Thursday, July 25, 2013

About Wood Burning Cooking Stoves

Cooking on a wood stove offers a sense of self-sufficiency. In uncertain times when the sources and delivery of more modern fuels might be in question, a wood stove provides a measure of independence. Knowing that the fuel and the technology involved is basic and more primitive can help maintain an important connection to simpler times. Does this Spark an idea?


Most wood stoves have at least one and possibly several dampers. Dampers control the air flow or the so-called draft from the surrounding air through the fire and the fire box in the stoves firebox and out through the flue into the chimney. Dampers are important because they allow control over the fire. A wood stove's behavior will be different under different conditions and a damper or a set of dampers allows the operator to manage for this. For example on a day when it's relatively warm outside the draft, or the airflow into the stove and it up the flue, might not be as strong as on a colder day. In this situation having the dampers in a somewhat more open position might be called for. At the other extreme, an especially cold day might increase the draft to the point where leaving the dampers in the same open position they were on a warmer day would boost the fire to too high a level.


Different sizes and types of wood will affect how the fire burns. Relatively small kindling-sized pieces of wood will tend to make the fire very hot. This is useful if the cook is trying to bring a pan of water to a rapid boil for example. Other times what might be called for is a lower heat level and simmering. In this case adding a lot of small pieces of dry wood will make the fire too hot. Either larger pieces of wood or a combination of larger wood and closing some of the dampers will bring the stove down to a simmer. Well seasoned and dry wood is the best. Green or wet wood will tend to smoke and generate creosote and might even contribute to a back draft that will lead to smoke in side the house.

Some woods tend to produce a hot fire with very few coals while others are good at producing a medium hot fire with a sustained set of coals. Examples of woods that tend to burn quickly with fewer colds are soft woods like pine and hardwoods like ash and poplar. Woods that will produce a good set of long burning coals are those like oak and hickory.


A given wood stove will have its own set of characteristics. Often there will be one more or less hot spot on the stovetop based on the location of the firebox and the way the draft is drawn through the inside of the stove to the flue. Cooking on a wood stove can be very different from a more modern range or one that's fueled by gas or electric. But learning the nuances of your wood-burning cooking stove can make for very efficient cooking. Learning where the stovetop's hotter spots are can allow locating pants and pots onto or off to the side of the hot spot depending on the degree of heat required.


Depending upon the stove's design, loading wood into the firebox may be done through a front feed door or through a lid on the cook top. (Lids are usually lifted with a special spring handle lid lifter.) Either way, a good rule of thumb is to make sure that all of the dampers are open before feeding the stove. If the stove is damp down, so to speak (in other words, some of the dampers are partially or completely closed), then opening the feeding door or lid will most likely result in smoke backdraft into the room.


As wood is burned and ashes accumulate it will be necessary to occasionally clean out the ashes that collect. The stoves will have a provision for this, such as a removable pan that collects the ashes. Also, there may be a grate that supports the coals under the firebox. Some stoves will have a shaft of sorts with a handle that connects to it. The handle is used to rotate the grate back and forth and shake it to get ashes to fall clear and drop into the ash pan. At least once a year it is advisable to clean the stove pipes and the chimney. Soot and creosote tend to build up and can create the hazard of a fire in the stove pipe or chimney.


For obvious reasons it's important to keep flammable materials, especially a supply of wood and tinder and kindling at a safe distance from the stove when in use.

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