Building a Better Multipurpose Woodstove

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Photo courtesy John Gulland
John Gullan built this energy-efficient wood cookstove for his home.

Building a Better Multipurpose Woodstove

I wanted a wood cookstove for my house, but when I couldn’t find one that combined efficient whole-house heating with surface cooking, baking and water heating, I decided to build my own.

Starting with an EPA-certified wood heater as the basis, I fabricated an oven section and mounted it on top. A large stainless steel tank for water heating covers the back of the stove. After three years of tinkering and making extensive modifications, I have a stove that meets all of my needs.

The design resolves the problems that had prevented me from opting for a traditional cookstove. It has a small footprint, taking up no more floor space than a regular heater. The cook surface is solid so it has no leakage sites, and the oven bypass doesn’t force the exhaust to go downward. The result is smoke-free operation under all conditions. A full-sized, advanced-technology firebox produces enough heat for my 1,500-square-foot home, no matter how cold the weather. The fire burns so cleanly that a single mid-winter sweeping of the oven passages yields only a cup of soot.

However, I did encounter a few problems. In addition to the difficulties of running this wood-burning experiment inside my house, the stove also caused some resistance from my home insurance company. The modifications to the original stove rendered void its safety certification, along with its close clearances and warranty. Only my experience and credentials as a wood-heat specialist convinced the insurer that the stove did not pose an additional fire risk. Also, the stove isn’t as ugly as it could have been, but it definitely lacks the charm and nostalgia of a traditional wood cookstove.

I don’t recommend trying to build your own stove because for most people the benefits would not be worth the hassle, but I was encouraged by the fact that I was able to build a cleaner-burning, more-efficient wood cookstove. My hope is that my stove will inspire some enterprising stove manufacturer to build a cookstove that is specially designed for use in modern houses.

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