How I Installed My Wood Stove
First Cold Snap
Cast Iron Wood Burning Stove
My house has a nice fireplace but I wanted to install a wood stove instead. Despite the relatively warm climate of Oklahoma, the winters do have brief periods of severe weather. Occasional ice storms can knock out the power and make the roads impassable for two or three days. Many Oklahomans use their fireplaces during such times as an emergency source of light and heat. On rare occasions, for periods of up to a week, the temperatures can drop below ten degrees Fahrenheit, (-12C) and drop below zero as well, (-18C) putting an enormous strain on home heating systems. Then, the fireplace can be used to ease the strain.
Feeding a fireplace during periods of bitter cold can be a chore. More heat goes up the chimney than into the house. When the fire beds down, the draw of the chimney pulls heat out of the house faster than the fire gives it. A person could wake in the middle of the night in a room colder than the inside of a refrigerator. Then the heating bill comes and it’s enormous. Another problem with fireplaces is keeping an adequate amount of firewood handy. It can take more than a cord of firewood to feed a fireplace for a week. That wood has to sit for a year or longer, waiting for severe winter weather to strike. In Oklahoma, a cord of wood has to endure summer temperatures above a hundred degrees, has to endure sever winds and wind gusts exceeding 65 mph. Often, the Spring storms that bring rain tend to fling most of that rain sideways. The wood gets thoroughly soaked and then dries all summer and then gets wet again in the fall. This cycle causes a significant amount of dry rot for firewood stacked outside. A stove needs less wood to do the same job. That means less wood to store.
Even during mild weather, the stove comes in handy as a document burner; it is easier to use for that purpose than the fireplace and far more effective than a paper shredder. Also there is the aesthetic appeal of the cast-iron stove, a relic of a bygone era to decorate the home. That, and the feeling of independence I get as I stick it to 'The Man' by using this stove to keep my winter heating bill down in the double digits.
I decided to upgrade to a wood stove so that I could get by with storing less wood. The stove produces more heat with less fuel, along with the added bonus of serving as an excellent cooktop when the power is out. A rick of good firewood fits in the corner of my storage shed, protected from the elements. That’s enough firewood to feed a stove for a week. All around, a wood stove is a winning strategy for the fickle weather of the Great Plains when the power is out and the roads are impassable or outside temperatures are in the single digits. Which doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen, so it’s best to be prepared.
I chose a cast iron free-standing stove rated for heating 1600 square feet of space. The tile floor of my living room was installed over a concrete slab foundation, perfect for a wood stove. I had to order the stove and then pick it up at the store. Stores this far south do not stock such things. They do stock steel wood-burning stoves with blowers; they are not much use when the power is out. My stove weighed 180 pounds (82kg) in the crate so I had to wrestle it off the truck when I got it home. Next I unpacked it and read the owner’s manual. No surprises; I was familiar with wood stoves, because of time spent in Ohio, where my parents lived.
I took the largest part of the stove and used a mover’s dolly to haul it to the back yard. The ground is hard enough to roll a mover’s dolly across grass, because in Oklahoma where I live, it’s like that. I turned the stove over and used the provided screws and nuts to attach the front tray and the legs, turned it right-side up and put fire bricks across the bottom inside. I could have used a layer of sand, but I prefer fire bricks. Then I added the door, its pins sliding into the hinges of the stove body and then laid in the cook-top inserts and attached the damper collar with the provided screws and nuts. Then I stood a three foot section of stovepipe on the damper collar and it looked good.
The directions advised firing the stove outside before installation, to cure the paint. The stove will give off noxious fumes the first time it is used. Just to be safe, I made sure my garden hose was handy and ready to go. Then I placed tinder and kindling and a couple of thin logs in the stove and lit the fire. The smoke drew well and the stove warmed up and became hot and a horrid grey mist billowed from the paint. After three hours the fire burned out and I let the stove cool overnight.
Firing the Stove Outside
Up the Flu
I chose to line the flu of my fireplace. Not really necessary because the chimney was in excellent condition. However, if I had simply vented the stove pipe into the fire place, the smoke would cool as it entered the wider flu and creosote would condense inside. I had to remove the fireplace damper because it was in the way. There is no easy trick to it. I pried at the far right and left ends with a crowbar to break the hinges and then wrestled it out. And then I swept up all the soot, and ran a shop vacuum up in behind where the damper was. There was plenty of soot and ash: best to get it out of there now.
I put black pipe up the flu to line it, all the way up to the top. Shoved a two foot (60cm) section up into the flu, added another section, shoved that up in there and added two more, until it reached the top. Five sections for ten feet (3m) total. It was hard work. Then I added a ninety degree elbow facing out to the living room. I put a four-by stack of bricks under the elbow to hold the flu liner up; it was heavy. Next I attached a three foot section to that, to reach the stove. The smoke will keep moving at a speed fast enough to reach the outside air and then not condense into creosote. Instead, it’ll mix with the outside air to become some various sorts of gas. Mostly, carbon dioxide.
(Carbon Dioxide is heavier than air and when it cools it settles to the ground to be absorbed by the grass of my lawn, or nearby neighbor's lawns on windy days, so it's not an issue.)
Note: People living in colder climates who intend to rely on their wood stove as a primary heat source for more than three months of the year should consider using a flexible stainless steel flu liner. Standing lengths of black pipe up the chimney will work well for my occasional short term use application, but would not stand up to constant use. Never mind that a stainless steel flexible flu liner costs more than my stove; it would outlast the stove.
I then cleaned out the stove and removed the fire bricks and door and cook-top inserts, rolled the stove onto its side to lay on the mover’s dolly and rolled it into the house. Situated in the living room, I stood it up and positioned it. Then I made measurements for my fireplace cover and marked it for cutting. The ideal cover would be a 3’X4’ quarter inch steel plate but I didn’t have one of those lying around and didn’t want to scrounge at the scrapyard. I bought a stove board instead and it worked fine.
I determined where to cut the six inch opening and used a jig saw with a metal blade to cut it. Measured three times, double-checked and made sure it was right. Then cut a nice, round hole. I put the stove board in place and then used a hammer drill to put six quarter-inch holes through it into the brick surround of the fire place. I used quarter inch concrete anchor bolts, tapped them through the stove board with a hammer into the masonry, then put washers and nuts on them and tightened them up. I’ll be able to remove the board without much trouble. I do plan to perform inspections and cleanouts of the flu from time to time. About every three to five years, dependent on how much I use the stove.
Fireplace Cover Bolted in Place
I attached a three foot (1m) section of stove pipe to the flue, through the stove board. Attached a ninety degree elbow to it and slid that onto the stove’s damper collar. All done, I patted myself on the back and admired the handsome wood-burning cast-iron stove that now sits in my living room. I have yet to fire it up indoors. I’ll get around to it soon enough. It’s only October, which in Oklahoma means daily highs of eighty degrees or more. Maybe in a couple of months, right before sunrise, it will be cool enough to light a fire for a test burn. I can check for smoke leaks then.
(It's now February and I made use of the stove and it works very well!)
Important Note: check local codes to see if a wood burning stove is allowed in the area. Some towns do not allow them, or have specific requirements. It’s free to ask.