and Heating With a Wood Stove
by Peggy Deland
Wood stoves have been
used for centuries as an economical method to heat homes and cook meals. They're
an obvious choice for homesteaders on large, wooded parcels, and for those who
live in rural areas where wood is inexpensive and readily available. Wood stove
costs much less to buy and to operate than central heating systems, and aren't
as expensive to operate as space heaters and typical electric or gas ranges.
However, they do have several limitations that must be carefully considered
before making the decision to move to wood-fueled cooking and heating.
In most cases, traditional methods of doing things tend to be more ecologically
sound. Wood stoves are one major exception to this. While it may be tempting to
buy an antique wood stove, there's little question that the amount of smoke
produced by older wood
stoves is far from environmentally friendly. According to
a study conducted by the University of Illinois, wood stove use in third world
countries is among the top causes of air pollution worldwide.
This doesn't mean that you can't use a wood stove and still have a green
lifestyle, however. Modern, EPA-certified wood stoves are more expensive but are
subject to strict emissions regulations that ensure your stove won't harm the
planet. They're also much more efficient.
Heating with a wood stove is simple, and most modern wood stoves are designed
for this purpose. Wood stoves are best used for supplementary or zone heating,
unless your home is very small. Thoroughly dried hardwood should last through
the night with an efficient stove. You won't have the convenience of a
thermostat, but it's not hard to adjust the damper to increase or decrease the
amount of heat produced.
Many modern wood stoves aren't designed for cooking, but if they have a flat
surface on top they can be used for this purpose. Wood stoves designed for
cooking do provide certain advantages; the most notable is the ability to divide
the surface of the stove into separate heat zones. Some wood cookstoves also
include an oven.
The part of the cooking surface directly over the firebox is the hottest; this
is what you'll want to use if you're sautéing, stir-frying, or searing meat. The
surface gets gradually cooler as you move away from the firebox. Most cookstoves
have a firebox on the left or right side, which makes it quite a bit easier to
figure out where to put your pans.
You can bake on a wood stove that doesn't have an oven, but it can be tricky.
Choose a cooler portion of the wood stove for baking, and make a "tent" over the
pan with a larger pan or heat-proof tray. Baking in a seasoned cast iron frying
pan often works best, but be sure to grease the pan's surface thoroughly to
Cooking with a wood stove requires quite a bit of practice, and you can't expect
to rely on cooking times provided in recipes. In fact, you can't even rely on
your own notes on cooking time if you change the stove or the type of wood
you're using! It's hard to gauge the temperature of a wood stove, so keep a
close eye on your food and make adjustments accordingly.
Wood stoves can create a serious fire hazard if not installed or used properly.
The wood stove must be placed on a fireproof surface that extends at least 18"
beyond each side of the stove. Install your wood stove well away from the wall,
unless it's brick or another non-combustible material. Make sure that the
chimney is working properly; smoke inhalation can and does kill wood stove
Wood stoves are very hot when in use, especially wood cookstoves. The surface
can easily reach 1000 degrees F -- hot enough to cause instant third degree
burns if accidentally touched. If you have small children or pets, make sure
they don't have access to the stove while it's operating.
Heating and cooking with wood stoves is a little more complicated than using
modern electric or gas appliances, but many homesteaders find that it's well
worth the trouble. Not only will you save money on your energy bill, you'll be
using locally-grown, renewable resources.