Fireside Mystery


My latest intrigue at Sassafras House is the fireplace. WHAT is up with this fireplace?

You can’t really tell from that picture. Let me move the wreath. (My neighbor Jim’s wife made that wreath.)

This is an old house, built in the 1930s. You know they liked fireplaces big back then–but this fireplace appears tiny. There is a Buck Stove insert. You can fit a few small pieces of wood in there and that’s it.

But there is quite a large surround, the big black thing around the Buck Stove.

I’m not a fan of brass, so I don’t like the brass of the Buck Stove and the trim on the surround, but beyond that, I know there’s more to this fireplace than what I’m seeing. I have a hankering to rip the whole thing out and find out. I felt around a little bit behind the black surround until I found the true opening of the fireplace. The actual fireplace opening is 28 inches high and 40 inches wide. The Buck Stove is almost less than half those dimensions. I don’t know why the Buck Stove was installed. (It has no blower to throw heat.) I contacted the previous owners and they told me that they were told that the Buck Stove was installed in the mid-90s by owners at the time who remodeled the house. Before that time, it was a regular working fireplace.

My curiosity started with my desire to install a wood stove. I was thinking I could install it in the fireplace, running the pipe up the existing chimney. I went over the actual opening dimensions with my wood stove installer, keeping in mind the type of wood stove I’m interested in, and it’s not going to work. I’m interested in a wood stove that will also operate as a cook stove. I don’t want to sound like a crazy prepper here, but I don’t see any point in installing a wood stove that can’t do it all. Back at Stringtown Rising, I experimented valiantly with cooking on a “regular” wood stove during one of our long power outages. The surface of a wood stove doesn’t get hot enough for real cooking, and inside, baking is called burning. I want a wood stove that is designed with a cooktop surface for real cooking, and comes with an oven for baking.

I have a small house, which is good and bad. I don’t need a large wood stove to heat it, and I can’t fit a large wood stove in here anyway, but I have limited options for positioning one. I’ve found a wood stove that will suit my purposes–compact in size, will provide heat for a small house, and has the cooktop and oven I want. I just have to find the right place to put it. My wood stove installer is going to be out after Thanksgiving to take a look-see and discuss it. The main issue with installing it at the fireplace and running pipe up the chimney is the need for a rear exit flue, which just isn’t available in compact-size wood cook stoves. I’ll have to put it somewhere else and install pipe.

Meanwhile, I still want to tear out that Buck Stove insert, open up the fireplace to its original state, get the chimney cleaned and inspected, and make it safely operational. No matter what I do about the wood cook stove, the Buck Stove’s gotta go. It might go over Thanksgiving when I have my hefty helpers here.

I’ll keep you posted! Can’t wait to see what’s back there….. I hope there’s a big box of bank robbery loot! Or maybe some bones! Now it’s getting exciting!


  1. boulderneigh says:

    Fireplaces are woefully inefficient because most of the heat goes right up the chimney – including the “heat” in your house when you don’t have a fire. At least that Buck Stove and its surround don’t let all your inside warmth escape – and a fire in it might actually heat the house better than a fire in the open fireplace. Our insert has a fan, which we love, but of course it doesn’t run if the electricity goes out.

  2. AspenFlower says:

    Getting your fireplace cleaned and inspected is probably a good idea for safety reasons, but I think they only have to be cleaned & inspected every now and then right? I’m not sure how often but I would assume at least once a year perhaps. On another note: that’s a very cute wreath, and your fireplace is looking nice and cozy with the way you decorated it with wood and flower vases and all. So cute! And I just have to say it- It’s marshmallow time! Enjoy cozing up in front of your fireplace. I don’t have one in this apartment and I wish I did! I have to settle for my store bought marshmallow roaster meanwhile.

    Have a wonderful week enjoying your lovely home. Take care and be safe.

    Hugs from the West coast!

  3. Peace Of Mind says:

    Suzanne, It would be totally cool if a Vermont Stove would somehow fit in that space, …here is a link
    A Vermont Stove is a dream of mine to have some day:)
    Blessings@peace of mind

  4. RoslynP says:

    Suzanne, we have an old wood cookstove in our kitchen and decided to have it relined with a ceramic coated stainless steel liner. Best decision we made. Now we don’t fear a fire since the old clay tile liner had cracks and holes in it. It heats our house wonderfully and we do cook on it, we also have the additional benefit of heat from it if we ever loose power. I so hope that you are able to get a stove to work with your existing fireplace, since as you know the benefits are well worth it. I look forward to reading more about your endeavors on this project.

