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.


history simplified

I’ve been watching historical episodes of Vermont counties on Vermont Public Television this week.  Some scenes depict things I remember quite well from my own grammar school days.  It’s somewhat of a shock to see ‘old’ people reminiscing about incidents that happened in their childhood, only ten to fifteen years earlier than similar things I recall myself.  No, I don’t have memories of horse drawn carriages, except for Dave Mac’s rag wagon down in Rutland, but I do remember watching cars driving up Mendon Mountain on Route 4 with my big, mustached great-uncle who would joke, “Bobby, if you see a car not painted black, tell me”.
Uncle John and Aunt Margaret were up from New Jersey visiting her sister Betty,  our grandmother who lived with us. Their big four-door Buick Super 1947-buick-superwas a lustrous dark green, very unusual in the early 1950’s.  Immigrants from Germany, my father’s relatives stayed in contact with each other no matter where they lived.


I remember the phenomenon of unpainted wooden buildings;  clapboard houses weathered to a silvery gray dotted the Vermont countryside, and I thought that was really strange.  Traveling home from visits to our relatives in New Jersey, where all the houses were painted, I could tell we had returned to Vermont when I saw the familiar bare gray houses gliding by my dad’s car windows.  His car was a faded brown ’38 Pontiac that had lost one rear fender.

A '39 Pontiac (sort of like ours)
A ’39 Pontiac (sort of like ours)


Living in Mendon and going to school in Chittenden Town I grew up among some very poor families although I never thought of them as particularly needy.  There were really poor folks around. People in desperate situations.  I knew this for certain as our next-door neighbor Mrs. Hubenet was an overseer of the poor and she explained it to me:  There were people at that time, nearby, who had starved or frozen to death.

Sometimes both.

We were adults when a schoolmate told me this story…

Back when we were in the fifth or sixth grade some of my Barstow School classmates thought of me as a rich kid!  The box lunch I brought from home, with a Thermos bottle full of hot soup, drove them crazy with the smell.  True, I suppose, but how could a boy of nine or ten tell?  The free hot lunch program, I hope, put an end to that.  A kid like me would have to fight to keep his lunch these days I’ll bet.

Some of my classmates at Barstow Memorial School had no socks or shoes and wore only the green rubber farm boots they called pacs to school and their clothes were full of holes.  Some of them lived in homes severely damaged by the 1947 flood.

Scene from the 1947 flood.  (Rutland Historical Society)
Scene from the 1947 flood. (Rutland Historical Society)

A house half gone, but still lived in, was a common sight on the school bus ride to school.  But I never pitied my friends, I admired them and often envied their abilities in class and on the playground. And they in turn did not pity themselves.

My mother, however, was appalled by the tooth decay she saw in the children at Barstow and it drove her to become particularly diligent concerning her own children’s personal hygiene. This was before fluoride was added to public water supplies or put in toothpaste.  The State did have a rudimentary dental program for rural schools. We would all be driven in a train of school buses to Pittsford once a year to get our teeth painted yellow with fluoride and that was the extent of dental caries prevention in Vermont.  They gave us jars of vitamin pills to take home too.
Poverty back then was something to overcome, I think, not a thing to accept, embrace or explain away.  My classmates at Barstow in the fifties went on to success or failure in life just like anyone else.  In retrospect, it is obvious to me now and has been for years and years that my family was in fact, pretty rich.
The show on VPT is great fun to watch, it is well constructed and tells a tale that reminisces of simpler times, true Vermonters living fulfilling agrarian lives.
But, from what I remember seeing from my privileged childhood perch, it wasn’t all that simple.



The July heat must be boiling my brain to cause me to write about this lifestyle choice.

When Jeanne and I were planning our new house way back in 1982 the great energy crisis of the mid-seventies had put fuel conservation foremost in everyone’s mind, so we used some of the energy saving techniques that were popular at that time.   Our design called for extra-tight construction coupled with lots and lots of insulation. Also we sited the house with a southern exposure just below the crest of a hill so it would have protection from heat-robbing wind.  To heat our new home we wanted to rely on our own renewable wood supply coupled with a simple passive solar collection system (but that’s another story).  woodstove

It all works rather well: wood fires give us a warm, dry home in the dead of winter.  We feed two small air-tight stoves, one in the cellar the other in our living room, all day and into each evening with chunks of firewood.

Heating our house this way has given us a sense of self-reliance even though it is hard work.  woodpileGetting a supply of dry firewood ready is a time-honored yearly chore practiced by folks like us throughout the northern tier of states.  Gas or oil fired heat is what everyone else uses and we do have a minimal back-up oil furnace, just in case, which supplies our domestic hot water and can keep the house above freezing.

