Growing up in suburban Denver I knew nothing about wood heat or wood burning stoves and had no need to know anything about home heating other than where the thermostat was. I remember asking my dad once when we were down in the basement: “What’s that big green box over there?” He looked incredulous at me and told me it was the furnace. Oh well, how was I supposed to know? Find out more…
Years later, after marrying and moving to rural Wisconsin I decided to get a little closer to the land and start using wood heat. My first wood burning stove was a Morsø 2B Classic, the beautiful stove from Denmark with the warming chamber on top of the stove. I knew nothing whatsoever about wood heat, but was eager to learn.
Fortunately for me a local plumber imported stoves from Scandinavia and I bought the wonderful Morsø 2b classic from him for a pittance. It was something like $350.00. I saw one the other day for $1,750.
We had just bought a little farmhouse and as soon as I could I got the stove hooked up and started my first fire. Nobody told me about green wood or creosote, but I was soon to find out. Within a few days I had smelly black creosote oozing down the kitchen wall because I burned green wood and closed the draft as soon as I could. Duh?
Some of the old timers at work told me what the problem was and, like a good student of life, I put into practice what they advised. Lo and behold, it worked! Soon I was roasting venison on the warming plate and enjoying delicious venison stew.
That was the beginning of my journey into wood heat and I haven’t looked back ever since. I’ve had a Jotul, Fisher, another Morso, a Belgian coal burner, a wood furnace from someplace in Minnesota, a leaky cook stove, a Woodstock Soapstone stove, and probably a few others since those early days in Wisconsin.
These days there are many excellent wood burning stoves on the market, with catalytic burners, timers, pellets, oil or gas combos, fans and many other features. Really, with a little research you almost cannot go wrong when choosing a stove.
Cast Iron vs. Steel Wood Stove
One of the big question people have is: “What is the difference between a cast iron and steel stove?” Good question. The main difference is that steel can warp when exposed to high heat and cast iron does not warp. This usually mean that the cast iron is more stable and less likely to become leaky, or not as airtight. You don’t want a leaky stove or one that is not airtight. If it is leaky it will not hold a fire as long and you find yourself starting many more fires, which gets old very quickly.
That said, today’s steel stoves are well designed so they almost never warp. With firebrick linings and engineered walls the heat just doesn’t have as much chance to warp the stove and make it one of those dreaded leaky ones.
Pellet stoves are the newest kid on the block and they have many things going for them. The biggest thing is that they are very low maintenance. No cutting firewood, hauling it, bucking it up, splitting it, stacking it, moving it into the house and finally loading it into the stove. With pellets you just load the hopper and enjoy.
Some pellet stoves have a nice window in the door, just like a conventional wood heating stove, so you can view the fire. Watching a fire is one of the most soothing things to be found.
Wood burning cook stoves
The ancient art of cooking in a wood stove is alive and well, though the practitioners are far and few between. People that cook with wood usually swear by it and love the results of a slow-cooked loaf of bread or stew over a gas or electric oven anyway.
Fireplace wood stove
These are marvellous adaptations that turn the old inefficient fireplace that actually robs heat from the house into a true source of heat for the home. This is a great way to save space and make use of an existing chimney.
Then there is the fireplace insert that sort of combines the romance of the fireplace with the efficiency of a free-standing wood stove. What a great way to get the best of both worlds.
Buying a wood stove
With so many excellent stoves on the market it can be overwhelming to decide which is the best wood stove. You have to ask yourself things such as: how big is the house, how well is it insulated, what is your budget, do you have a fireplace, what about the chimney, how to install and use the stove, etc. Check out the resources here.