We caught a lot of flack online when I shared the first picture of our “new” wood cook stove that took the place of our electric range. So much so that I started deleting the followers that left comments like “Bad installation”; “I hope their house burns down”; “No help for dumb rednecks” and my favorite; “There’s one bunch of hillbillies we’ll be rid of when *there* house burns to the ground with them in it”. I had to laugh out loud… it’s probably a good idea to check your spelling if you’re going to put something like that out there. It’s ok to have an opinion, and I’m ok with someone expressing it, but I just can’t grasp being hateful about it. For the sometimes mean spirited flaw the internet has, the up side is that it allowed us to do extensive research for our stove installation and have access to a cache of information that would’ve been impossible just 10 or 15 years ago. Also thanks to the internet and Craigslist, the stove we ultimately chose just happened to get listed in a town about 3 hours from where we live. We got on Google to find specs for it before making the commitment for such a long trip and turned every dimension inside and out. Ultimately we arranged to go look at it and decided that it was indeed the right one. All in all, we took almost 3 years doing our research and making our decision. The driving force is our desire to get off grid. Not just off grid with solar panels, but off grid without the need for gas or any other tether. Often it seems that the solar companies steer solar customers toward a gas stove since the kitchen stove is one of the largest power users. To us that doesn’t make sense because then you’re just dependent on the gas company instead of the electric company. With as many dead fall trees as we have access to without ever touching our standing timber, a wood cook stove just makes sense.
Other than the poorly behaved facebook commenters (my mother would’ve insisted they were just jealous), our experience with the stove switch has been completely positive and pleasantly easier than we anticipated. Although this didn’t figure into our decision at the time, the choice of a small stove seems to make controlling the heat easier as it is rather difficult to over shoot your temperature, and there is not as much wood left to burn off once you are finished cooking. To help with the learning curve, we use two thermometers; one on the surface, or cooktop, and the other inside the oven. This enables us to view the temperature reaction to the various damper settings. Our stove didn’t come with a handbook so even though we understood dampers on regular “for heat” woodstoves, the intricacies of the cook stove were just a bit different. The damper itself is pretty straightforward, either open or closed, but the airflow on the ash bin louvered door and the strangle little rectangular door under the oven took some experimenting to find the right balance and which combination of the two provided what the fire needed to burn the hottest. Once we learned our stove, cooking is basically the same as with electric; 350 degrees for 25 minutes is 350 degrees for 25 minutes regardless of the appliance. That said, the wood cook stove requires turning the food part-way through cooking as the back left corner, closest to the firebox, cooks faster. Other than that I can follow most recipes given cook temps and times and can count on whatever it is, tasting way better than it did in an electric stove. Cornbread is the most obvious, having a much nicer, crunchier outer crust. The other thing we did is take notes of how the numerical surface temperature related to the vaguer low, medium, medium/high, and high settings on an electric stove dial. On our wood cook stove, they work out to be roughly;
Low/simmer = 300 to 325 degrees
Medium to Medium/High = 400 to 450 degrees
High = 450+.
The thermometers we use are extremely simple; a Rutland Stove Surface Temp Thermometer and a standard oven thermometer made by Taylor Precision Products Large Oven Thermometer . We may eventually upgrade but for now these work nicely and the monetary outlay was extremely small.
One worry of ours was the amount of heat the stove would create inside the house during summer in the south. Even though our stove’s firebox is incredibly small in comparison to other stoves, we still decided it was wise to accelerate the outdoor cook shed project to give us another option. In the open-air cook shed we can cook on the woodstove without impacting the house. Originally it’s only purpose was to provide a location for animal processing (scalding chicken to pluck or tanning animal hides) but it doubles nicely to cook on during the summer months.
We are extremely happy with our conversion and hope that our experiences will be helpful to you if you’re considering making the switch also. We have a few “how to” articles in process that cover lighting a woodstove and detailed explanations of the damper systems, but meanwhile take a look at the installation process. We chose a “through the wall” installation instead of a “through the ceiling” because of the construction of our house and the easy access to the outside from the kitchen wall.
There’s nothing like cutting a hole in your perfectly good wall to make you question your sanity…
Behind the interior wall are 1 x 6 wood planks, a layer of rubber moisture barrier and then a layer of exterior insulation board. We are underground, so on the outside of the house is a “crawl” space approximately 15 feet by 5 feet with a simple metal shed roof.
“You’re sure about this, right?”
A “thimble” or chimney sleeve fully encases the section where the pipe will go through the wall and adds additional clearance between the insulated double wall pipe and the wood of the house.
Finished through the wall installation. With the insulated double wall pipe there is virtually no heat felt to the touch where it goes through the wall.
We weren’t quite done with the copper heat shield when this photo was taken. There is between 5 and 11 inches of clearance between the stove and the copper and an additional 4 to 12 inches of empty air space behind the copper depending on the side. This is ONE time the funky construction of our house worked in our favor. Even the side next to the firebox registers room temperature when the stove is burning. It’s really quite remarkable.