Build an Earthen Stove

Make a 'Lorena,' or earthen stove, which promises to revolutionize cooking and reduce fuel consumption levels in this 1982 MOTHER EARTH NEWS article.

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    Earthen stoves can be custom-built to your design and can feature, for instance, up to four potholes.
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    Diagram for the dampers and firebox of your stove.
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    The front damper of this lorena cooker slides on a pair of runners.

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Louga, Voltena, Kaya, Chula, and Lorena... the terms sound like mysterious incantations from a sorcerous ritual. Actually, though, they're all types of simple earthen stoves . . . do-it-yourself appliances that promise to revolutionize cooking — and reduce fuel consumption levels — on a global scale.

What Are Earthen Stoves?

Developed, for the most part, by students of appropriate technology working with native peoples, sand or clay cookstoves are beginning to replace traditional fuel-gobbling open fires in the Third World where deforestation, desertification and dependence on imported fuels have long plagued developing nations. Thanks to the earthen heaters' simple construction, low cost and convenience of operation, staff members of such international aid organizations as Volunteers in Asia, Save the Children, and Volunteers in Technical Assistance (VITA) have successfully introduced the relatively efficient units to areas of Africa, Asia and South America.

And, impressively enough, this growing "kitchen revolution" has already decreased wood usage sufficiently to allow many such regions to take the first hesitant steps toward reforestation: The cookers can, you see, conserve as much as 50 percent of the wood (or charcoal) that would be required to prepare the same food over an open fire. On a more personal scale, earthen stoves provide safer cooking conditions and produce less smoke, thus lowering the risk of related respiratory ailments.

Furthermore, while the initial motivation behind the development of mud stoves was the overwhelming need to ease the serious energy crisis facing Third World countries, the simple-to-build units could certainly be valuable to many people in North America as well. The fact is that anyone who'd like an attractive, inexpensive outdoor stove (to be used, perhaps, for summer canning and baking or even barbecuing) could do a lot worse than to build an earthen cooker.

What Is an Earthen Stove Made From?

In essence, a mud stove is little more than a firebox enclosed by an earthen mass usually made of sand and clay, building materials that are commonly available at little or no cost. Simplicity is the key to the cookers' design and the construction details can be altered to suit individual needs.

Fine sand can, of course, be found along the edges of streams and at the ends of rain washes. Once collected, the grains should be sieved, through a 4mm screen mesh, to remove pebbles and other foreign matter. Clays, in turn, can often be easily scouted out in roadcuts and ditches and along stream beds with exposed banks. If you have trouble finding a source of clay, though, local potters and agricultural extension agents might be able to help search out nearby deposits. As you'd imagine, sandy clays are especially well suited for use as stove materials, while silt should be avoided. (You should clean freshly dug clay by first drying it and then sifting the "dust" through a 5mm mesh.)

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