I don’t have exact figures but would guess that wood burning amounts to a very small fraction of the fuel types used in this country, probably less than one percent.  That puts us woodstove users in a very small minority nationwide – but in the majority locally where the smell of sweet wood smoke wafts over our villages and country homes from October to May.

Woodsmoke puts us into the sights of environmentally concerned people who have proved that the smoke is less than desirable, even a pollutant!.  The result of their activism requires new woodstoves to have catalytic afterburners installed, similar to those on vehicles, to burn up toxic particles before they spew out the chimney.  The addition of catalytic converters was good because not only do they reduce smoke toxicity but they capture more usable heat in the process.  Our next woodstove will have a converter.

Wood pellet stoves are another home heating device worth mentioning.  Trees of lesser commercial value, usually white pine and other softwoods, are ground up and pressed into small pellets, similar to animal feed. The pellets are slowly fed onto a ceramic combustion plate in an air-tight stove where they burn briskly under a forced air blast.  It’s a good system but relies on electricity to make it work.  The best part about pellet stoves are the pellets, which come in weatherproof plastic bags that you buy from a dealer and dump them a bag or two at a time into a hopper and that’s that.  Apparently there is little ash and not much smoke, just a lot of controlled heat.

Our heat comes from harvesting a dozen trees each year from our woodlot plus buying a load from the local wood guy.  Our own woodlot is inexhaustible – as long as we only supply ourselves.  We split it, stack it and all winter long carry it indoors to burn.  It’s not for everyone but we like it and will go on doing it until we’re just too old for the effort.



Renewable woodlot management.

Maple sugar groves.



more wood & politics

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Great weather today, lots of sun and heat.  Thunderstorms are predicted for this afternoon.

I must have overdone it yesterday cutting firewood because I’ve felt it since: Sore stomach muscles last night and a painful stitch in my side this morning.  My powerful 056 Stihl chainsaw was fine thirty years ago but now it’s just too heavy for my old bones.  The smaller and much lighter Poulan saw is fine on limbs and small trees but doesn’t cut the larger logs very well.  The big Stihl will chomp through a 14 inch thick log without any strain – it’s just me.


U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, the only Vermonter running for president…

Bernie has been our favorite politician of any stripe for many years and, now that he is in the national arena in a big way, politics has become far more interesting. Bernie’s message, for those who may not know, has not wavered in all the years and different offices he’s attained. It’s a social and reasonable message which makes sense to most Vermonters who have watched in disgust as the country plunged deeper and deeper into authoritarianism, corporate-led money worship, and the politicization of religion.  All factors leading to the despair of ordinary citizens.

Trash Talk!
Trash Talk !

I am not speculating that even if Bernie won, things would immediately turn humanistic but that the turn would have an eventual chance.  The campaign will be an ugly one, no doubt of that, but if anyone is able to take the heat it’s Bernie Sanders.


Jeanne, my wife, is on the road to recovery after battling Lyme disease since the beginning of July.  She still has a couple weeks of antibiotic treatment to go but her appetite’s returned and she is gradually taking back control of her household – pushing me back to my place.  Cooking is still my domain, and she seems to appreciate my doing it, however I don’t cook very ‘heart-healthy’, so I anticipate losing my job there as well.

Off Nevis. Feb. 2015
Off Nevis. Feb. 2015

Keeping house is an all consuming job and she’s welcome to take it back – that way I can get back to my boat!

sickness, health and wood

It came as a surprise, suddenly my new web server that had taken almost a month to set up went dark, no access, no explanation.  And none needed, really, because it’s always operator error, always.  So, a lot more time was spent and now the site is back up.  For how long, no one knows.

Summer’s half-way indicator.

For the second, or maybe even a third time Jeanne contracted Lyme disease from the deer ticks that live in abundance in the woods and fields around our house up here in Ira.  This time it’s been a bear.  She ran a high fever for two weeks and had no appetite, a bad case of trots and aches and pains all over.  It hasn’t completely gone away and its been twenty-one days today.  The only good thing is that the doctor prescribed an antibiotic early, even before they had a positive diagnosis and that, we hope, will beat the bug.  Lyme has some ugly and debilitating results if left untreated and treatment has to be started as soon as possible to be effective.  It has become a real epidemic in New England and should get a lot more medical attention, I feel, than it has received.

Walkabout, our sailboat, sits alone these days out on Lake Champlain with no one to sail her.  We want to get back aboard, and will as soon as we can.  There is a whole month of summer left and another after that before she has to come out of the water for the winter.

Firewood, they say, warms you twice. When you carry it, and when you burn it.

With winter coming I’ve been playing lumberjack as often as I can with six trees lopped off and cut into stove length blocks waiting to be split.  It takes a dozen moderate size ash, oak or cherry trees to provide us enough firewood each year, about two and a half cords, a four by four by eight foot stack x 2.5. That’s a lot of wood – and sweat.