Building a Russian Masonry Heater From Bricks

Building a Russian woodstove from bricks, including building a stove, bricklaying advice, firestove materials, burning in the masonry stove and building diagram.

| October/November 1997

Russian woodstove 1

The first course of bricks.


Sometime before the dawn of history, it was discovered that bricks had the distinct ability to temporarily store heat and give it off at a fairly uniform rate. Hence, when your great-grandmother went for a sleigh ride, she first heated a brick and took it along with her as a portable heater. As time went by, people built various kinds of stoves, furnaces, etc., out of brick and made use of this principle to even out the heat output of wood.

In Eastern Europe and parts of Scandinavia, the winters were severe and the problem became acute as the available wood supply became so depleted that at times they had to use straw, brush, or animal dung to keep warm. Taking the heat-storing ability of brick beyond the simple fireplace, they began to build masonry stoves that were enclosed (so that the air supply could be outdoor air rather than the already-heated indoor variety), and they designed the flue so that the hot gasses produced by the fire ran through a long maze of brick. This caused most of the heat to soak into the brick rather than to go up the chimney. As the heat soaks into the bricks, the gasses cool and contract, creating a vacuum which sucks air up from the intake and causes these stoves to have a tremendous draft, thus making them highly efficient burning systems which could be fueled very successfully with most anything burnable.

At a home show in Seattle, I saw one of these Russian (or Finnish) stoves. It looked like a good answer to my problem. One of the options shown with it was a condenser pipe that provided hot water output from the stove. This could be piped around the house to distribute the stove's heat. Excellent! Just one problem though: the price. Bricklayers no longer work cheap, and bricklayers with a specialty are even less cheap. (A brick company salesman told me he was run off from a construction site by the brick mason who was building a Russian stove but didn't want anyone to see how.) The minimum price I was quoted was $6,500 for the smallest one they made—no frills, no hot water, and not including travel expenses.

Although I am not a brick layer, I have built a few things out of brick. In my college years, I mixed and carried hod for brick layers, so I know the basics. It really takes four ingredients to get started: hard work, a good eye, lots and lots of patience . . . and a library. After some searching, I came upon a book in the public library which gave detailed plans and instructions for building a Russian woodstove from bricks. Even the author of this book intimated that if you were an amateur, you had to be a little bit loony to attempt building your own stove. He was wrong as it turned out, but I appreciated the advice anyway.

Materials for Building a Russian Woodstove From Bricks

I began searching first for someone who would sell me a door and heating coil for the stove. I found out that iron stove manufacturers will not sell you only a door, because they must spend an inordinate amount of money getting state approval to market their products and they are afraid that if someone buys the door with their state number on it, he will then manufacture his own stove without having to spend the bucks to get his design approved. Finally, I found a guy who built Russian stoves who would sell the components. I came to suspect that he didn't believe anyone would really follow through and build his own stove and that by selling me the parts, he would get me "hooked" and eventually get a contract to build my stove. Anyway, after some time, he came up with the tempered glass door and water coil I wanted. He also imparted a little advice. He was familiar with the design we had gotten from the library. He said it worked, but it was too light in a few places. He recommended we put another complete layer of brick around the outside. This made the already large project much bigger. But, his rationale seemed justified, so we did it. Total bricks needed now: 1,900.

I needed just one more specialty item: the pipe to run through the floor. Copper tubing would have worked, but I was a little concerned that in time it might react with chemicals in the concrete and corrode. Once the stuff is in the concrete, you aren't going to be able to replace or repair it. At the same home show, I had seen a display by a Swedish manufacturer of a floor heating system using plastic pipe. It was a three-layer sandwich of very tough plastic. Theoretically, it should outlast the house. From the distributor, I got complete specs, list prices, etc. However, when I wanted to order, they informed me they were just the distributor and that I would have to buy from one of their dealers of which there were three in my area. When I contacted the dealers, they informed me they only sold to contractors, and unless I had a contractor's license, it was no sale. At this point, I got a little irate—an emotion that sometimes pays off. I called the distributor and verbally chastised him for selling me on a product I couldn't buy. He apologized and agreed to sell me what I wanted direct, at dealer cost! His hotshot dealers just did themselves out of some business.

earl mcghee
1/27/2013 1:11:17 AM

Nice article. We have a russian furnace here in Pelham NH and it has also saved us lots of money on heating. I'm able to load it in my workshop and it not only heats that workshop (that would be as cold as outside) but it also heats the majority of a 2,100 sq. ft house with high ceilings . And it's a cape style! We also have a pellet stove that helps the bedrooms. I wish you had posted pictures of yours. We would love to see it. Thanks

gary reysa
12/10/2008 9:33:32 PM

Hi, Great article -- thanks. So, what is the title and author of the book on building a Russian Stove that is mentioned? Gary

3/8/2007 12:33:23 PM

Excellent article. I am also amazed at the amount of gasification information to be found here (this article in the DIY section).

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