Cookstoves: How and Why

The sound of wood cracking against an ax, the hollow thuds of the blocks hitting the ground, the popping and hissing of evaporating moisture as the fire begins in the stove, and the unmistakable smell of burning wood as its warmth engulfs everything around it and ushers winter out the door, where it belongs.

Using a wood burning stove is a staple of country life that, for many people, goes back generations. For good reason, too: It’s hard to beat the ease of use and reliability of a woodstove. Cut the wood, put it in the firebox, start the fire, and before too long you’ve got flames licking the edges of the window and heating your home. It may take more effort to start a fire than to turn a knob and wait for the heat to come on, but the beauty of a stove is in the control it allows. You provide your own fuel, decide when and how to burn it, and in the end you get the satisfaction of self-sufficiency. The amount of money you save by using wood heat over gas or electric is nothing to scoff at either.

However, there’s another kind of stove you don’t hear much about: The cookstove.

Waterford Stanley Cookstoves by Obadiah's - Cookstove Community

The Waterford Stanley Cookstove.

A cookstove features a firebox not unlike a standard woodstove. Adjacent to that, however, is a full-fledged oven. The oven functions like a normal kitchen stove, with one key difference: All of its heat is drawn from the nearby firebox via simple systems within the design of the stove. By allowing the smoke and heat from the firebox to filter around the oven before exiting via the chimney, a cookstove can effectively cook whatever is in the oven. Chances are, if you can cook it on an electric or gas stove, you can cook it on a cookstove.

Kitchen Queen Cookstoves - Cookstove Community

The Kitchen Queen Cookstove.

For example, take the Kitchen Queen cookstove. As you can see in the diagram above, heat from the fire box is directed beneath the oven, up the opposite side, across the cook top, and finally out the chimney. In doing this, the stove works with convection; remember, cold air naturally sinks and hot air rises. By directing the heat from the fire in a natural direction around the stove, the stove is able to raise the temperature of the oven quickly and effectively. Not all cookstoves work in the same manner as the Kitchen Queen, but it’s a fine example of the ingenuity involved in modern designs.

Kitchen Queen food by Rod Maupin - Cookstove Community

Cooking in a cookstove.

Cookstoves might seem like antiquated technology, but they have come a long way in the last few decades- not just mechanically, but aesthetically.

La Nordica Rosa Maiolica - Cookstove Community

The La Nordica Rosa Maiolica.

Today you can find cookstoves that wouldn’t seem out of place inside a classy 21st century home, as well as ones that hearken back to the days-of-old in style yet retain a modern internal system. They’re produced by everyone from high-end Italian manufacturers to the American Amish community, with as much variety as one would expect from such a diverse cross-section of society.

In combining your heat source with your oven, you’re not just getting a fun new way to cook. You’re getting a cheaper, more reliable way to live simply. Cookstoves tend to be more expensive than regular stoves, sure, but what you save in the long run by not running separate sources of heat and cooking will more than make up for the difference, and their usefulness in an emergency is undeniable.

JA Roby Vulcain - Cookstove Community

JA Roby Vulcain Cookstove.

Think about it: If you’ve ever experienced a power outage for an extended period of time, chances are you were limited to whatever was in the pantry to hold you over while you waited for the power company to fix the problem. With a cookstove in your house, you wouldn’t have to worry about heat and you could continue cooking without a second thought.

Not only can you cook on a cookstove, but many stoves have an additional water-heating function. By installing steel coils in the firebox and connecting them to a water reservoir, a cookstove can heat hot water while in use. Using basic science (hot water rises), this water can be pumped into either the reservoir on the tank or a remote reservoir somewhere else in the house. No pumps or fancy gadgets, you just heat up the stove and the stove heats the water.

Heat your home, cook your food, and create hot water. The benefits of being a cookstove user seem endless, but when you get down to it the best thing about a cookstove is that, in taking one into your home, you’re taking on responsibility for yourself. And out here in the country, that’s the best way to live.

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