We have had our wood cook stove for a little over a year now and I thought that it would be a great subject for an in-depth blog. We spent most of the summer of 2008 looking around online for a stove that would be just right for us. We eventually settled on the Pioneer Maid, a large efficient stove made from welded steel covered with a porcelain finish.
Once it was ordered we had only to wait for the delivery and collect enough firewood. Oh, and build a new room to house the wood stove. A very good thing it was going to be six to eight weeks till it was delivered! We had a decent sized covered porch (about 7’x16’), that we decided to enclose, taking the front door, adjacent widow , and the wall between them out ,making a large entryway from our new room into the house. After the framing and setting of windows and the door, we did the sheetrock, getting it textured and painted. Next we built a rock hearth that was three and a half inches off the sub-floor, using the large, flat, lichen-covered rocks so prevalent in our area. We then had to build a large tile wall to go behind the stove an inch or so away from the framed wall as fire prevention. All in all it was a vast improvement to our living situation, giving us a space for our washer and new chest freezer as well as twice the amount of natural light we had before. The work was finished (well not quite, I still have yet to trim it all out), just days before the wood stove arrived.
We had a date and time scheduled for the delivery, but the truck it was on broke down, leaving our stove in the truck to be towed away. The shipping company called and they said they would let me know the day before they would try to deliver it again. A couple of days later I am at work when Dawn calls to tell me she received a call from the driver saying that he is about to drop the stove off at the bottom of the county road we live on, whether anyone is there to pick it up or not. I quickly get someone to cover the rest of my shift and I rush home hoping someone is there to help me move this thing. There is no one. My father-in-law, Dave, is gone and my brother-in-law, Duane, is asleep still and is almost impossible to wake up. I take Duane’s truck as I have no other way of getting the wood stove home and I arrive at the bottom of the road just as the driver is pulling off the highway. After about ten minutes the two of us manage to load it into the truck. The entire time he is cursing and grumbling and I have to refrain from telling him we paid to have it delivered to the door.
That evening Dave, Duane, and I try to move it into the house. Even after removing all the weight we can from it, it is still extremely heavy. It takes us more than an hour to get it in place. A few days later we have it all put together and the stovepipe installed. Then all that was left was lighting our first fire and as we did so we all gathered round to see and feel the effects. It was our first night in quite a while that was warm as we were determined not to light our gas heater since turning the pilot off the spring before.
Before I go on I would like to give a description of the cook stove. To start it has a large firebox. For most wood cook stoves the firebox is rather small, not able to fit very large pieces of wood which means it burns quicker so you have to watch it and add wood more often. But this one will take a log up to 21 inches long and 9 inches around. There are a lot of BTU’s in a piece of wood that size and it will burn a long time, especially if it is dense like oak. The walls and floor of this firebox are lined with insulated firebrick about an inch and a half thick with the exception of a 2 inch hole in the floor for ash removal, with a very large ash pan beneath it. Directly to the right of the firebox is the oven which is 22 inches deep, 19 inches wide, and 13 inches high with a thermometer on the door that measures upwards of 500˚F. Past this is the water reservoir, a large box that can hold eleven gallons of water which helps immensely with keeping our house humid. I recently installed an outdoor water valve on the bottom of this, letting us use the hot water for reheating bath water.
The stove top itself is where most of the weight is, being a large single piece of thick steel. There are three holes with lids on this top, the first for loading the firebox, the second for cleaning above the oven, and the third is for filling the reservoir. Two foot above the flat top is the warming box which gets around 100˚ more or less inside.
Now on to the things we do with it. It can be used for cooking in much the same manner as a gas or electric range, only you move things around to where it is hotter or cooler to adjust your temp rather than turning a knob. It does take more time to get things hot unless you have a raging fire below, so it takes a bit more planning for a meal. One of my favorite things is to make stocks on here. I get it boiling while the fire is hot and then move it over where it is less than a simmer. When I shut the stove down for the night so it radiates a lesser heat for the whole night, I just move it back over to the hot spot and let it go slow all night and sometimes the next day. This makes a much richer and deeper flavored stock that almost cannot be compared. Something that we started doing a little more recently is using the flattop for cooking flour tortillas on. We simply put them directly on the stove when it is really hot, getting maybe sixteen or so on at a time. Three minutes and one flip later and they are finished, greatly reducing the time spent making them. Pancakes are done in much the same way, just needing some butter or oil down first.
The oven does its job quite well, as long as the temperature can be kept where you want it. Basically this means checking it often, giving the fire more air or less as needed and opening the damper to release or store heat. It also works well for drying things such as sprouted grains by leaving the oven door cracked. Doing this will keep it around 150˚ to 200˚F with a warm fire going. For heating the house we just leave the oven door opened all the way, making it nice and warm inside. The manufacturer states that doing this will heat a 2000 square foot house, and with our house being much less we have never once needed to turn on a heater.
Now to the warming oven. Besides being useful for drying foods, reheating meals, or just keeping foods warm, it is a great place for wet mittens and hats. But even better it doubles as our clothes dryer. As we cannot hang clothes outside in the winter we drape it all over the warmer. We also have a clothes line that we string across the room in front of the stove. With a warm fire these will dry overnight.
After all this time we are finally learning the maintenance of the stove. Not only must the ashes be dumped periodically, say once a week or so, but there is also cleaning inside the woodstove around the oven. There is a 2 or 3 inch space around most of the oven that can quickly build up with creosote, keeping the heat from circulating around the oven, which in turn will not heat up properly. There is also the need to clean the chimney a few times a year, which is actually easier to do than it sounds. All I do is take the top off the stovepipe, scraping away any buildup of creosote that is on it. I then proceed to shove the chimney sweep down the pipe, pulling it in and out a few times. Next I remove the two pieces of stovepipe sticking above the roof which allows me to sweep all the way down to the woodstove. Then it is just a simple matter of putting it all back and cleaning the stove out from what all fell down into it.
In closing I would like to say that this has probably been one of the best purchases of our life. A wood cook stove is an almost must have for self-sufficiency and I cannot help but think we have one of the best stoves on the market.