  5. JudyT says:

    It would be so neat to see what is behind that stove.

  6. VaGirl2 says:

    The house we live in now has un-vented gas logs in the huge wood burning fireplace, installed by a previous owner. They closed off the chimney opening so the heat from the logs (and the house!) does not go up the chimney. I lived (temporarily) in a house from the 1890s with a fireplace and it drew ALL the heat out of the house. Sometimes we could see our breath when we woke in the mornings! Anyway, I was thinking if you put your cookstove some place other than the fireplace, you might consider gas logs since you have free gas. Your wood stove installer could explain how the fireplace could be made so that it doesn’t lose the heat. The gas logs in this house produce SO MUCH heat and we definitely use them when we are w/o power, too. Just a thought…

  7. Luann says:

    vermont bunbaker stove is compact, has a small oven and you can cook on top. its on my dream list. but i will have one oneday.

  8. daria says:

    We heat our house mostly with wood in the winter – we still use oil for hot water (and the furnace runs occasionally if we’re not home or it’s really, really cold).

    We have a free-standing Napoleon 1400, piped through the outside – our furnace goes through our house’s chimney so we had to have an additional chimney installed.

    When we bought the stove, I got the cook mate insert for the top. It’s a flat cast iron rectangle, about 10″x20″, with a little pedestal on the bottom that fits into the top of the stove and conducts heat from the stove so it heats up – it gets really hot. It is great for all-day cooking, like brisket or chili, in a cast iron pot. I haven’t attempted to use the cast iron pot as an oven to make biscuits or bread, but I could. If your fire were hot enough, you could cook pasta or rice. It would be easy to cook any pan-fried food too (pancakes, etc.)

    Here’s a link with a picture:

    However, I usually just use my electric stove, because it’s near the sink in my kitchen, and it’s a few inches higher and I don’t like to stoop. But in a pinch I could use the wood stove, which makes us feel good, and it beats the crock pot for slow cooking, if you’re running a fire all day.

  9. bonita says:

    two words: “Be prepared” houses have a habit of hiding all sorts of ills not found until fixing/changing/upgrading elements.

  10. ramseybergstrom says:

    As the wife of an insurance man, talk to your insurance agent as well. Some companies are very specific about the install of a wood stove and you don’t want to put your insurance policy at risk, better to get all the info up front and know if they have certain requirements. I love your idea about having a good cooking/heating stove!

  11. margiesbooboo says:

    Why can’t you use the stove you want? Do you need to extend the brick floor? Where else would you put a stove? Where you want to eventually have your kitchen?

    • Suzanne McMinn says:

      The reason I can’t put a stove in front of the fireplace to use the existing chimney is the height of rear exit flues and the height of the fireplace opening–it doesn’t work. Probably, with a small “regular” wood stove, I could find one with a rear exit flue at the height I need, but not with a wood cook stove. For example, won’t work with the Vermont Bun Baker, or other stoves I’ve also looked at.

      By the way, to those of you who have mentioned wishing for a Vermont Bun Baker, this is the same thing as a Baker’s Oven stove, and you can find it listed several hundred dollars cheaper other places than Vermont Bun Baker, just FYI for anyone looking. Google “Baker’s Oven wood stove” and you will find other places that sell it cheaper, such as Obadiah’s.

  12. KRingsrud says:

    Suzanne —
    You probably have a Rumford fireplace.
    It would be interesting to hear more about it.

  13. jeandf says:

    Definitely take it with LOTS of helpers. Those stoves are HEAVY! I can’t wait to see what’s behind there. I’d be wanting to get it out NOW… Maybe it’s Al Capone’s gold or something… perhaps some hidden love letters…

  14. whaledancer says:

    In the spirit of having back-ups, you might consider waiting until you get your new wood stove installed before you tear out the fireplace insert. It may not look the way you want, and only hold little pieces of wood, but it’s probably much more efficient at heating than the open fireplace. We converted from a fireplace to a wood stove and you wouldn’t believe the difference in the amount of heat it throws off, even without a blower. Especially when you’re the one chopping the wood, having it burn more efficiently is a big plus. That’s likely the reason an earlier owner replaced the open fireplace in the first place. You can always remove it once you have your dream wood cookstove in place.

