How a Russian Stove Works

As explained in a previous window, the intense heat given off by the fire is obsorbed by the brick walls that make up the stoves dense structure. Because of this, there is a slow cooling down period, which means that the stove requires fueling only twice a day, and at most maybe three.

No metal supports are used to hold the masonry up, because expansion of the metal can cause cracking in the brickwork. When one lights a Russian Stove no smoking occurs. the fire is kept burning at a very hot temperature which would turn an iron stove red hot. The smoke chamber is so vast that preheating is not necessary for immediate draw. If a lighted match is held in front of the open door it is sometimes extinguished by the draw, unless the damper is slightly closed and again opened during the firing process. All of the fuel material, be it hardwood, softwood, paper, straw, or trash is burned; and very little residue remains, In some models coal may also be burned. No creosote builds up and no chimney cleaning is necessary, The only maintenance the fireplace needs is occasional pointing of the masonry in the chimney from the outside.

The brick walls of the fireplace radiate a constant, even warmth; the heating range is about twenty feet, but with ceiling fans this can greatly be increased. It is interesting to note that the sides of the fireplace do not radiate equally. The 2- foot face on the opposite end of the loading end is the warmest, the two long sides are next warmest, and the loading end is the least warm. These interesting facts should be considered when designing and locating the Russian Stove in your home. One should maintain at least two feet clearance from combustibles around the fireplace, however, the sides of the fireplace are never more than 150 degrees, and more often around 120 degrees, if it is necessary to connect walls to the fireplace, project a stub wall at least 12" of brick, beyond the fireplace before connecting wood stud walls. Since every fireplace will have its own idiosyncrasies, the owner will have a trial and error period before reaching a good balance

When the fireplace is being built, the mason should take care to trowel the mortar flat on the inside, leaving no projecting mortar or brick corners. There are many other "tricks of the trade" employed, and one without experience should never attempt to build a Russian Stove. When construction is completed, on the first day, the draft may be tested by lighting a newspaper in the fuel box. The second day, a couple of small boards may be lit to help release the moisture in the masonry work gradually. A small weed burner may also be employed to drive out the moisture and bring up the temperature of the brick gradually. In about one week, one can safely fire the fireplace to full capacity, however, expect some cracks to appear from time to time in the masonry. Most cracks are harmless and to be expected as a natural event in the expansion and contraction of the masonry structure. The cracks are generally hair line when the fireplace is hot and not seen at all as it cools to room temperature. If too hot of a fire is built too soon it can easily have a "pop corn" effect an the brick and mortar joints by way of the expansion of moisture In the building materials, causing larger that normal cracks, which may or may not be critical, but at the least do not look good.

The best fuel to use is 24" to 36" dry hardwood. Anything larger than 3" in diameter should be split. Building materials of 2x4's make a fine substitute for hardwood. The secret to burning in a Russian Stove is to have all the fuel burn at the same time, creating a bed of hot coals, so that the damper may be safely closed with no danger of carbon monoxide escaping. If small and large logs are burned together, the larger logs will take so long to burn to the "coals" state that the damper will have to be kept open, allowing valuable heat to escape up the chimney and not into the brick,

To start a fire, fill the fuel box to capacity, open the damper 3/4 to full, and light. Paper can be placed in the opening and lit on fire which in turn will start the pile of wood to burn, as the draft pulls the fire into the pile of wood, in half an hour or so, depending an the wood you are using, coals should be evident. Fill the fuel box again and allow the fire to burn down once more to when coals are covered with ash and no blue flame appears; then close the damper to 1/4 or completely shut. (NOTE: Never close the damper when an evident blue fire still exists, this is carbon monoxide). You are now set for twelve hours of continuous heat, Before retiring, repeat the procedure, Unlike an open hearth fireplace, a continuous fire burning is not desirable. After the damper is shut the coals are allowed to burn themselves out, and the next time a fire is started only the cool ashes of the previous fire are evident, but the heat from the last fire can still be felt in the brick up to 18 hours later. Since the fireplace is so efficient, one should be able to heat a house of 1,000 to 1200 square feet with two cords of hardwood per year. as an added precaution, it is common to burn poplar three times a year to clean out the fireplace.
Copyright © 1997 Larry S. Larsen Masonry