Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wood Cookstove - Revisited

A few readers requested further information and pictures on our wood cookstove, so I thought I would take this opportunity to show you the ins and outs of the Pioneer Maid.  Please excuse what looks to be a terribly dirty stove.  I could have spiffed it up, but I was too busy keeping house, homeschooling, sewing, tromping in the woods and yes, blogging!

The Pioneer Maid, unlike most (if any) other wood cookstoves, has a lever allowing the smoke to go around the oven before it goes up the flu, essentially turning the oven "on".  As the smoke travel around the oven, it heats the oven more evenly than a traditional stove that heats only on the firebox side of the oven.  I still have to rotate foods in the oven, but not nearly as much as with a stove without the oven "on" feature.

Oven on/off lever.  The oven is off.

Now the oven is on.
There are two wooden knobs that turn clock-wise to close the drafts and counter clock-wise to open the drafts.  Because the Pioneer Maid is an airtight stove, these draft knobs give me great control of the firebox, thus allowing me to control my burning temperature.  When I want to heat things up, I turn the knobs counter clock-wise and when I want to turn the stove down, I turn the knobs clock-wise.  The stove responds very quickly.

The draft knobs.
I have found that wood heats more thoroughly (or something) than either gas or electric heat.  I know, I know - all the old timers said "food just doesn't taste right cooked on that electric stove", but, ya know what?  They're right!  Food cooked in a wood cookstove is just better.  Bread is crusty and golden on the outside and moist and soft on the inside.  Biscuits are unparalleled and even meat is moister.  I also find that it is wonderfully easy to find "high", "medium" and "low" on the top of the cookstove.  High is right over the woodbox and low is right next to the water reservoir.  Medium is, of course, somewhere in the middle.  I have a metal trivet on the top of our stove to put pots on if even low is still too hot.

There is a wooden knob at the bottom of the stove, under the draft knobs, that, when pulled out, opens a trap door in the bottom of the woodbox so that you can easily clean the ash of the stove.  You push the ash through the hole into a drawer located under the woodbox.  You fill the drawer with ashes, the knob pushed back in to create a solid firebox floor, and then just dump the ashes on the compost pile.  Perfectly simple.

Clean out lever (in the open position).
Clean out at the bottom of the firebox.
Ash drawer under the firebox.
The ash drawer full of ash.

Because the smoke can be re-routed around the oven, ash can build up under the oven, decreasing the oven's effectiveness.  To remedy this, the makers of the Pioneer Maid put a little door beneath the opening that can be taken off so that the ash can be cleaned out.  We generally only do this about twice a year.

Oven clean out (under oven door).
One of my favorite features of my stove is the warming oven.  It is huge, running the entire length of the stove and water reservoir.  You would never believe how many plates I can fit in here!    This stove is completely mechanical - nothing fancy.  Even the warming oven door is mechanical.  There are two chains attached to either side of the door, they go through a hole in the back of the warming oven, through tiny pulleys and have weights hanging at the bottom.  This keeps the door from hanging all the way open and helps pull the door closed when you shut it.  Very clever.

Open warming oven.

Warming oven chain and weight.
As I mentioned before, our stove has an option for a waterfront.  There are two "knock-outs" in the back of the stove on the left side of the firebox.  Those "knock-outs" are removed and the waterfront installed in the firebox and the waterfront is then piped into a hot water tank.  Generally these hot water tanks work on thermal convection, meaning that the water circulates without the use of pumps.  Your hot water tank would be higher (the higher the better - even up to the second story) than your waterfront so that the cold water and hot water could circulate properly.  Before installing a hot water system, I would highly recommend Lehman's pamphlet on how to safely install a waterfront.  Not installing your waterfront properly and safely could have dire consequences.  Remember, 1 cubic foot of water turns into approximately 2000 cubic feet of steam - very dangerous!

Waterfront knockouts.

