Wood Stoves: Building vs. Purchasing

A lot of people are reverting to burning wood these days, and as long as you have the saws, splitter, truck, and a good back it can pay off. They typically sell for between $5-8,000 and are the free standing outdoor units. Of course you also need a good source for wood and the time involved to make it pay off. If you live in rural America it can be well worth doing. If you live in town, well, that’s a whole different ball game given the current regulatory environment.

Seven years ago, even though we do live in town, I decided to jump to the wood stove market and see what I could come up with. The existing gas boiler system still had the original cast iron radiators and was going to need replaced In the near future. So I did some research and went shopping.

The stove needed to have a small foot print and would have to heat over 2500 sq ft of living area and that complicated things somewhat, but wasn’t really a game changer in the long run. A company by the name of Harman had just what I was looking for, and I bought one of there SF-160 units. The stove is only 2′ square and stands 46″ high. Just what I was looking for.

I poured a slab on the existing concrete for it to sit on and then plumbed it into the loop along side the gas unit which would be used as a reserve unit. I sweated in some additional valves and copper and it made for a very nice setup. The existing chimney (27′ out) was in good shape but I still put a pipe liner in it to be on the safe side of things. I also mounted an 80mm equipment fan in the draft bay and an additional process meter along side the Johnson controls.It amounted to a pretty good chunk of change by the time I bought the Stihl saws and got a splitter built.


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Now lets take a look at the choice to just build something from scratch. Over the years I’ve seen some pretty wild stuff. From 55 gal. drums welded together to well, you name it. On occasion however you run across somebody that does have the skill and expertise to actually put a nice working system in place. We’ll take a look at one of them.

The stove was hand crafted from the ground up and is quite impressive to say the least. It’s a boiler system also and an outdoor unit built with high quality materials with all the bells and whistles. The door alone is made out of 1/2″ steel and latches around a roller bearing, it has both draft and flu controls, and a blower in the system also. All are controlled by individual process controllers which provides for ultimate control of the system. It’s padded with boiler insulation and will have aluminum skin on top of that. Trust me, this guy has just enough engineer in him to make stuff happen, and not enough to muck things up like some do by over engineering. This is quality workmanship from the ground up and it was a blast helping him out on the electrical side of the project.

As to the total cost, well, excluding labor, it was nowhere near what you’d pay for a manufactured stove. So if you’ve got the time and skills it is something to consider.

Nice job E, we’ll give her a  shake down cruise this weekend…


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The Arc Flash Incident

This was a very close call and if my timing would have been off by for more than 3 sec I wouldn’t be posting about ittoday. The power generation plant I took care of had two out of the three of these switchgear units built by ABB. They were never put into production due to problems they were having keeping the SF6 gas in them used to suppress arcing.

They made several attempts to rectify the problem to no avail. Basically management dropped the ball on that one and I had no choice but continue using the gear even though they were aware of the safety risks It was a 13Kv system which is highly dangerous even on a good day with good equipment. Neither did they supply the personal gear usually required to work on high voltage systems. In retrospect I should have went thru the legal channels with OSHA, but it would have made quite the stink. The company usually found a way around most of OSHA’s guidelines so I didn’t even bother and needed the job.

I had to roll the gear in and out by hand and every time those knives were opened or closed without SF6 in the switch chambers we were pushing it.

The oilfield had miles of the 13Kv grid and trees threw the lines and other problems were quite common, nothing but hills and trees. On one occasion the field electricians had problems during the night and still hadn’t identified the problem that morning when I showed up. They’d already opened and closed the gear several times and I was next to do it,  they watched the shots on the poles outside for signs of trouble. I didn’t know just how close the grim reaper and I were getting at that point.

I was always pretty nervous around the stuff when they had line problems, so zi was tense to say the least. When I rolled the knives in I heard what I thought was on of the HV fuses blow, and instantly headed for the door out of the building. I covered the 15 foot or so as fast as possible and just as I reached the doorway the gear exploded. The blast tossed me face down outside in the rocks. If I’d have hesitated 2 or 3 sec the arc flash would have caught me full on in the face. My instincts proved true that day for sure.

The heavy gauge cabinet top just folded up around the 4″ conduit, blew the doors off and puffed the whole thing like a toad frog.


I was head level with the top of the cabinet when I rolled the knives in (pic on the right). The arc flash alone would have killed me if the doors blowing off hadn’t. Close call for sure.

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This is whats was left of the switch chamber. The shrapnel all missed me.

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PCB Wall Mosaic

I’ll start re-creating some of my previous post with this one. I had a ton of old computers and other electronics stored that I’ve acquired over the years and decided to scrap most of it. It was all disassembled and I recycled the metal, plastic and CRT’s. I already had plans for all of the old PCB’s and this is the end result. Wall art!

All in all it was a major production and quite time consuming but worked out nicely. It kind of adds a little contrast to the Half Baked Studios and worth the effort. I freed up a lot of storage space, and I actually enjoyed the destructive tear downs.

Click on the thumb nails for 1024×768.

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