Does the pitter-patter of tiny feet, interrupted by an occasional stumble, echo through the halls of your home? If so, you've no doubt worried — as my wife and I did — about the danger involved in having a wood stove or fireplace insert under the same roof as an inquisitive tot.
We recognized the obvious hazards very soon after installing a second-hand wood stove in our front room. The first time the mercury dropped, we stoked up the stove and stood contentedly in the glow of its radiating warmth. About this time our 16-month-old daughter came toddling across the floor toward us, grinning happily and — as youngsters will do — she tripped and fell headlong at our feet. She got up at once and giggled, but the terrifying thought hit both of us at the same time: What if...? We immediately began to explore our options. We could [a] not use the stove, [b] guard it very carefully or [c] erect some sort of barrier around it. The third choice seemed to be the obvious answer, but a quick check through local home improvement stores revealed that very few ready-made items would meet our needs and that any of those would be pretty costly.
And so — as had been the case with many previous dilemmas — we decided to rely on our own ingenuity. We finally came up with a barrier that has thus far proved to be very satisfactory: wrought-iron fencing. For a little under $30 we put together a practical and efficient "child stopper" that gives us great peace of mind.
There are two kinds of conventional wrought-iron porch railing: expensive and less expensive. The more costly line is really heavy-duty metal. You can sit or stand on it, and the twisted stiles are mounted in a variety of patterns. But, for our purpose, neither extra weight nor fanciful design was really necessary and we've found that the "bargain basement" railing was well worth the extra searching required to locate it.
The low-cost fencing is usually sold in four and eight-foot lengths. All the tools needed to work with it are common workshop implements: a hacksaw, a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. (You'll probably also want to keep a rat-tail file close at hand in case you come across any jagged edges.)
All we did was construct a simple C-shaped unit around the hearth to enclose our stove. There's hardware available for bolting the fencing to the floor or wall if you choose, but we've found that our barrier's shape prevents it from tipping over. Because it's freestanding, we're able to move it about easily (or take it out of the room entirely) if we feel like doing so. The only inconvenience we've experienced with the barrier has been in loading the stove, but even this is a minor annoyance. Using fairly small billets, we find it's possible to refuel by either leaning over the rail or slipping pieces of firewood right through the fence.
We think our protective "pen" is reasonably attractive and the open railing doesn't interfere with air circulation. Most important, it protects our little girl from the danger of serious burns. When she gets old enough to look after herself, we'll move the fencing to the patio — or perhaps place it around some of our shrubs to protect them from the neighborhood dogs. Until then, however, we can enjoy the pleasant warmth of our stove, secure in the knowledge that tiny hands or feet won't accidentally come in contact with a searing hot surface.