A Compact Wood Burning Cook Stove and Heater

For as little as $50, you can build a wood-burning cook stove that does everything but wash the dishes!

| November/December 1981

Some forty years ago, in the midst of the Rural Electrification Administration's "power to the people" campaign, wood-burning cook stoves were being scrapped by the thousand in favor of modern and—admittedly—more convenient grid-fed electrical appliances.

Today, however, the old-timey ranges are enjoying a renaissance; you'd be fortunate to latch onto a good one, new or old, for less than $500. In order to help you beat the high cost of cooking with wood (and partly as a result of the great number of unique, practical woodburner designs our staffers were exposed to during MOTHER EARTH NEWS' Scandinavian Crafts Tour earlier this year), we decided to build a stove that would provide an inexpensive baking oven and griddle, effective "local" heating, hot water, and a place to dry a day's worth of fuel.

Putting Scrap to Use

The attractive multipurpose cooker that our researcher Emerson Smyers put together is a combination of three nongalvanized scrap water heater tanks, one 20" and the others 22" in diameter. First, he laterally cut the top portions from the two similar-sized vessels, then rejoined those upper sections—top-opposite-top—with a 1/4"-plate cooking surface welded between. To prevent flue gases from entering the baking chamber (and to provide an impediment to smoke on its way out of the stack, thus retaining heat below and behind the oven, where it's needed most), Emerson fit a 16-gauge contoured baffle wall to the rear of the baking kiln. He allowed it to extend about 4 inches below the griddle plate, thereby creating a crescent-shaped passageway that permits the exhaust vapors to exit between the stove's outer wall and the oven's rear bulkhead.

The entire stove capsule rests on a 23"-high pedestal cut from the third tank. This stand not only brings the oven to a practical working level, but also serves—now that an ellipse has been removed from its face and a retaining screen tack-welded in place— as a storage/drying bin for split wood or kindling.

(We're aware that many may question the prudence of placing such combustibles in close proximity to a heat source, but our testing has indicated that, with the oven operating at a steady 350°F and the ambient temperature in the mid-eighties, the storage area experienced a thermal increase of only 15° above the temperature of the surrounding air. This is sufficient to drive a bit of moisture from wood, but about 100° shy of actually igniting it. To be on the safe side, however, you should make tests of your own—under the conditions in which you're most accustomed to operating your stove—to determine whether the temperature will remain within accepted limits over an extended period. And, if any doubt still exists, play it safe by storing your kindling in a more conventional manner.)

To help prevent warping and joint fatigue in the firebox area—and to provide enough thermal mass to absorb and store warmth effectively—our stovebuilder lined the base and walls of the burning chamber with a castable refractory (he used Paco Cast, manufactured by the North State Pyrophyllite Co., Inc.,. but any premixed refractory product should function equally well).

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