The second new product we showcased at the Fair this year is a small, handsome Finnish contra flow modular soapstone heater designed by our friend Glen Overk from Pennsylvania. The stone is from a quarry in Brazil that is owned and operated by a family firm in Vermont, with sales of the units directed from Nova Scotia. We sold two of these new heaters at the Fair and will be installing a third one in our office/showroom this fall. I will report more as our office unit gets up and running.
Our third surprise offering we finished only the day before the Fair. At the Fair we unloaded”fully assembled and standing on four round disc padded legs”our new 28.5″ diameter shiny stainless steel and copper trimmed metal skinned round masonry heater. The new heater, weighing 2500 pounds, is called the “I’ll be A Round” (or Albie A Round”you choose), which we have been designing and wanting to build for three years. The core of the system is based on a tight circular layout of # 2 arch brick, each standing 9″ tall by 4.5″ deep and wider on the outside edge than the inside edge. Tightly laid with a thin joint of Sairset refractory mortar, the arch brick create a 28.5″ outer diameter circle. The firebox is two courses high and sits on a flat laid firebrick floor. Beneath the floor is a three-inch slab of calcium aluminate block insulation made by Skamol. Under the Skamol is a round rimmed l/4″ steel plate, which is supported by the four disc-padded legs, with each disc coming out to the edge line of the heater skin.
Scott recently designed a soapstone heater on legs for his home and, inspired by the work of Fetze Techlar in Holland, created a mold to cast a refractory concrete ceiling with a curved recessed form. This design encourages the gases to turn back into the fire before escaping into the upper part of the heater via the smoke throat. He also added a series of secondary air ports communicating to a single secondary air inlet on the rear and ducted to the ports via a manifold of vertical slots cut into the outside faces of the firebrick firebox and inside the soapstone veneer. Our new round design has a hanging cone-shaped firebox ceiling, which similarly encourages the burning gases traveling up the side walls to turn and come back down toward the coals before exiting through the small central exhaust tube into the next chamber.
An airtight Finnish Wood Heat cast iron door retrofitted to a lovely round mount steel frame is gasketed and screwed to the fire box door opening and sleeves over the stainless metal skin. Three secondary air tubes with adjustable draft controls enter the skin at the firebox base and run up like children’s periscopes in slots chased into the outer edges of six firebrick. The tubes enter the firebox right at the ceiling for secondary gas combustion. Kudos again to Fetze for his work with refractory ceiling shapes and secondary air tubes. Above the main chamber are four more heat exchange chambers, each getting progressively shorter and each having both a vertical baffle and a gasketed clean out plug set into the firebrick circles. The heater exits at the rear near the top but could also exit directly off its top. We crated the heater here at the office with two 5″ thick double doughnut bubble wrap sleeves and a custom plywood box.
David Belanger, our long time friend, masonry heater owner and sheet metal genius, crafted the veneer and installed it just before we loaded the trailer for the Fair on Thursday. Only at the Fair did we peel off the white plastic covering the metal skin and see how beautiful the “I’ll be A Round” is. Even before we fired it, the gleaming cylinder with three copper bands created a buzz at the Fair. A thirty-year veteran metal stove builder and artist, David McLaughlin drove up in a Fair Volunteer golf cart and couldn’t peel himself away from the stove and told us how much he liked it. He came back again throughout the Fair to check on our progress with the firing and to admire it.
We built the break-in fires small in the never-fired masonry core and produced enough smoke to convince us to wait until Friday evening to do a serious burn. We did two small burns and noted as the stove heated up that we were driving out lots of moisture at the flue connection at the top rear. Dripping from this point continued for a day. Cate and our grandchildren slept in our big booth tent and kept watch over the heater for the first night. We could see the flame following the intended turn down curvature of the cone shaped ceiling, but a large amount of burning gases were also rushing into the next chamber, which is one brick tall, and continuing to burn there. Friday night, I rooted around in the barn and found an 8″ or 9″ round steel plate about 1/8″ thick and set it out on the lawn next to my truck. The next morning Scott quickly drilled three holes in the plate and bent three motorcycle spoke hangers for the plate. At the Fair we hung the plate carefully just below the exhaust tube in the ceiling and lit the unit up again. With a warm and dry firebox, the stove produced much less moisture and the rear connector passed smoke through it without any dripping. A small drip continued down the left face of the heater coming out by the middle copper band until the masonry was finally completely dry. Moisture in the smoke was not causing the dripping, instead it was coming from moisture in the bricks and mortar inside.
The flame in the Saturday morning fire splashed against the plate and stayed longer than before in the firebox and the heater burned cleanly and well. By the end of the day, even with the fire long since out, the outer wall was dry and still accumulating heat from inside and passing it through to the skin. We laid a protective collar of orange squash a foot out from the base to keep people away from casually touching the heater. All weekend long, viewers wondered if the “I’ll be A Round” was a new water heater. Many could not imagine that it was full of masonry, but everyone agreed that it is beautiful. Frequently, I would hold my hand on the steel plate defining the base of the stove to show that the temperature there was barely warm.
Fully assembled and on legs, the “I’ll be A Round” can be rolled on plywood into an indoor space and will sit on a wooden floor protected by a thin sheet of stainless or copper. We will likely install the new soapstone modular heater in our office where there is a perfect space for it. The “I’ll be A Round” will burn and be tested in our restored insulated and plastered exposed bean timber frame barn shop. We expect that it will be able to heat a well insulatged space of l000 square feet or more with twice daily short burns. We’ll play with it all winter and report to you again soon on how it is doing.
All three units are back home again. The Provence is ready to bake on Friday in Scott and Cate’s yard. The Castleton soapstone heater and the round water tank space ship cylinder are both in their packing crates waiting for our Fall installation schedule to open up for them. But first we have to bring in the rest of the potatoes, pick the basil for pesto production and make one last dash to the North Woods this weekend to see the moose in rut and to try to catch a few land locked salmon.