Waterfront (to go in firebox).
I find that I can bake and cook about 100 degrees lower in my wood cookstove than in my gas oven.  Truth be told, I rarely look at the temperature gage on my oven door.  I stick my hand in the oven and if it is too hot to hold it in there for more than a few seconds, the oven is too hot for bread and even for biscuits.  If I can hold my hand in the oven for 8 seconds or so, the temperature is just right for bread, rolls and most other things.  I generally turn things once or twice while they are baking and can tell when things are done by the way they smell.

As you can see, my wood cookstove and I have a very close relationship.  I cook with a commercial gas range in the summer time - but come winter, I can hardly wait to begin my wood stove cookery.


  1. THANK YOU so much! That's just the info I was looking for. A couple more questions please!

    1)I know they make a Pioneer Princess that has a firebox door, instead of loading wood through the "eye" on top like the Pioneer Maid. Do you ever wish for that door or can you load wood just fine through the "eye"?

    2)Do you ever remove the "eye" cover to cook over the top of the fire, or does it do fine without removing it?

    3)Can you use the top of the stove surface like a griddle or is it too hot and messy?

    4)To heat your house, do you have to leave the oven door open the whole time?

    5)We are in Texas, without your long cold winters. Our winters are cold/nasty for about 2 or 3 days then it warms up a bit for a day or so. Do you think the smaller Pioneer Maid would do better for us?

    Thanks again for this tour of your woodstove. Can't wait to get one and start cooking! Love your blog!

  2. I think the Pioneer Maid & Pioneer Princess stoves both are excellent products - truly top of the line!

    One must be careful with the side-loading firebox door stoves though. Once your wood fire generates a sizable bed of hot coals on the bottom, it can be very dangerous to open the side loading door. There's a chance that some hot coals could roll out & start a fire if there's anything flammable within 'hot coal rolling range'.

    The top openings are the ideal means of continually 'topping' off a wood stove. It doesn't have the potential of fire starting, and you simply drop another log on top. Side loading only holds the advantage of more efficiently stacking wood for a start-up fire after you've cleaned it out.

    Enola, how often do you have to clean out the ash in your stove?

  3. My husband really wants a wood cook stove when/if we have a place for it. Seeing how I just barely figured out this cooking thing on a modern stove, it's an intimidating thought. But the warmth, reliability and practicality (and going with his desire) definitely touch my heart :) I've never met someone who has one, so thank you so much for these posts. I'm so visual, this helps me be able to imagine... almost!

  4. Well now, you don't have to make extra time for a cookbook - just gather up all the related blog posts and put them together. Gather your posted recipes, these stove photos and descriptions, add a little homespun wisdom and some common sense (also posted in previous posts) and you're more than halfway there with your cookbook. See, you've been writing your cookbook all along, but maybe without realizing it??!!

    NoCal Gal

  5. i am so homesick and miss my grandma more than anything....i learned how to cook on a woodstove and even learned how to can on woodstove as well as open firepit with the big black iron kettles. many people do not miss these items because they did not have the opportunity to use them. but like riding a bycycle-ya never forget once you learn how to do it.

  6. Enola,

    You bring back fond memories.

    I used to live in a converted cremery alongside a river in VT. It had electric baseboard heat which cost a fortune my first winter.

    So, I bought a wood stove and put an insulated metal chimney outside the living room window, and hooked the stove up to that by replacing the upper window sash with 3/4" plywood with an insulated stove pipe fitting. Worked like a charm.

    What wonderful warm, cozy, cheap heat that was. Of course I cut and split the wood myself from 4 foot lengths delivered by a dump truck in the spring.

    There is nothing like the combination of heat by direct radiation from the stove, and the heat from convection (warmed air). I still find myself wishing I could just toss in another piece of wood rather than push a button on the digital thermostat that controls my gas fired forced hot air furnace. I really would prefer a wood stove, but my condo association wouldn't understand.

    And I DO know what you mean about food tasting better cooked with wood.

    Bill Smith

  7. From my post on November 4, 2010 7:23 AM

    5)We are in Texas, without your long cold winters. Our winters are cold/nasty for about 2 or 3 days then it warms up a bit for a day or so. Do you think the smaller (BAKERS CHOICE not Pioneer Maid - Oops) would do better for us?

