Hand Built Soapstone Heater

Hand Built Soapstone Heater

Scott’s Heater Design

scotts heaterSince there’s been a particular interest in freestanding soapstone heaters recently, with the launch of our new Web site, we thought we’d feature one of our signature pre-cut soapstone heaters, most originally dubbed, “Scott’s Heater.” The jury is still out on an official name, but for now, it suits it quite well considering Scott’s heater was designed and built by our very own, Scott Barden. It is entirely handmade using firebrick and cast components for the core and soapstone as the veneer. Scott’s father, Albie, has documented and explained the evolution of this heater in detail below, in hopes to shed some light on Scott’s design.

Scott’s home, when purchased, needed a great deal of renovation. Scott and his wife, Cate, and friend and family have been steadily working on the house for the last few years. Before their second child, Oliver, now 5, was born, all the lead paint inside the house was removed and the floors and ceiling and walls were refinished and repainted. Scott designed and fabricated all new trim and replacement windows were installed. He rewired the house and also blew in cellulose insulation in all the walls and attic. He also designed and fabricated a complete set of hardwood kitchen cabinets.

Soapstone for the new kitchen counters has been waiting patiently in our stone yard for a few years now, and will remain there until they are ready for that project. Scott and friends also put on all new raised seam galvanized steel roofing, a new foundation and bulkhead under a portion of the house that had no foundation. Just completed in this new foundation portion of the house is a family hobby and playroom where art and sewing and other craft projects can be carried on. There is a new rear entrance and the other two thirds of the rear of the house, previously unoccupied, is slowly being transformed on two levels into a new family room on the first floor and a master bedroom and master bath on the second floor. A sagging and tired garage has been saved and moved away from the house on to a new pad and the backyard has been contoured to move waterway from the house through a long swale in the Spring time.

heater base

As a masonry heater designer and builder, Scott wanted to create something beautiful but not too large for his modest living room to act as a primary wood heat source with the existing oil boiler in the basement serving as a back up. The only location that worked for the design and placement of a masonry heater was directly above the oil boiler, which would have been prohibitively expensive to move. Scott decided, therefore, to design a masonry heater that could stand on the wooden floor above the oil burner and not require a full foundation below it. He, therefore, created a heater on stone legs five or six inches tall and on top of the base slab for the heater put in a three inch thick layer of structural insulation (Skamol) to keep heat from radiating down to the floor. He also set four large two foot square granite tiles underneath the heater as a hearth for further protection from any heat and sparks. In the basement he installed a few “lolly columns” and a pair of four by four support beams on top of the columns and beneath the floor joists, so that none of the weight of the heater would put any pressure on the floor.

small soapstone heater designScott decided to build the soapstone heater out of large elements with elegant detailing on the corners and edges, a labor intensive, but very beautiful approach to heater design and construction. All the detailing was done in a series of steps with small and large carbide tipped router blades. When the fast moving router would occasionally chip out a piece deeper than intended, he would carefully cut out the chip and epoxy in a new piece of stone and retool it so that the finished look was flawless.

Most of our heater work with Finnish Fireplaces includes an ash chamber and a small grate on the floor. In Scott’s design, with a need to limit the overall height of the unit and with a nod to German and Austrian “Grundofen” design (with no grate and no compulsory ash box), Scott built the firebox without a grate or ash drawer. He also decided to add a secondary air source over the fire after seeing photos that Albie had taken while in Holland, of the work there of Fetze Techlar. In the rear of the heater Scott installed a two inch i.d. pipe and draft control and created a number of channels on the back sides of the firebrick firebox to bring this air in and distribute it over the fire through a number of small ports.

chimney installationThe design has a main firebox and three horizontal runs or chambers above the firebox before exiting out the top rear of the heater into a Class A chimney connection elbow mounted on the wall. This Class A chimney then runs up through a closet in the dining room and into the attic space. In the attic, Scott and Albie took down the existing chimney and cast a new concrete cantilevered slab that accommodated both the exiting single flue from the furnace as well as the second flue from the wood burner into a new two flue chimney section which Albie and Scott carried through the roof, flashed with stepped lead flashing and then capped with Scott’s elegant skew cut granite.

The family fires the stove once or twice a day in cold weather, usually running air through the door and a bit around the door to get the fire up to temperature. Once the coals reach a certain stage, the secondary air is opened and the door tightly closed and the fire then burns as a gasifier with beautiful clear flames and little charcoal combustion. This fire can then last two or three hours. When the fire is out, as it always is before they go to bed, everything is shut down and the damper for the system is closed to lock in the heat. The little heater will radiate heat for twelve hours or longer in milder weather. As the house grows, this one heater will not be enough to heat the entire home and Scott has a second unit cut out here at the shop which may go into the other end of the home in the newly restored family room when that is finished in the future.

scotts heater

Scott’s heater was the first unit of this sort that he had designed or built. Since then we have built a few more. Two of them have been slightly higher and included upper chamber ovens. Last Spring, Albie designed a heater based on Scott’s measurements and built it in a hands-on workshop for Marty Cain in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Marty’s heater was built with a large number of much smaller pieces than Scott’s original unit resulting in a very different aesthetic. Both are quite beautiful. In Marty’s heater, the secondary air intake was increased by at least a factor of four to give a much more generous supply of secondary air, delivered to the firebox in a manner similar to Scott’s original unit. Marty has been using her new heater all winter to heat her cottage in Black Mountain and reports great success and satisfaction with the heater and the secondary air design.

Scott’s heater is a wonderful design for a smaller home of 1000-1200 square feet and a great design for a retrofit to be placed on a combustible floor. It is a simple matter with the legs and insulation designed into the stove, to create a safe and structurally sound heater installation using ceramic or stone tiles on the floor beneath the heater and lolly columns in the basement to support the floor. Because we pre-cut the materials for the outside and the inside of the heater here at our shop, an installation of this heater can be done in about three days. The exit can be on the rear or the top.

We do welcome any questions and comments and interest in this heater design.

Please feel free to call us at (207) 474-7465 or to fill out our contact form for more information.