Tag Archives: wood fired

Rockety Coop ready to roll

coop rocket ready for final layer

I’ve been keeping going back in the barn lately, in amongst all the doings with getting ready for the Farm Tour. With the excuse of having people walking though the barn and not breaking their legs, I figured that I needed to fill the thermal battery as it sits in the doorway connecting the new coop with the rest of the barn. This is, after all, the whole point of where it is sitting. Yesterday before breakfast, it just seemed like the thing to do. It’s funny how hunger comes and goes and the sketchy shaky feeling passes, eventually. coop thermal battery

The pipe in the battery comes out and back with a clean out just after the bend. I don’t think I’ll put the final layer on top of the box until everything gets a whole lot drier. The mix I used to fill the box was 50% unscreened bank sand and 50% unscreened yellow clay. They were both on the moist side from the recent rains so I didn’t add any water. It was only dry mixed and then tamped in around the pipe as the box was filled. Just after the returned pipe rises from the ground, another clean out is added. This will allow a place to get the draft started if their is a problem. coop door stop & chimney

Once the box was filled and tamped, there was still a bit of material left over, so I used it to fill in around the firebox on the other side of the barrel. In order to keep the unmortared bricks from collapsing while I tamed the soil in around them, I simply filled the opening with bricks and a few slivers of wood as a brace. rocket no can filled

It’s pretty neat that there was just exactly enough material to get the box to where it is. In the first image, there is a galvanized can with a lid sitting over the firebox. This will be secured into the floor with it’s bottom removed in order to control the air flow. I don’t have anything like that on the rocket in the Seedhouse and I know that without it the mass will continue to draft and cool. Pretty much defeats the purpose. This way, the lid can be used to either slow or stop the flow completely. The mix that I will use around the large, riser barrel and the smaller can won’t have any lime in it. This way I can get back into it if I need to without it being any harder than it needs to be. This looks to me like a potential drawback to adding the lime into any of the floor, but especially around the stove. Going back into the hardened lime could mean hammer and chisel, instead of just a hose. I’ve got to burry these things far enough into the ground that they can withstand having a goat  (or 3) jump up onto them. I don’t intend to have goats jumping on them. Not at all. But they already do. Viann does anyway. Ann prefers the work deck.

This is all prototype. Every bit of it. Worst case scenario, I can knock the entire rocket riser apart and dig up the firebox and reuse the bricks. It won’t make the barn colder and the chance of it burning down the barn are extremely low already. coop unflat floor

With the floor in this condition, and not having a big new batch of chickens ready to move in, the floor can sit for a while. Or lay. Or whatever a floor does. The walls won’t be doable till fall, or a till the Phrag dies and dries out. Which ever comes first. This will give me a chance to put up the next boxes and such. Perches, exclusion/brooder cages, roof. There is a lot to do before there are chickens sleeping in there at night. There is no door and one of the walls is mostly the remains of a rubber drop tank. It would be nice to have this place livable for birds by winter. This will allow me to clear the main barn for the goats when they won’t want to go out anymore. It might cut down on how often they have chickens standing on them. And pooping on them. Maybe a little.

coop latest hen and chicks

Winter is very much in the air. I know that Montana is Montana, but come on, it’s not even September yet and they are closing roads due to snow?  The front that broke the long ugly heat thing that happened earlier this month smelled of winter. Geese are on the move. Only 1 flock of about 20, not headed south, exactly, but they were moving together. My broodiest hen refuses eggs now. They know that time is short. Fall is coming. As it always does.

Syrupocalypse be damned

While I am the one fully responsible for this spring’s volcanic eruption https://trilliumcenter.org/2016/03/04/syrupocalypse/

I feel like I’m making up for it this week.