    Thanks again for all that you do!

  8. Thanks for sharing about your preparations, successes and mistakes. It's also in our minds to be off-grid and it's inspiring and encouraging to learn from you.

  9. Anonymous:

    You're welcome!
    1) No, I have never wished for a front loading option. We cut our wood in 16" lengths and have never had a problem getting the woodbox full. Also, we don't have to bend over and try to put a large piece of wood into a small opening.

    2)No, I never remove the plate over the woodbox to cook. The surface of our stove is so large that it is very easy to find High, Low and Medium. Also, I don't want to abuse my stainless pots and pans. Old timers used cast iron, which took the direct flame better.

    3)The surface is made of stainless steel, and when we ordered our stove, I had visions of using the entire surface as one huge griddle. The reality is that I don't really want oil or grease burning off the top of the stove and filling my house with smoke, and I can't imagine cleaning the top if the fire was too hot and burned everything on. I just use a huge cast iron griddle on the top, instead.

    4)No, we don't have to leave the oven door open - in fact we rarely leave the oven door open. The majority of the heat is coming from the woodbox, just like a regular wood stove.

    5)Our good friends have the Bakers Choice and they love it. The Bakers Choice was designed to heat a 1000 sq. ft. home and the Pioneer Maid was designed to heat 1500 sq. ft. They also make a newer, larger stove called the Pioneer Princess that is designed to heat 2000 sq. ft. With a milder winter, I am sure that you could easily get by with the Bakers Choice, and it is a wonderful stove. The oven is considerably smaller, so it requires very small cookie sheets, which I don't like. I can cook a HUGE turkey in my oven with ease. I think all of the stove are controllable enough that you could choose which stove best suits your cooking needs.

    Hope that helps!

  10. Mathew;

    It really depends on what kind of wood we burn and many other factors, but, generally we take ash out every month or two. It really is not a big job. The way the Maid is designed, we can take ash out even when we still have a few coals left in the firebox. It makes it very convenient for starting another fire and not letting the shouse get too cold!

    Enola Gay

  11. Fascinating article and blog. I enjoy reading. Thanks.

  12. I went to see how much the stoves cost... and I live in the only state that makes them illegal to sell. What in the world?!

  13. His Talmidat;
    I can't even imagine why it would illegal to sell a cookstove in a certain state! If I were you, I would look up the stove on the internet (there are other folks that sell them) and buy from them! Or, if all else fails, find a wood cookstove on Craigslist and just go pick it up! How ridiculous!


  14. We have the same stove as you except with no warming bins or water reservoir. We LOVE this stove, and like you, can't wait until late October each year when it goes on and I can use it for cooking again. We also use it to heat our home, and it works very well.

  15. Hi Enola, I have a question about your "Pioneer maid" cookstove. I want to know if the stove throw some smoke in the house when you open the lid to add some wood. Thanks . Bernard from Montreal, QC

    1. Dear Bernard;
      No, we generally don't have problems with the stove puffing smoke. It will puff if we don't have the drafts open and we add wood or occassionally I will forget to turn the oven off ( the lever behind the stove) and that will cause problems. Good luck!

  16. Hi Enola, is it possible to use this stove in summer, I have a small cabin (750 sq ft). I just want to heat the place when we rise and heat some water in the morning. Thanks, Bernard from Montreal, QC

  17. Hi there! I just ordered the Pioneer Princess and cannot wait til it gets here! But I do have a question. I read in the specs that the cooking surface height is 32.5 inches. Do you find this to be an issue or is the height optimal for being able to reach all of the cooking surface?

    1. We actually put our stove on a hearth pad, raising it up about 4 inches. I thought 32.5 inches was too short to work conveniently. With the addition of the hearth pad, I find our stove to be at a perfect working height.

      I'm thrilled for you! I hope your stove works wonderfully for you.



  18. The specs on the princess state that you should have 2 ft clearance at the back and 18in on the sides, but it appears that you have yours set much more closely to your walls and stairs, etc. Can I ask what your clearance is for your stove?