficient as new models but still work great and really pretty to look at. Ours is pale yellow and jade green. Works like a charm : )

  20. Very nice. She's a beauty. Don is so clever
    Montana Guy

  21. Just awesome!You'll love it! We have a woodstove/cookstove combo (by Napoleon) it has 2 "eyes" for cooking, and is wonderful when the power goes out. Enjoy that new cookstove!
    Melissa in MI (Yooper at heart)

  22. Yeah!! I've been waiting for your stove to be installed, finally:) Enjoy the heat, enjoy the learning curve on how to cook and use your stove.

  23. A kitchen warmed by a wood stove is about the best place to get the bread dough to rise. It's that steady heat that does it.

  24. How cool! Please have posts in the future when cooking with it. I just might want one!

    ~ Holly in Idaho

  25. Excellent job Don! You're all gonna love this thing when you have to open the windows to cool down because you just can't burn a small enough fire!

    Steve Davis
    Anchorage, Alaska