I ran the soil through the 1/4″ screen this time. Luckily I had Leah helping pound the stuff into smaller chunks. That took a minute, let me tell you. Hanging in Yaz’s timber framing shop is a quote that makes too much sense.  I’ll butcher it from memory. “Love of a craft is measured by one’s ability to revel in it’s tedium.” I see that and my back aches. I know it’s true. I am objective enough to know just how much I’m able to revel in that tedium on any given day. Luckily, the last 2 days have been one’s where the tedium is well worth it. Even shed a bit of blood.

The mix is the same proportions as before with an addition. 50% local yellow clay/ 50%sand, 2 fat flakes of hay and 2 heaping scoops of lime plaster. The plaster is to start “tightening ” the cob. Or that’s what I’m telling myself. I forced the hay through the 1/2″ screen and discarded the vast majority of the longer and thicker stems. The cob went over the bumpy scratch coat pretty easily. I left the mix a bit on the dry side. The scratch coat was fairly rough so it had plenty to grab onto. Of course the first layer was only on there a day so it hasn’t really had enough time to start drying (read shrinking) Either way, it grabbed on and hasn’t let go yet. The ‘bowties’ seem to be doing their jobs.

The top is made of regular metal roofing that I backfilled under the ribs and secured to the brick with more masonry screws. Not only is it there to hold the pot away from the riser opening, it’s acting as a rain shield for the top of the thing. Not just that, this top is also a chest level razor blade. Or head level for kids. I’m looking for some way to address the sharp horizontal edges. Hopefully the final layer of plaster will be tight enough to serve and I will be able to trim this stationary horizontal guillotine back to a reasonable length.

All the irregularity is gone, replaced with long gently swooping curves. Not so terribly simple as I thought it was. OK, to be fair, I didn’t think curve would be easy. I’ve wrecked enough drywall trying to finish it to know that this stuff is not going to give me any breaks in terms of final surface. That, and gouging the tool into the already smoothed-out cob just past the transition. That’s pretty depressing actually. Feeling the tool turn just a little too much past effective and catching the curve. Digging in just far enough to expose the pebbles and fibers just below the nearly burnished surface. Leaving a hole that it takes 15 or 20 passes to refill with finer materials and leaving no scar. I must have gone around this thing 8x, re-surfaceing again and again. Needless to say, I was dripping with sweat by the end. With all that, the weather reports (and the not so distant booming of lots of thunder) calling for thunderstorms that never unleashed here. Plastic sheet on, plastic sheet off. More disruption of the smooth surface. More strokes.

cooker decoration

Leah graciously agreed to decorate the cooker. She complained that this was only the second time 2nd time she has sculpted like this. The first time being the spiral in the Seedhouse. The question arose as to whether she should build up or cut away. The only caution I saw with cutting in too much was exposing the longer, tougher stems in the scratch coat. She said that she did a little of both. I think it’s quite fabulous. And if this is her 2nd time, I can hardly wait to see what she can do after a few more projects.

cooker with pot

This isn’t the final layer. I still need to put a thin coat of very refined clay and not fiber and a lot more lime plaster and skim it one more time. None of this will be any time soon of course. This stuff dries really slowly here. 87% humidity right now and it never did rain here. The cob, that I used to seal around the bottom of the kiln, is only just now starting to dry out. I probably should have waited for the scratch layer to dry more. Let it crack and deal with the fact that the inner bricks are a single contiguous mass that isn’t going to be shrinking at all thank you very much. The cob is already cracking horizontally, above the firebox. I kind of figured that it would crack there. With the steep transition, I was unable to apply anywhere near as much pressure at that joint. Me thinks, ‘less compression at a really thick spot floating over a 90 deg corner, let’s see what happens.’ Like the adage I picked up the other day, ‘build your barn first!’ Chickens could care less if they are living in a prototype or a finished product. {That’s WAY too abstract for their tiny little brains.} I got the message though. Actually, what I heard, way back in the once ago, was to build the SAUNA first. Instead of last like most folks do. It was 2nd and it’s 3rd incarnation only burned the barn a little bit. Lessons learned. Failure breeds innovation? So yeah, make the worst and most obvious mistakes on things that aren’t quite as important as survival.

