Fiery Obsession


Yesterday, my wood stove man (aka Tim from the little store in town), came to check out my wood stove situation.

A little background: I have access to free natural gas on my farm. This is fabulous! I have no particular reason to believe this well is going to run dry any time soon, though gas wells can and do go dry, leaving people in despair. This happened at the slanted little house, and my great-aunt Ruby had to install a propane tank. Nobody was happy about that after many decades of free gas. Total dependence on gas is not a good idea.

I have a generator, and I have my gas furnace set up to run the blower on the generator during a power outage, so I seem pretty set, short of the gas well running dry. However, 1) the gas well could actually run dry someday, and don’t you know that would happen in the middle of a blizzard, 2) what if I can’t start the generator for some reason (this has already happened), 3) what if I can’t get out to get gas for the generator, 4) what if the furnace breaks down (this has already happened twice since I moved in here), or 5) what if I just can’t afford the gasoline to run the generator in a long power outage?

Do I sound paranoid? I might be! Rightfully! In the past five years of farm living, I have experienced numerous power outages, some of which were quite lengthy, and I might be slightly traumatized. There is one thing and one thing only that could run me off my farm in a winter power outage–freezing to death. I have livestock, and I need to be on my farm and able to stay on my farm during extended outages.

And so, I have a gas furnace set up to run on a generator. I have a generator. I keep a gas supply, and gas stabilizer, and I pay attention to keeping things ready. But if all else fails, there is one fairly low-tech alternative that is unlikely to fail–a wood stove. Assuming the furnace was broken down but the generator was working, I could even run the wood stove’s blower on my generator. But if the generator wasn’t working (for whatever reason), even without the blower, if I was at least within the same room as the wood stove, I wouldn’t freeze to death. It might not put out enough heat to warm the whole house without the blower, but I could heat me, and not be run off my farm.

Thus my interest in this little Buck Stove insert in my fireplace. The fireplace opening is much larger than the stove, and Tim agreed I could certainly put a larger stove in there. Along with the little store, he keeps a “burning showroom” and he recommended a few he thinks will work for me. I’ll be going in to take a look at them as I consider changing out this stove for something that can put out more heat.

I’m also interested in alternative baking options, and have been researching wood cook stoves. Unfortunately, the news wasn’t so good on that. I had Tim to look around at my options. This is a cozy (aka small) house. The roof line is also a bit weird and angled everywhere. There are a lot of windows in the house, and any place there is actually a wall has one or another problematic issue regarding installing pipe. Sob. I decided this was a battle I’d better forfeit.


It’s not the end of my interest in alternative baking/cooking, and I’ve already started researching outdoor wood-fired ovens. (Right now, I’m liking this one.) Yes, this is a slightly weird obsession–I refer you back to the trauma I’ve experienced with power outages over the past several years. I’m very interested in off-the-grid alternatives for operating normal daily life and tasks–light, heat, water, food.

By the way, during my research on wood cook stoves, I came across a blog written by a guy named Jim who cooks on his wood stove named Marjorie. (Seriously. His stove has a name.) The posts on this blog are very well-written, thorough, and entertaining–and are all about cooking on a wood stove, so if you’re the slightest bit interested in the topic (or just want a good read), check it out: Wood Cook Stove Blog. I contacted Jim and talked to him a bit in my research on wood cook stoves, and he was very generous and helpful. Even though this didn’t work out for me in my situation, it was still fun to come upon a great site that I’ll continue to read.

FYI, Tim did tell me to take the grate out of the Buck Stove.

I’ve never used a wood stove without a grate before and it was here when I got here, so I waited for the expert to rule. I felt clumsy starting a fire last night without a grate, but I’ll get used to it. Who knew? Some of you, of course. Thank you for letting me know. I asked him about it and he reached right in, took it out himself, and said, “You don’t need that.”

And so, in conclusion, my wood stove heat and alternative baking quests are now diverging paths. I’ll let you know what happens next! It’s, like, a SAGA!!

Or obsession. Whatever you want to call it.


  1. MousE says:

    Suzanne, I don’t know much about wood stoves or living off the grid, alas, but I do know Lee Valley, as I am a bit of a gadget nut. I noticed this in their catalogue:,104,53209,50246

    It’s called an Ecofan and it works without power on a wood stove, using something called the Seebeck Effect. Might be worth a look!

    Good luck to you, I do hope you get things worked out the way you want!

  2. Glenda says:

    You have probably already thought of this and ruled it out for whatever reason, but I wondered about closing the fireplace, maybe laying out a larger pad in front and then installing a freestanding wood stove of whatever type you want. You would gain more heat alone if all surfaces of the stove were exposed and the surround would already be in place, the fireplace itself.

    The size of the room might be an issue.

    • Suzanne McMinn says:

      Glenda, that’s a possibility, though it creates some issues with the configuration of the flue. With an insert, the flue can run straight up. If the stove is outside the fireplace (even right in front of it) it requires a bend in the pipe, and that can only be done to a certain degree in a certain way, and it’s a problem.

