Recently a reader asked, "After years of use, do you have any updates or reflections on wood stove usage?"
This reader is referencing our Baker's Choice wood cookstove we installed almost exactly four years ago, in December of 2015.
After four years of near-constant wintertime use, I can honestly say this cookstove has been a game-changer in terms of comfort and warmth in our house.
You see, for the first 12 years we lived here, our primary heat source was an old antique parlor stove. We were given this little beauty when we still lived in Oregon, and it did a wonderful job of heating our house. We loved it so much that we brought it with us when we relocated to Idaho in 2003.
The trouble was, the only place to install this parlor stove was in a far corner of the house, because that's where an existing platform and chimney was located. This put it in what used to be a separate room (before we opened up the home interior a bit). This one room stayed toasty warm in winter, while the rest of the house bordered on icy.
So when it came time to install the cookstove, we deliberately put it in a more central location. This not only warms the two downstairs bedrooms, the living room, and the kitchen far better, but it also warms the upstairs (because heat goes up the stairwell). As I said, this stove has been a game-changer for winter comfort in our house.
It's also far more wood-efficient than our old parlor stove, because it's air-tight. Don loads the stove at night before he comes to bed, and 90 percent of the time there are sufficient embers for me to get the fire going when I get up in the morning.
The surface is generous in size for cooking purposes. Things that need more heat go over the firebox. Things that need less heat (say, a slow simmer) get moved over the oven. Things that merely need to stay warm go on the warming shelf.
Over Thanksgiving, for example, I had the stove in constant use. In fact, I cooked the entire Thanksgiving feast on it (except the turkey).
Like all woodstoves, this cookstove must be maintained to be safe. It has an ash "drawer" we empty into an outdoor metal bucket every few days; and of course we disassemble and scrub the stove pipes about once every four to six weeks. (Creosote buildup is the leading cause of chimney fires.) Don and I have our stove clean-out down to a science and can complete it within half an hour or so.
A few codicils about using a wood cookstove:
One, while the cook top arguably has more room than my four-burner propane kitchen range, the oven is far smaller and it came with only one rack. I bought cookie sheets that fit this smaller space, but it limits what size (and how much) I can cook at one time. (I can't fit our Thanksgiving turkey in the oven, for instance.) Still, with planning, this little oven can do a lot.
Two, by itself -- just standing on the floor -- the cooking surface is only about 32 inches high. This is extremely comfortable for my short (5'2") frame. A taller neighbor (who has a Pioneer Maid, the next model up from this cookstove) commented our stove was set too low for him. His stove is on a platform, which makes cooking easier. For people who are taller than five-foot-two inches in height -- and if they plan to use the stove for much cooking -- then installing the stove on a platform might be helpful. (This step isn't necessary if the stove is used just for heating.)
And three, it helps that we are always home because we can keep the stove stoked in winter. Some neighbors who had an antique wood cookstove replaced theirs with a pellet stove. Why? Because they are both away from home at their jobs all day long. Their fire would die out and they'd come home to a freezing house in the winter (as in, literally; pipes would freeze). A pellet stove allows them to keep their house at a more comfortable temperature, and then they can adjust the heat level when they get home.
So why did we choose this particular stove? Consider this passage from the book "Better Off" by Eric Brende (who spent 18 months living in a strict Old Order Amish village): "I noticed in nearly every local kitchen a big black, shiny cookstove with a little insignia on the front bearing the words 'Pioneer Maid.' It was an invention of two Amish brothers from Canada, and it was more than an ordinary stove. It was the first-ever application of the principle of airtight combustion to wood-fired cooking. This made it the only notable advance in wood cookstoves in at least one hundred years, probably since the introduction of cast iron. Besides being efficient, the stove was versatile. It could cook, bake, maintain a hot water supply, dry vegetables, and heat 2,000 square feet of living space all at the same time. For the local housewife, it was an all-purpose appliance that met most of her heating needs at the touch of her fingertips."
I think it was this passage, more than anything, that made us realize an antique cookstove -- however beautiful -- would never be as efficient as a modern air-tight version.
This line of cookstoves comes in three sizes: Baker's Choice, the larger Pioneer Maid, and the slightly fancier Pioneer Princess. Two of our neighbors own Pioneer Maids and love them. We had neither the space nor the need for the larger versions, so we decided on a Baker's Choice.
So that's the skinny on our wood cookstove. For me, it's definitely a love affair.