Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Building and Managing a Fire in a Wood-Burning Kitchen Stove


By Mary D. Chambers, B.S., A.M.
Portland Stove Foundry
Associate Editor of American Cookery
Author of Principles of Food Preparation, One-Piece Dinners, Etc., Etc., Etc.
Original 1925 Edition

In one of the comedies of a generation ago there is a love scene in which the hero picks up a leathery looking object and makes a show of trying to bend it over his knee.

“What is it?” he asks.

The maid hangs her head in embarrassment, but replies courageously, “It’s a pie, I made it.”

“I’ll eat it!” exclaims the delighted lover.

But the lady, with an eye to the future, recovers the pie and persuades the youth to prove his valor in less hazardous ways.

Baking a crisp, juicy pie or a deftly browned loaf of bread or managing a Thanksgiving dinner is a worthwhile accomplishment. The kitchen range is close to the center of the home. It not only provides the main sustenance of life, but needed warmth for winter’s cold and plentiful hot water to encourage the highly regarded virtue of cleanliness.

wood-burning   stoves
Victorian Home Magazine.
June 2006. p 59.

Hundreds of cookbooks and collections of recipes of famous chefs witness the desire for variety in palatable and wholesome dishes. The implements of cooking have made equally rapid strides until they approach close to perfection. But a recipe book and the finest equipped kitchen in the world do not make a cook. A good cook has learned how to handle her range so that it does her bidding without effort or “off days.” And the cookbooks do not tell her. There seems to be very little help for those who are making their first acquaintance with a modern range. This booklet is an introduction to your stove-just a few hints to make the acquaintance ripen more rapidly and help you to a fuller enjoyment of the hours spent in the kitchen.

wood burning   stoves

Good Time Stove Company Archive. © 2006.


Glenwood C A good modern range is designed to get the greatest cooking and heating value out of the flue used. When the range and chimney draft are right, a properly controlled fire wiIl do all the work required, without wasting fuel.

It is therefore necessary to bear in mind that the first problem of better baking is an understanding of the fire. If a match is lighted, the flame shoots upward. The hot blaze causes a DRAFT, drawing fresh air from below and supplying the oxygen necessary for combustion. The range simply makes use of this basic principle on a large scale.

To start the fire, then, have on hand plenty of free-burning fuel-dry paper and woodcut small. A folded newspaper will not burn freely, but a few sheets lightly twisted make a good first layer. Then a moderate supply of kindling wood, lay in loosely.

Before lighting, open the door or slide under the fire, also the direct draft to the chimney (over the oven) and the check slide at the base of smoke pipe and also the damper in the smoke pipe. The purpose is to promote a free passage of air up through the firebox to the chimney by the most direct route.

Remember that no stove has a draft of itself. The draft is furnished by the chimney through the stovepipe, which obviously must be tight in all its joints. Light the fire from below and allow it to get a good start. If it burns too slowly, it needs more oxygen, supplied by opening the door wide under the fire. If it burns too fast, it wiII produce more smoke than the chimney can draw off and the excess wiII be thrown out into the room. Partly closing the door under the fire will retard it. (The first fire in a new range usually causes a little surface smoke and oily odor. This is harmless and soon passes off).

Before applying coal, add a little more kindling. The grate should be well covered with a brisk fire, both to support and ignite the coal evenly and to prevent waste through the grate.

Never use kerosene to quicken a slow fire.

When the coal fire has a good start the oven damper may be closed.

The process of keeping up a good coal fire is merely one of adding more fuel, and occasionally “shaking down” to remove the ashes under the coal.

Do not allow ashes to collect close up under the grate. In fact, this is about the only way a grate is damaged in ordinary use.

Some housekeepers, who depend upon the kitchen heating adjoining rooms or for continuous hot water, maintain the same coal fire for months at a time.

When not in use for cooking, the oven door may to help heat the adjoining rooms.


Jubilee Crawford If the draft of air through the firebox continues unchecked, the fuel soon burns out, and the top of the range gets red hot-a bad thing for the stove.

This may be accomplished in various ways-by closing tight the door and slide under the fire-by partially closing the damper in the stovepipe or pushing in the slide near the stove pipe collar on top of the range-by opening the slide in the broiler door at the end of the range over the fire- or by tipping the lids or covers over the fire. The chimney keeps pulling for air and reducing the amount of chimney allowing the air to rush in over the fire, instead of through it checks the fire.

Closing the damper over the oven also checks the degree, but the real purpose of this damper is to send the heat around the oven on its way to the chimney.


Cabinet Glenwood The range should have a firebox large enough to keep a coal fire over night. Under proper damper control it will smolder all night and have sufficient life to rekindle quickly in the morning. Then, too, it requires far more fuel to start new fore frequently keep and old fire. If it is found that the fire does not keep over night, the trouble is due to one of two things. Either the draft is too strong, causing the fire to burn out, or too weak, causing the fire to die for lack of air.

No directions can be given in advance to cover every case, because chimney drafts vary so much, but there is some happy medium that can be determined by a little experiment. Generally speaking, the slide in the broiler door should be open at night and the slide under the smoke collar should be pushed to the left to some extent.

In any case, it is essential in the morning to get rid of quite a large body of ashes that has accumulated in the firebox. At least one-half and perhaps two-thirds of the contents of the fire box usually consists of ashes and coals which give no heat, and must be removed every morning to re-establish a good fire for baking. A half revolution of the dock ash grate wiII usually do this very nicely, and in fact this grate is designed for this particular purpose. If a stove is equipped with a plain grate, considerable shaking is necessary. The triangular grate may be handled similarly to the dock ash grate, turning one-third or two-thirds or even sometimes a full revolution.

The ashes should be removed from the ash pit or pan, both to improve the draft and to prevent injury to the grate.

It would be difficult to over-emphasize the trouble that can be avoided by a regular and systematic cleaning out of ashes and dying embers under the coal. A fire may look bright on top and yet be almost out. Its body of clinkers and ashes has little heating value and unless there are enough live coals on top to rekindle easily, it is better judgment to dump the fire and start new.

Naturally a deep coal fire will do more work than a shallow fire. Once well built up, a deep fire can be maintained more easily and with less fuel than a fire that half fills the firebox. However, the box should not be filled above the top of the bricks, as there is danger of overheating and warping the lids.

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