My entire life feels like a prototype. I don’t know at what point it will start feeling like I’ve got a handle on things. Leaving public safety constituted my mid-life crisis. I never did pick up my red convertible. Had one all picked out too. Not really.

Accidents Happen

Photo on 7-9-16 at 1.56 PM #2

My new (to me) inexpensive electric kiln was unable to get to temperature for the second time, in spite of having taken the electrical system completely apart, replacing a cooked switch and putting it back together. Which is just as well. The coils were spent. I didn’t buy the kiln (and a spare) for their coils. I wanted the bricks and the steel wrap and kiln furniture. I got a whole lot more than that. To be sure. But it was always about the bricks. Being able to fire the thing as many times as I did was a wholesale boon. But I need a kiln to fire work. It’s that simple. So Thursday morning(7/7), over coffee and the news it became terribly obvious to me that building a wood kiln to fire earthenware was going to be an awful lot of work and that it would never get done if I didn’t go do it. So I did.


The sad part is that I just moved all of the bricks I used, all the shelves, even the kilns, across the street and either into the shop, or behind it in the woods.

Now it’s all sitting in the back yard in a pile. A very orderly pile to be sure. The 2 kilns are largely unchanged besides having their bottoms removed. The 3rd kiln was completely disassembled. I used a portion of the brick creating the sprung arch of the firebox. The 2 solid cement blocks (on each side) are butters for that arch. These soft brick are then covered with a layer of clay brick that were piled in the woods long long ago before any of us were born. The remainder of the soft brick are under each of the kiln bodies. Because the firebox is stepped down from the kiln floor, I only had to set the kiln bodies on 2 courses of brick to make a pass through underneath them. Set in that bottom 2 courses, I left port holes that will be used to stoke each kiln to exact temperature.  Controlling two tubes from a single distant firebox isn’t feasible if I expect any sort of regularity in temperature throughout such a divided kiln. As it turns out, one of the kilns I used (intact) is about 1″ wider than other. Different make and model I guess. So the 2 courses beneath it don’t quite match up. This leaves a lot of air gaps. Rather than try and fill these gaps with more spun silica blanket that I only have a little bit of (thanks Josh) I decided to make a cob mixture and plaster everything in place. I guess it is more of an earthen plaster than cob. There is no organic material in it. Not at this point anyway. Everything is sealed up between the firebox and the 2 kilns. The tiny-ish gaps between some of the bricks will expose the clay/sand to the inside of the kiln. But only a bit. I’m hoping it’s not too much of a problem. Not a terribly big deal as it’s only clay and sand.

When firing wood kilns to higher temperatures than I am going (stone ware/porcelain is a few hundred degrees hotter F than earthenware) every single crack and seam pukes smoke and flames when wood is added and the kiln is plunged into a high carbon, reduction atmosphere.

I toyed around with the idea of taking all the kilns apart and turning them into a dog biscuit shaped cross-draft thingy. That was way way too much more work. And I can still do it if I want. they are intact at this point. I have yet to cut holes in the kiln lids. I don’t have the right materials yet to make both chimneys. I cut the 2 bottoms which were  cracked into something resembling blocks. At this point, 1 chimney is built. I sheathed these brittle cast chunks of spun silica in half of the original steel wrap from part of the kiln that was broken apart.

I have been exchanging emails with the person who’s kiln is my inspiration (at rootedclay.com ) and am amending my chimney plan. The additional weight around a hole, which isn’t meant to be there, causes the lid to weaken, crumble and if left unchecked, collapse into the kiln while it is hot. While the visual image of smoke and fire erupting from the shattered shelves and cups is beautiful in a powerful Oh Bother sort of way, it’s not something I would like to do more than imagine. There are a million million ways to wreck a pot. I’ve found a few of them. Many more will come to light.

