Thursday, March 7, 2013

How to COOK ON/USE A WOOD COOK STOVE ~The BEST part of WILDERNESS LIVING!

There are a variety of kitchen wood cook stoves, there is one for every decor or price range.  Ebay  is an excellent source for finding these old stoves.  I bought mine off a site called Craigslist.com for $400 it is a working class average housewife stove sold in the early 1800's.  It was in working order when I bought it but it did have a few welded repairs.  It is not UL listed of course due to its age, so if you plan to install one you should check you local ordinances.  I LOVE my stove and I find it very simple to use although I had to really search the web to find info on how the dampers all work (there are 3 of them) but the process is very simple once you understand their purposes, just like turning on the knobs on your gas range! 



 A Dedicated housewife jumps out of her nice warm cozy featherbed and plops her feet down on that COLD wooden floor, makes a dash for her slippers, opens the door to grab some frosty kindling to get that first crackling warm breakfast/morning coffee fire going,....

 NO, I'm just kidding, its not really like that, you dont really have a featherbed, most likely its a straw stuffed futon.  You really dont plop your feet down on that COLD wooden floor, most likely there's an old wore out braided rug there but you sure are thankful for it on those cold mornings.  Your slippers are probably already on your feet because you wore them to bed the night before because the wooodstove burned out early due to a lack of firewood that wasnt brought into the house before dark and no one wanted to go out to fetch more. And hopefully you did stuff a few pieces of kindling into the corner for mornings just as this and your fire is already poppin' and crackling.  You can hear the steam rising in the coffee pot and it will be purculating any moment.  You're wondering if the hens have thawed out enough to lay a few eggs yet, as you toss another piece of wood on the fire and sit down in your rocking chair.  You prop your feet up on the open oven door to warm them as the first streams of sunlight wander in the window and the birds outside begin to flit about. Yeah. life is Good.


HOW To USE A WOOD COOKSTOVE

 I have more info I've written about cooking on a wood cookstove at:

