How to Build and Use a Sawdust Stove

The sawdust stove is efficient, effective, clean, and fueled by a material that is typically discarded as waste. Here is how to build one.

| November/December 1974

030 sawdust stove 4, 5, 6

The next three steps: 4) Insert a stick about the same diameter as the hole. 2) Pack dry sawdust (it's very important that the sawdust be dry) in around the stick, as tightly as possible. 3) Remove the stick. A cylindrical air column should be left in the middle.


As we who live in the industrialized nations of the world are increasingly forced to tighten our belts and live less energy-intensive lives, we might do well to examine the gentler technology of the so-called "underdeveloped" countries for "new" recycling and fueling ideas. I'm indebted, therefore, to B.R. Saubolle, S.J.—of Katmandu, Nepal—for telling my readers how some inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent derive useful heat from what is commonly considered a waste material in the U.S. and Canada. Perhaps we need more of this "reverse" Peace Corps work.—MOTHER EARTH NEWS. 

One of the simplest fuels for cooking and for heating the house in winter is sawdust, a waste product which is usually thrown away and which, therefore, is obtainable free or at nominal cost. (True, not everybody lives conveniently near a sawmill or lumberyard, but the same objection applies to many other alternative sources of power. Not everyone has a stream running through his property to generate electricity, or keeps cattle to supply manure for methane. We must make use of whatever resources are available to us.)

Sawdust will burn properly only in a specially constructed sawdust stove, which is very simple to make and costs practically nothing. The fuel always lights with only one match in such a unit, and can be kept ablaze for long periods—six, eight or even twelve hours if desired—with absolutely no smoke, no blowing or fanning, and no refueling.

Once lighted, such a stove burns until all the fuel it contains is consumed. It can then be recharged and lighted again. Such a device is ideal where steady heat is required for hours on end with no attention (to provide day-long hot water, for instance, or to keep a sickroom cosy and warm through a chill winter's night).

To make a sawdust stove, take a large paint can, remove the top and cut a two-inch hole in the middle of the bottom. Set the container up on three legs, and the stove is ready. The only "tool" you'll need to make your burner work is a smooth round stick or length of water pipe which will fit through the hole in the bottom of the can. It should be long enough to protrude four inches above the can's top edge when the shaft is passed vertically through the stove and its lower end rests on the ground.

It is absolutely essential that the fuel for this stove be bone dry. If it's slightly damp, it will smoke, and if it's very damp it won't light at all. Dry sawdust burns wonderfully well—sometimes even with a blue flame—and is entirely smokeless. It does give off some fumes, however, and the room where the stove is in use must be well ventilated.

buddhi raj sharma
1/1/2013 11:10:49 AM

I have found this very useful. Thanks

jeff wartluft
3/6/2010 2:48:03 PM

I just read "How to Build and Use a Sawdust Stove" and wanted folks to know that plans for a Double Drum sawdust stove can be obtained from the USDA Northern Forest Experiment Station or from VITA. It is a larger model for space heating using a 30 gallon drum inside a 55 gallon drum.

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