Friday, November 17, 2017

Masonry Heater is Done

My friend Andy came up from Chicago to lay the fieldstone I'd picked and prepped around the masonry heater.

Next spring I plan on applying a clear sealer to the heater so the the colors - blues, greens, yellows, reds, white, oranges, browns - of the stones "pop". You can get a sense of what that will look like by simply spraying the stones with water, which I did in the photos below.

(Click on any of the photos to make them bigger.)

The firebox side, showing the clean stone.

How the stone looks when wet.

Oven side, dry clean stone.

Oven side, wet stone.
 All these stones were handpicked from our fields. Even after pressure washing them it wasn't obvious what they'd ultimately look like. I'm really happy with how it's turned out. Thanks Andy!

There's still one big test to come - Does it work? Early signs are promising, as there's a nice draft from the chimney.

We finished about a week ago, and the mortar still needs to cure for another 10 days until I can start curing it with a series of small fires.  That'll take another week. Meaning I can't really use it to heat the house for a few more weeks.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Masonry Heater Update #2

I've got the precast downdraft channels attached to the sides and the clay flue liner run from the base of the heater to where it starts going up to the roof.

Andy is supposed to come here in the next day or two and help me clad the whole thing with the fieldstone that I've pressure washed.

I picked up a load (~1000 lbs) of masons sand, now in the back of my truck, and, on one of his trips up here, Dad brought 10 bags of hyrated masons lime .  I'll use a soft mortar - 5 parts sand to 1 part lime - so that when the heater expands/contracts due to fires, it won't crack the mortar between the stones.

 (Click on any image to make it bigger.)

The oven is on the side of the heater away from the camera, opposite the firebox on the right. Exhaust, to the chimney flue, through the 7"x11" hole cut in the gray downdraft channel seen in the lower left corner.

Fibreglass will act as an expansion joint. Mortar from the fieldstone is laid up against it. Once fired, the heater will burn it off, leaving an 1/8" gap between the firebrick core and the fieldstone. This should minimize cracking from different expansion rates.   The concrete block supports the back edge of the limestone bench top.

You can see two of the clean outs in the 8"x12" tile. There are two more on the backside of the heater. Fieldstone will be laid up the front face of the tile and a 2" limestone cap will rest on the concrete block and the fieldstone to create the top of the heated bench.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

My 70 lb Lapdog

I spent the day trying to fix a tractor, not working on my masonry heater (among other things). The days go by quickly, filled with a seemingly never ending list of projects. Its hard to plan as very often I'm forced to completely drop what I'm doing due to circumstances beyond my control. All I can do is start up with another task.

It's getting cold in the house - no heat. Maybe in a couple weeks I can finish up the heater. Still need to build the chimney and clad the thing with fieldstone.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Masonry Heater Progress

 Some of the smaller rocks that we've picked were dumped near the house earlier this summer. They still have a bit of dirt on them, which I'm now cleaning with our balky pressure washer. The motor surges and eventually dies.

The internet has a solution, which has worked, somewhat.
The idle (pilot/lo) circuit in the carb is gummed up. What happens is when the engine achieves the desired rpm's, the governor closes the throttle. At small partial throttle, the engine must run on the idle/transition jets. Since they're obstructed by varnish, it starves for fuel. Rpm's drop, the throttle opens, the engine now draws from the less obstructed main jet, rpm's recover, throttle closes, repeat ad nauseum.

2 choices. Remove the "main jet" from the carb and clean it again (special attention to drillings along the side of the jet), and poke out the idle circuit while you're in there..... Or:

Add "Sea Foam" to the tank at double the recommended ratio on the bottle. The stuff is good at removing varnish, and in a little while the washer should be happy again.


 I still have a lot to do on the heater. Finish up the core, another 6 courses, then put the downdraft channels on either side. Next would be building the clay chimney, which is routed through the 6 ft long bench and 9 ft up to the ceiling where it transitions to a double wall metal chimney and goes through the second floor and the attic/roof.

Finally, the whole core/bench gets clad with the field stone. 

I was hoping to get a little help from my friend Andy. I'm not sure if he'll be able to do so. In either case it'll be tough to get it done in the next month given all the other stuff that I need to do.

 Wikipedia has a good entry on Masonry Heaters if you want to learn more.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Fall Tillage

(Click on either picture to make it bigger.)

Tilling ground uncovers a lot of rocks, ones that are big enough to do damage to planting and harvesting equipment, so they need to be picked up and dumped at the edge of the field. It's an ongoing problem. There are large piles of rocks all around the border of the field, put there in previous years, decades. I think the land was first tilled in the late 1800's, so there are probably piles dating back that far.

Because I was tired of lugging rocks up the steps of the tractor and putting rocks in the cab, then finding the cab floor full before I could get to the end of the row to dump them, I decided to make a "rock box". I found a picture online of one that another farmer had made and using his basic idea put one together from steel angle and plate. The task was complicated by the fact that there are cast iron weights, 600 lbs, already attached to the front of the tractor.  (Keeping the front end down when doing heavy tillage is an issue with tractors.) The welded unit I made is bolted to the tractor, in two relatively manageable pieces, so it can be removed when its not needed.

By running the disk over this field I'm hoping to do several things. One is to hasten the breakdown of the clover and oat material/residue. The disk chops, and to a certain degree buries, the material. I'll still have to do some tillage next spring as I need a relatively smooth seed bed to let me row cultivate next spring after I plant. Too much residue will plug up the row cultivator.

Another goal is to get as many existing seeds to germinate this fall, causing there to be fewer seeds in the soil longer term to interfere with the crops I want to grow. Any time you disturb the soil you'll get dormant seeds to sprout, something that is never going to change in an organic row cropping system.

No till is an intriguing option, but its next to impossible to do in an organic system. No till relies on herbicide, instead of mechanical tillage, to control weeds. Soil is conserved at the cost of a higher chemical footprint.


After I see my videos I usually want to edit them for some reason or another. It seems I'm always pressed for time, and don't have much interest in learning how to use the software, to make changes to them. In the video above I noticed that I said the noise coming off of the disk was due to hitting buried rocks. That's only partially true; the linkages in the disk are loose, and the hitch pin rattles as well.  But trust me, plenty of the sounds are rocks.

As far as other corrections I'll refer you to our customer service department.