  3. twiggityNDgoats says:

    The wood stove in the blog is just like the one I used to cook on when we first moved back to WV. I loved cooking on it even though it was prone to belching smoke through its many cracks.

  4. stacylee says:

    I love a good saga! (or obsession)

  5. DFW says:

    Hey Suzanne,

    We actually built the outdoor oven you linked to. I blogged about it on MDR’s site (before I had my own blog). Here’s the link to my article in case you are interested:


  6. outbackfarm says:

    Suzanne, have you seen the Vermont Bun oven yet? Jenna at Coldanler Farm has one. She bakes bread in hers. It’s an amazing wood-cook stove. I want one so bad. I just bought a Wonderluxe wood stove. The lid can be raised to cook on the top. I already made a big pot of pinto beans and it boiled almost the whole time. I am going to try a roast next. And I could bake potatoes down under in the ash bin.

  7. milesawayfarm says:

    Funny. I’ve been looking at that same Mother Earth News outdoor grill/smoker/oven for years, with the intention of building it. The plans are a little rough. You have to read the text carefully to figure it all out. But its still on my list. Also check out “Build Your Own Earth Oven” by Kiko Denzer. If you have the right kind of soil, this would be a fabulous oven. Had planned to build one in Colorado, but here in SE Washington, my soil doesn’t have enough clay in it. Sorry about the wood cook stove. I’ve always wanted one of those too!

  8. whaledancer says:

    The thing that’s awkward about starting a fire in a woodstove without a grate is getting air circulation under the logs until they’re well started. What I do is to put down a good layer of wadded paper, then lay kindling on top of that, and a log or two on top. Light the paper in a couple of places, make sure the draft is wide open, and close the door. Let it burn for about 10 mins, until the log is well lit. Then you can add more logs on top so that they lean on the flaming one, giving them air circulation underneath. Once they’re lit, tamp down the draft about halfway.

    My favorite paper fire-starter is used cardboard egg cartons, which I save year-round for winter, but that isn’t going to help someone who raises her own eggs. :wave: Pine cones and magnolia pods work well for kindling but still need some paper to get going. Fatwood is lovely, but expensive.

    Oh, and when you clean out the ash, leave a half inch or so layer on the bottom. I don’t understand why, but that makes it easier to get the next fire going.

    One thing you might want to talk to Tim about is that it’s possible to get TOO large a woodstove for the space it’s going to heat. This is the voice of sad experience speaking. By the time our stove is going well enough to work at peak efficiency, the room it’s in is too warm for comfort. It heats the next room nicely. I’m sure this would be different in a colder climate, but it is something to consider when selecting a stove, especially for a small room.

  9. mountainkat says:

    We had a wood stove fireplace insert at our old farmhouse in Tennessee. While it was “just” a wood stove, when it got going, we could certainly “cook” on the top of it, and did, more than once, during long power outages/ blizzards. Now, it wasn’t gourmet cooking, and it was easier to use for things like soups or reheating frozen foods, but once we even cooked eggs on it. We used our cast iron frying pan and dutch oven and it worked great- so with a wood stove insert that has a ledge wide enough to hold a pan, you won’t starve! 8)

  10. emit says:

    I heat my house with the middle size buck (base board for back up). I have tried the no grate works ok until you clean it out an then you have to move a few logs to get the ashes out.(pain) I like the idea of bricking up the opening an putting a hole up a little higher for the flu pipe then run the pipe all the way up the chimney. I have had a fire in my chimney that broke all of the flu liners replaced the liners an ran a stainless steel pipe all the way to the top. Make sure that your chimney guy looks in your chimney to see what kind of shape it is in?

  11. BunnyRuth says:

    As I was reading your post I was thinking of sending along a link to an outdoor oven I have bee considering for years… glad I clicked on your link first because it is exactly the same one I have been looking at in Mother Earth News!

    Wiahing you all the best in this on-going adventure … sounds better than sage or obsession 😉

  12. enjay says:

    What about putting a wood cook stove out in the studio? That way you could teach wood stove cooking classes and possibly write it off as a business expense on your taxes?

  13. yvonnem says:

    enjay’s idea is interesting, but I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the studio and figure you’d have problems trying to set a wood burning cook stove in there also.

  14. Lana says:

    Suzanne, I’m not sure of the logistics of this and it might be a silly suggestion, but what if you were to remove the fireplace altogether? Then you could line the opening with some heat resistant paneling and put your baker wood burning stove in the space. It might also give you a little more space in the living room.

  15. princessvanessa says:

    I think that even if a wood fired outdoor oven was installed outside it could be written off (business tax-wise) as part of the education (business). For example, showing bread making. The students can prepare bread and they bake their loafs in the health board certified studio. Suzanne then takes HER loaf and takes the students to the outdoor wood fired oven and instructs the students how to bake in the wood oven. As Suzanne is baking bread that only she and her family will eat it would not need to be health board certified but the students have learned how to bake in a wood fired oven. The students don’t need to bake THEIR loaf in the wood fired oven. It’s worth checking into.

