how to: rebuild a woodstove

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Starting the job.

Thirty three years ago, in 1978, Jeanne and I bought a compact L. Lange Model 6303 wood burning stove for our apartment. It went along with us to our new house in Ira in 1984 and has been keeping us warm ever since. Last year it was showing small fissures in the seams between it’s cast iron panels and we knew it was time for a major overhaul. I tried smearing furnace cement into the cracks but that wasn’t working. To recaulk the stove it had to be taken apart.

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Taking the stove apart – piece by piece.

L.Lange, a Danish company, made their stoves from premium cast iron as is evident in their durability and engineering. Because the stove weighs over three hundred pounds I took it apart, and later, reassembled it in place. Only eight short bolts hold it together and all but two surrendered to my wrench. Those had to be drilled out.

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Almost apart.

The original caulking between the stove panels was very deteriorated and the panels pried apart easily. Now I could start cleaning them. I used a small air powered chisel but hand tools would have worked too to remove the remaining baked on caulk from the mating joint surfaces. Joint surfaces should be cleaned as close to bare metal as possible, I used a wire brush after chiseling and then sandpaper to expose the base iron. There were fifteen panels to clean and the job took me a few hours out on the lawn making noise and dust. I wore a ” nuisance” style paper dust mask because of the caustic dust.

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Rutland brand furnace cement.

To reassemble our stove I bought Rutland brand furnace cement, made right here in Rutland, Vermont, a silicon and alkali mixture which bonds metal to metal, perfect for stove repair. I used two 10oz tubes for a caulking gun, plus a half pound container in the course of the job. The caulking gun made filling the long joints on the panels easy with little mess. The contents of the bulk container spread into the wide joints between¬† the stove’s arched side panels with a putty knife.

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Dry fitting mark.

To make sure the assembly went right I put a series of the panels together without caulk and marked them one to the other with a fine chalk mark, then laid them out on drop cloths. That is important because the caulking compound is chemically aggressive and will permanently etch any ceramic or glass it dries on. We have ceramic tiles under the stove and I learned this the hard way. Wearing rubber gloves is recommended.09-woodstove_rebuild 3456x2304-017

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A nice tight fit.

Application is pretty simple. Wet the joint surfaces with water (I used an old paintbrush) then apply enough caulk to fill the joints when assembled. Then put the panels into place lining up the chalk marks and any bolt holes. Remove excess caulk that squeezes out of the joints to use on the next panel and smooth the work. If any caulk gets on an outside surface it has to be immediately wiped off and the area washed with warm water. Rutland’s refractory compound is permanent when it dries.

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Aligning the joint.

After more than thirty years of heating our woodstove had some slight warping which resisted reassembly at the final stage. I solved that by using two wood clamps to bring the panels into alignment and locked them in place with the last bolt. In a couple weeks, if cool weather arrives, I’ll light a small fire in the rebuilt stove to set the refractory and then it will be ready to heat our home for some more winters. In the meantime it needs a new coat of stove blacking, and that’s for a rainy day.

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Finished project.


bears do it

After almost two months of sickness and discomfort from Lyme disease Jeanne is back on her feet feeling normal again. We are on the boat this weekend as well, and that is a really good thing. As short as summer is in Vermont it’s a shame to waste any of it, and we hope it lingers well into September so we can enjoy the lake a little longer.

Fall and Winter are not far off in any event.

Winter? Bring it on!
Winter? Bring it on!

The top of our woodpile is now arms’ length high, I measured it to be five and a third cords, plenty for us. Most of the firewood is nice and dry, perfect for the woodstove when it comes time to start burning it. Meanwhile we’re enjoying summer’s peak just before Labor Day arrives. Oh, the fatalism of Vermonters in summer.

Now that we are two months past its meridian height and the Sun sets before eight o’clock in the evening our bodies are reacting to the waning light. I’ve noticed a little weight gain – only in myself of course – and have to watch my appetite. It’s a (losing) challenge to keep from reaching out for more at meals or idly opening the refrigerator door every time I wander through the kitchen. Its the hibernation instinct’s siren song: Fatten up Bruno, fatten up, snow is coming!

Appropriately, it’s also Sweet Corn season. The ‘secret’ of grilling corn-on-the-cob: Shuck all but two layers of husk off the ears and cut the silk back to just hide the ends, then soak in cold water for at least an hour. Grill to perfection in twenty minutes over medium heat. Turn often. Does corn ever pack on the fat! – especially with butter. Pass me another.

Friends came over the other afternoon, Rodger and his wife Susan joined by our neighbor Daland, for refreshments and dinner. Rodger installs solar systems and said that he could evaluate our properties for solar arrays, which he did. Daland and I hadn’t known much about the process and found that it is pretty complicated and may or may not be what we should try. Siting of an array is important but soil make-up is critical, a detail that surprised both of us. Solar arrays are being touted as the answer to our energy needs and they are springing up all over Vermont. Both Daland and I are interested in contributing to the alternative energy effort and to help pay our own electrical bills. But the payoff time is considerable and government subsidies come to an end in 2016 so it’s unsure what we’ll do. I heard on public radio that electrical energy can now be produced from waste heat, the science of advanced thermocoupling.¬† Maybe we’ll be getting power from our wood stoves next!

Spirit crosses the finish line.
Spirit crosses the finish line.

Up on deck the sun is burning down, Jeanne is polishing stainless and Lake Champlain reflects an almost cloudless sky on this windless afternoon. So lucky we are to be here.