There are generally 3 dampers on a wood cook stove...
I believe most folks think these dampers are the most intimidating part of using a wood cook stove.  There seems to be little information available on the world wide web on how to use these vintage stoves and their multiple dampers.   It seems that when the women of the late 1800's passed on, that their daughters, enthralled with the  new cooking technologies of gas ranges, deemed the knowledge of using wood cookstoves unnecessary to "modern" life.  So it seems in one generation, or maybe two, this practical self -sufficient knowledge was lost to future generations.
Now, about those dampers... There are generally 3 on most wood cookstoves.
 1st damper...There is a damper on the side of the firebox, this damper is generally left wide open (unless you are just wanting to keep a pot of dinner warm for a long period of time and want to keep the temperature very low.) For most all normal cooking situations you will want a hot fire so the firebox damper is left open to provide for good oxygen ventilation onto your fire. This damper should always be wide open when starting your fires.
 2nd damper...There is usually also a damper on your stove/range top or on the pipe near the range top.  This works just like the pipe damper on a regular wood burning stove, (if you already have experience with those this will be easy for you). This damper controls the temperature and rate of burn for your fire.  With this damper full open your fire will burn very hot and very quickly.  This damper is generally full open whenever you are starting your fire but is closed half to 3/4 of the way after the fire is going well and a few red coals are seen on the  fire grate below the fire. At this point the heat will begin building underneath your range top and around your oven.
3rd damper...Some wood cookstoves may only have the 2 dampers we already discussed, but many have a 3rd damper which controls the heat flowing around your oven and helps to regulate the temperature inside the oven.  This damper is usually found on the backside of the cookstove, sometimes behind the firebox.  When this damper is closed ALL of the heat from your fire circulates around the oven.  This heats up the interior of the oven. The more open this damper is the cooler your oven temperature becomes.  You must note however that regardless of this damper, if you have a rip-roaring fire going using high btu wood such as cherry, maple, or oak your oven is going to heat up very hot.  
DEALING WITH A TOO HOT OVEN...
There are several ways to deal with an overheating oven, first you will want to open the damper on the back of your cook stove to draw cool air into circulation around your oven. This will reduce the temperature slowly or help you maintain the desired temperature even as your fire increases if you are also cooking on the stove top.  Second, if you are only baking and don't have anything else cooking on the range top you can close the side firebox damper partway to reduce the flame and heat source, (you would be doing this in addition to opening the back damper for the oven) and this will make a moderate change in temperature or reduce the temperature to the desired temp needed if the preheated oven has become too hot.  Should you need to change the temp very quickly (your rolls are already turning brown but the inside dough is still gooey) if it got out of hand when you weren't looking, the obvious thing to do is open the oven door allowing the heat to escape quickly. Then work on adjusting your dampers.  
BAKING IN A WOOD COOK STOVE...
The joy of cooking on the stove top of a wood cookstove is that the oven is perpetually heated while cooking on top of the range, so there is virtually unlimited opportunity to bake during everyday cooking and meal preparation operations. Because most wood cook stove ovens are smaller than modern day gas/electric ovens there are a few techniques that you will find helpful in making your baking a success.  First, since the firebox is generally located to the side of the oven box you will find that this side of your oven gets hotter than the other.  This necessitates the "turning" of your baking pan or baking sheet halfway through the baking process to ensure even baking.  (If you are baking rolls or biscuits and want to avoid the hassle of "turning" the pan, you can make the rolls and biscuits smaller on the cool side of your pan and larger on the hot side to accommodate the temperature differences and still be finished baking at about the same time. Although the hot side biscuits and rolls will still be browned more than the cool side.) Cakes and pies MUST be turned 1/2 way through, (very gently to prevent your cake from "falling" in the center if using store bought cake mixes.) If I am baking casseroles and am using dishes or pans smaller than the average 11x13 cake pan I just make sure the dish is all the way over to the side of the oven opposite the fire box.  I also have found that I generally use the lowest rack in my oven as the top of the oven is quite a bit hotter than the bottom.  
One last word on the oven... you will notice there is a tiny small thin door beneath your oven that generally has to be popped open/out with a flat tip screw driver or butter knife.  The purpose of this little door is to give you access to the airspace where the flame and hot air goes around your oven.  As the flame and hot air circulates it carries a small amount of ash with it.  This ash can build up underneath your oven as well as on top and along the sides which eventually build up and prevent your oven from heating evenly (at least as evenly as possible).  You open this little door to remove this ash from beneath your oven.  You remove the lids and range top pieces to gain access to the top and sides around your oven to clean the ash build-up from those areas.  
WHY DOES MY COOKSTOVE "SMOKE" SO BAD, IS THIS NORMAL?
Typically woodstoves smoke for a few reasons... If you have recently bought a brand new stove or recently re-blued or re-blacked an old one, the first fire you make in the stove will "cure" the black coating.  This curing should be done outside or with all the windows open and fans exhausting the fumes.  The occupants of the home should not be inside during the curing.  
There are some more common reasons wood stoves smoke, if they have not been used in a very long time (since last winter, or even years or decades) the stove may smoke terrible at first until soot builds up in the burner seams which effectively seals them in a short time (about an hour of good pine fire, similar to a smudge fire) after which they will not usually smoke anymore as the stove is in use regularly.  
An antique or vintage stove may smoke because time has warped the rangetop pieces so that they no longer fit tightly together.  (or perhaps they are not all the original pieces, but a collection of pieces that appear to fit together) Sooting may cure this as with the seasonal stove, but if the warping is too severe for sooting to seal the seams adequately then applying stove cement to the seam areas and then pressing the lids (oil the lid edges first) into the soft cement and letting the cement dry will give you a tight fit, then soot and use normally.  
A poor draft also can cause a stove to smoke.  There are a couple of reasons why your stove may have a poor draft... Check to make sure the pipe is not plugged with leaves, bird nests, or other debris. Make sure your pipe damper on your pipe or range top is open fully.   The other reason the stove may draft improperly may be because you have an antique cast iron stove whose body seams are not tight enough and you will see smoke billowing from these seams all around the oven, from underneath the range top etc.  You will need to fill these loose seams with stove putty or stove cement.  Once these seams are filled and dried the stove when relit should begin drafting properly with the stove pipe damper full open and the firebox damper full open.  
The last thing that causes cookstoves to smoke is backdraft on high windy days. The smoke is pushed back down the pipe and out the firebox damper into the room by the force of the wind.  The best way to deal with this situation is to build a very hot fire ...oak, cherry etc full open firebox damper and 1/3 closed pipe damper. It's not perfect but its tolerable.
FIRE SAFETY... Please check with your local fire marshall and township home heating inspector for their regulations and suggestions on properly installing your cookstove.  (Some antique cookstoves may not be allowed by your  local government due to a lack of UL Listing stamp...[they didnt have UL listing back in the 1800's] so they may not be permitted for installation.
We use a 3 foot empty circumference space around our wood stoves, with fireproof wall and floor materials, brick, stone, concrete etc. Pipes going through walls or ceilings should be in double insulated pipes...as per local regulation.  I've seen some folks also who installed a large square of sheet metal through which the pipe passes rather than directly through a regular wall or roof.  This seems like a well thought out idea as well.  Be sure your pipe is higher than the highest part of your roof. Also, if you have a choice, it seems that having your pipe on the downwind end of your home of the most typical prevailing wind in your area would also be a good idea so that the predominant amount of sparks are carried away from your dwelling by the wind.  A 1/2"x1/2" cage wire screen should be put around the space between the opening of your pipe and the hood at the end/top of your stove pipe to both keep birds out and sparks in for safety reasons. I hope you found this interesting and helpful.  I welcome your comments and stories relating to your experience with your cookstove!

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