In a world of complete automation and instant gratification, Bruce, Lehman’s Senior Buyer, has chosen a different way to heat his family’s home: with wood. He speaks about his daily winter routine with a certain fondness:
Get up, go down to the basement and stir the hot bed of coals with a poker. Open the damper all the way, so the stove is burning as hot as possible, and fill it with wood. Before leaving for work, add more wood to fill it up again and damp it down so it burns slower (since the family will be out of the house all day at work and school). In the afternoon, fill the stove again and keep it going through the evening. Before going to bed, pack it full and damp it down once more.
How It All Started
Bruce didn’t grow up in a wood-heating family, but when he and his wife settled in her hometown of tiny Kidron, Ohio, one of their first houses had an old wood stove in it. The house also had electric baseboard heat, which was quite expensive.
“We thought, ‘we should look into burning wood, and get a better stove,” Bruce remembered. So, he walked into Lehman’s stove department (this was long before he worked for Lehman’s) and talked with Jay Lehman, who gave him some words of wisdom.
“He advised me to buy an inexpensive stove to start, to see if I really liked it (burning wood), and that was really good advice.”
Jay helped Bruce select the right stove for his current needs, and from there Bruce said he learned about burning wood largely from the staff at Lehman’s, including the installers who delivered his new stove.
Bruce stressed the absolute necessity of safely installing a wood stove. A previous owner of their house had improperly installed the old wood stove, and even after Bruce thought the situation had been remedied, the ramifications eventually caused a house fire. It was a very scary experience and a definite ‘fail,’ “but at least it wasn’t my fail,” he said.
A few years later, when the couple built a new house, they designed it around an extra-large woodstove, which is in the basement. The stairwell of the house runs directly up the middle for maximum convection heat.
But, why? Why build a brand-new house designed around a wood-burning stove? Why go to all the effort of chopping, stacking and seasoning wood every summer and faithfully hauling it and tending the fire every winter? For Bruce and his family, there are two main reasons: a comforting heat and a comforting process.
“My wife really enjoys this type of heat,” he said, “and the fact that there’s a place to go when you’re cold. It’s different than just standing on or near a register – it’s a much more warming heat. It’s cozier. Everyone hangs out in the basement when it’s cold outside.”
In the winter, he said, their basement is very warm, the main floor of the house is comfortable, and the upstairs is cool, which the family prefers for sleeping.
Taking Pleasure in the Process
For Bruce, it’s about enjoying the process, the seasonal and daily routines of making firewood and keeping the stove burning – being connected to the outdoors and the weather.
“I love cutting it, chopping it, stacking it, hauling it. I like the exercise. And, there’s also something about seeing the progress … that was once a log, and now it’s a stack of firewood.”
There is a financial benefit, too, Bruce said; he estimates his family saves upwards of $500 per year on heating costs. Plus, in a cold-weather power outage, they don’t miss a beat – they have no trouble staying warm.
The Right Tools
A couple of trusty hand tools help Bruce keep his woodpiles stocked and his stove going strong. He uses a chainsaw to cut up big logs or fell trees, but a maul does most of the splitting work. When needed, he uses a wedge and a sledgehammer for tough or larger pieces of wood.
“Some people cover their woodpiles, but I don’t. I want it to get the sun and the wind on it,” which helps with seasoning, he said.
“When you get into burning wood, you realize there’s a difference between wet wood and wet wood,” he said. Dry, seasoned wood that’s been rained or snowed on will still burn fine, but damp, unseasoned wood “just smokes.”
“When you get really good at it, you can enjoy the science behind all of it,” Bruce (a former science teacher) said.
So what advice would he give a wood stove newbie, or someone considering heating with wood? The same advice he got from Jay Lehman many years ago: start smart with an economical stove, see if you like it, invest in the right tools, and make sure you have a good source of wood, too. And along the way, don’t forget to enjoy the process.
Editor’s Note: See our huge line of wood stoves, gas fireplaces and wood cookstoves in our giant showroom in our Kidron, Ohio store! Plus, browse our online stoves and accessories at Lehmans.com. Not sure where to start or what you need? Give one of our stove experts a call at 800-438-5346 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We have over 60 years of experience with wood burning stoves!