Build a Recycled Water Heater Wood Stove

Build a recycled water heater wood stove from a used hot-water tank to heat your house.

| January/February 1978

Learn how this recycled water heater wood stove can heat your home while helping the planet.

Build a Recycled Water Heater Wood Stove

(Note: Since this article was published in 1978, building codes and homeowners insurance rules have changed, and federal rules governing wood stoves have been adopted. This stove design may not comply with various federal and local regulations. Readers are advised to check with appropriate officials before installing this stove in their homes. — MOTHER)

Most homebuilt wood-burning stoves are scabbed together from old 55-gallon drums. And they more or less do the job they're supposed to do . . . despite the fact that they're notoriously inefficient users of fuel, are difficult to regulate, rapidly burn through, and are so ugly that most people will only tolerate them out in the garage or workshop.

Perhaps the single really good thing that can be said for the majority of the 55-gallon-drum burners is that (usually) it doesn't cost very much to put one of them together or at least it didn't used to. Here lately, though, the steel barrels have become increasingly difficult to find . . . and, when you do locate one of the containers, it frequently has a seven dollar price tag at fixed to it.

There must be a better way to go about assembling a homemade wood-burning stove. And there is: As MOTHER was recently shown by Wilton, Iowa's Robert Wars (who, incidentally, just happens to be the brother of MOTHER researcher Emerson Smyers).

"Forget about messing around with old 55-gallon drums," Bob told us. "What you want to build your stove out of is a discarded electric water heater tank . . . for at least four good reasons:

11/29/2015 2:16:01 PM

Are there any detailed plans out there for this. I am a novice but have access to weld shop and would love to build one before winter truly hits in N.E. Ohio

8/29/2014 8:47:59 AM

Wow, 36 years after having built the first of three of these recycled water heater stoves, for which I give a great deal of credit for my survival in the winter of 1978-79, one of the worst in Wisconsin history (33 below zero one night). I made some slight modifications to the stove that have proven effective and substantially extended the life of this incredibly effective wood burning stove. I used the last one for over 20 years. As noted below by others, the input air tube needs 1/2 holes along the sides of the tube, and cleaning the tube is easily done by following Jerry10's instructions below. I cut a tin can lid in half. The biggest problem I had was warping the sides of the stove, it puts out a lot of heat when stoking. Solved that problem by lining it with refractory brick, making sure the holes in the air tube are clear of the brick. I can't say enough good things about the stove and how it literally saved my life almost 40 years ago. Thanks Mother Earth News.

11/30/2013 3:03:54 AM

I built several of these stoves (some modified with a front door instead of a top load) back in the late 70's. We got the plans from Mother Earth, and I can tell you that there is a key detail missing from the drawing shown here... The draft pipe on the bottom should have 4 rows of 15 holes (1/2" in diameter) on the top half of the air intake pipe to work well. This provides the "grate" effect which allows air to be evenly distributed underneath the wood for a good burn. The wood tends to burn up almost completely, and if you sneak a peek inside while the fire is burning, you can see that there is a blue coloured flame underneath the burning wood. These 60 x 1/2" holes really make the difference in a successful stove. One other note is that a front loading door made handling wood way easier to deal with.

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