  16. margiesbooboo says:

    I vote for reconfiguring the chimney flue to accommodate the wood stove that you want. You’ll loose the mantle but the wood stove is attractive in its own right. You’ll probably get enough radiant heat for most of your house.

  17. daria says:

    I agree with sticking with wood – it gives you more options. And whaledancer is so right about the ash. But you’ve probably already figured that out.

    Running a stovepipe up the flue would seem to solve the problem, but the woodstove would take up some floor space. Depending on the composition of the fireplace, it may have to be pulled out some distance. But I’m sure you’re exploring all this with your stove installer. Our Napoleon is on a pad, with a custom chimney, and has to be a certain distance from the walls (but they are basic painted sheet rock – someday I want to put up stone tile… someday). The chimney/installation cost more than the wood stove, but it has to run up through two floors and an attic to get to the roof – coming through a chimney would be less expensive.

    If we can ever afford to upgrade, I’m going to lobby for the Vermont Baker. Wow. But a Dutch oven on the cooktop does work great – I did bake bread on it once – my husband reminded me. You could do biscuits or a loaf, and of course anything in a frying pan or a stew pot.

    And now my husband is getting an Ecofan for Christmas. He will be thrilled (seriously). Thanks MousE!

  18. muggle granny says:

    have you checked out the “Vermont Bun Baker” ?

  19. stefinity says:

    We have a Buck stove like this one, and we’ve used it successfully to heat our entire house for almost 20 years!.. My husband is adamant that you need to TURN YOUR WOOD THE OTHER DIRECTION… the ends of the wood will be from front to back. This will help tremendously with ventilation. Try it!!

  20. PJS48 says:

    I have a Vermont Castings woodstove and can cook on it when our power is off, which is often enough to matter to me. It really throws out the heat and, as I said,I can cook on it. The rooms adjacent to it stay warm enough so I’m pretty happy. But, I read Jenna Woginrich’s blog, Cold Antler Farm blogspot and she has a farm and, of course, needs to be there to take care of her animals. She invested in a Vermont Bun Baker and loves it. She gets lots of heat from it and can even bake in the oven. You can choose from different options including the soapstone which radiates heat like a radiator. It costs a bit more but it could keep a cozy (small) house warm and you’d be able to cook more than on top of the stove. It’s an investment but provides a lot of security vis-a-vis, heat and cooking. Of course, that wouldn’t work in a living room, but maybe your “kitchen” just off the living room. My Vermont Castings woodstove would work in the living room, though and I’m happy with it for years now. Good luck in your quest.

  21. joykenn says:

    The plans at Mother Earth News are certainly intriguing. I noticed that you could use a CANNER on it. Fantastic! I’ve always hated heating up the kitchen in the summer for canning. I also liked that you can cook other things in stages while you’re waiting for the fire to heat up to baking temperature.

    I’ve seen other directions for this summer kitchen idea on the internet. With a concrete pad (also a base for the oven), some salvaged tree trunks/branches for the posts for the roof you’ve got shelter from rain/snow and sun while you cook. I could just see you with one of these near the house or studio teaching classes outdoors on canning and cooking. Can something and then grill food as the fire cools down.

    Or smoking–a whole new idea. Learn to smoke meat. Consider exploring that idea for a class in the future. We toured a heritage farm in Wisconsin that had relocated 65 historic farms and buildings from all over the state and set them up for their time period/ethnic group. (Old World Wisconsin and worth a visit!) The German house had a smoker built into their fireplace in the center of the house to hang bacon, sausages, to smoke as they cooked their food. The smell of a hundred years of smoke and food was delicious and clung to the walls of the huge fireplace.

  22. kathy says:

    My mom had a Jotul woodstove. I have it now though we’re not using it in the new house. It is an awesome heater, and she cooked on it. Mostly stews, beans, roasting peanuts. The comment about making sure you don’t get too big of a stove made me think of when my mom first fired her stove. Dad(cityslicker) was working overseas, Mother had a beautiful brick pad and up the wall with a narrow mantle laid, and finally, she gets to build a fire. It was cold for southeast Texas, so she and my brother loaded it up. It starting getting a bit warm, as it approached 80 degrees, they openned up the windows in two rooms. It was morning before you could sit in the livingroom. That crazy stove would carry over coals for 48 hrs. I guess the Scandanavians really know how to build a woodstove! It has a really nice relief of moose and trees on the sides, black matte. She was so proud of that thing. And oh, before I forget. Be so so greatful for the natural gas. We are paying $3.30 a gallon for propane at present

  23. pettycoat4 says:

    another reason for this is What if the gas stations run out of gas! I live in Staten Island, NY and after hurricane Sandy it was weeks before gas deliveries came in…….sucks to depend on getting gas for emergency generators during a gas outage!! lol !!!

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