  15. mtnmedx says:

    We have the EXACT same problem! Can you share which stove you decided to purchase? Just curious to see if your choice might work for us too….

    PS You’re right about Obadiah’s. Their prices are much more affordable and close to me to boot!

  16. KarenAnne says:

    Before you do anything drastic to the fireplace set up, I would have a chimney guy take a look at the innards. I think they can lower a camera down from the top. There may have been a reason it was closed up.

    Also, while I don’t know much about fireplaces, I do know as others have said the old ones are hugely inefficient and drag warm air out of the house.

  17. MaryZ says:

    Keep in mind that good wood burning stoves are very efficient for heating. BUT if you can access that old fireplace and get it working – they make fantastic cooking places. I bet you could get something that could hold a pot of soup or stew like they did way back when and a few old hangers for hot dogs! I’ve even heard that the pioneers were able to bake bread on/in the fireplace. 😀

  18. stefinity says:

    My husband says that the buck stove you have is a top quality stove. They burn efficiently, putting out more BTUs than other stoves. Pretty sure your stove does have a blower… the blower vents are under the top lid above the door. Also it is a catalytic stove so it burns clean. You need to remove the grate to use it.. you don’t need it in a buck stove. You also turn the wood the other direction.. from front to back. We’ve been heating our house with one just like that since 1994. He says to talk to Walton Thriftway.. they handle buck stoves. (He also mentioned that he noticed your cord .. you do have the blower plugged in, right??)

  19. stefinity says:

    He wanted to add that the stove has to get up to a certain temperature before the fan kicks on.. about 600 degrees. A thermostat shuts it on and off.

  20. EightPondFarm says:

    As I am sure your fireplace guy will explain, fireplaces need very specific dimensions (width x depth x height) to work correctly. Plus the existing chimney and flue dimensions must match with those and need to allow for proper flow. In many old houses (like mine from the 1840s), the existing chimney needed a liner to be safe; to get the liner correct, they would have to narrow the chimney and then the existing fireplace dimensions no longer worked — I would have smoke coming in the house more often than not. So, our solution was to put in a Lopi stove insert (no surround) and use that flue straight up and out. No problems. Then, the insurance guy who came to visit later did not like the “exposed” stove and suggested a surround would reduce the insurance rates. This was not possible since the fireplace facade is an odd shape and all hand carved limestone. Arguing that the stove was safer than an open fireplace got me nowhere. Your Buck stove is a good one and should do a fine job heating the house (and I agree there is probably a blower that works when it gets hot enough). Perhaps they got a smaller stove than the opening might look to allow due to depth issues (my Lopi was the shallowest I could find). You should also be able to find cast black instead of the brass if you want. Proceed with caution on all fronts and enjoy!!

  21. Heather B says:

    You could go ahead and put a wood cooking stove in that big room that used to be the kitchen, since eventually it will be the kitchen again.

  22. B1ueDogsMom says:

    Be careful to inspect the chimney. They may have inserted that stove, and the stovepipe that vents out because the chimney needs major work ($$). The insert could have been the cheaper route.

  23. caprilis says:

    The blower on our woodstove only comes on when it reaches sufficient heat levels. Maybe your’s works the same way?
    I also had brass accents that I HATED so I went and got black high heat spray paint (made for bbq grills) and sprayed it all black… much better!

  24. Fincadia says:

    Have you looked at coal stoves? I don’t know if they make any kind of cooking stove that is coal fired, but I know in last year’s storms here I used the top of mine to heat water and roast vegetables. I put a cast iron trivet on top and sat my pan up there. Top was between 300-400 degrees. They are not “dirty” as most people assume. One that burns pea/rice coal is actually quite clean. And I think the heat is better/more even than wood. In our previous home, we had a wood insert stove with blower. It constantly needed fed. Our coal stove goes 12 hours+ between feeds and it is small. I prefer it over the wood. Also, our current home had a wood fired stove in the kitchen. It had been pipe vented through the furnace flue in the wall (brick chimney) not our fireplace in our living room. When we moved in, there was one of those decorative plates from the 1950’s covering the opening. We had it bricked up by a mason.

Add Your Thoughts