As it turns out, this farm seems to be some sort of bed-magnet. I’ve had more beds in this house that I have either never slept on or only slept on for a little while. And I’m not talking about just mattresses. Several of the frames here were just frames when they got here. Futon frames are great for shelving. Frames, in general, are made of metal. At least the long side rails. These are usually angle iron of at least a large enough size to support a chimney make of a little refractory material and steel.

I’m pretty busy for the next little while so it could be a while before I actually get to this. A couple weeks at most I hope. I put  a few pieces of metal roofing on top of the kiln with a bunch of bricks on it to keep the water from hitting the clay/sand. We’ve had a few pretty good downpours the last few days and it’s stayed put. If the wind gusts get too bad, the metal will become airborne guillotines. Not great but there are an awful lot of bricks on there.Photo on 7-9-16 at 1.56 PM

the bench is born

still grinding away at things here.

this week we have a house guest who is more than a little willing to get his hands (and feet) dirty for the cause.

with his help, we have gotten the base layer of the Rocket Stove with Thermal Mass Bench started.

it’s coming along well

we’ve mixed up our very first batch of cob.

(he mixed it with his bare feet!!)

more to come

check out the flicker page for images

detail greenhouse view 3

Let’s make syrup!

Earlier today, after looking at a few more websites and pictures of various rocket stove designs, I got it into my head that I would just go out and make the thing.

Why not?slab

I used a rectangle of cement that was poured by the Drennans, the people who lived here while my dad was growing up.

Just barely legible on the slab is written, “Drennans’ Dogwood Dell”

Anyway, I laid the slab our away from the seed room and started carrying bricks over to it.

Some of these bricks I’ve had for almost 20 years just waiting for the right time and project.base layer

They are mostly fire brick and refractory soft brick, of various shapes and sizes, with a few red brick mixed in.

Directly on the slab I laid a bed of 16 red brick with a row of soft brick along either side. This would be my base.

Why red brick?
I really couldn’t tell you.

Then I ran 3 courses of fire brick in a long skinny rectangle.

 capped fire box

I capped off the fire box with a large fire brick, I have no idea where it came from.


The chimney was proportioned roughly the same size as the firebox opening (which I didn’t like) so I took a red clay chimney tile and set it into the existing opening.

Then I just built up around the tile a couple of layers of fire brick, switching to soft brick until the final course, which is one level above the top of the chimney tile.

let'g get it going
The entire lower section was then covered in soft brick, 1 layer along the sides and back and 2 layers over the fire box.
4 pieces of broken kiln shelf are used as the supports for the pot with the syrup in it.
At 1:00pm Leah lit the first fire.
It was about 50 degrees and falling with a pretty good wind out of the NNE.
syrup cooker v1.0The chimney started drafting properly from the start, but as things slowly began to heat up I felt that the firebox was too close to the chimney so I added a cinder block outside of the firebox opening with hard brick for walls and cap.

From no fire at all, it took about 1 hour 20 minutes to bring 10 gallons of maple sap to a boil burning only pine at first, then adding maple and ash as it heated up.

We cooked the sap till it got dark and started to rain. night fire

For whatever reason I just can’t get enough of looking at a fire burning in a brick firebox at night.

final cooker for now

After a little thinking on things over night, I decided that I wanted the chimney even taller and that there needed to be something to deflect the heat up the sides of the pot.
So I added 4 more courses of brick.

Just letting it vent straight out the sides seems a waste.steamy cauldron
For that, I stood the final course of bricks on end.
The redirection of the heat is made obvious by the additional black carbon accumulating up the sides of the pot.

almost syrup

Considering how much of the water was boiled away and how many hours we fired the cooker, we used remarkably little fire wood in the process.

Still a couple of hours from finished, the syrup is starting to take on the golden brown of maple goodness.

There’s more about making syrup (and sugar!) here: