If you look back at this blog to just before my long break you’ll see this is old news. But for one reader in particular , Chris in Sydney AU who is curious to know more, I thought I’d indulge.
Our primary heat source at home is the bigger of two woodburning stoves. The inspiring possibility that as a welder fabricator I could make my own is something I can blame squarely on my mum, she’d come to visit and had been staying with a friend who’d done something similar. And for a few weeks I turned the notion over in my head but didn’t really know where to go with it, searching the net for ideas only yielded the certainty that I didn’t want to make something out of an old gas bottle as that seemed a bit tame and the results still looked like the original thing no matter what.
We visited Becky’s parents for christmas and in the middle of the night on christmas eve I woke with a strangled yelp because the design I wanted had smacked me squarely in the brain, complete and ready to make. I fell out of bed and fumbled about in the dark for pen and paper, then gave up on the possibility of more sleep as I looked at the tiny sketch that I’d scribbled down. There it was, complete with the geared closure mechanism that now graces the doors. Several cups of coffee later I thought maybe a single door for the firebox would be easier than the gate I’d drawn but that was the only thing I changed from my half dreamed anvil dropped on head inspiration.
As documented already I built the shell of it at Becky’s stables. I gathered together one bottle of oxy, some propane, chalk and a full sheet of 1/2 inch plate and set to in the middle of the car park cutting and grinding and tacking the start of my weird vision made real. I think Becky’s customers thought I’d finally flipped but I was in my noisy, filthy steelworking element.
Then the owner of the yard dropped the apocalypse on Becky and her clients, He wanted to flatten the stables and build six luxury homes, because the south of england really needs more of them. She was served the minimum legal notice to clear out and give the bastard vacant possession.
I took a rented workshop up the road from our boat and started packing tools, when we forklifted the half built stove onto our trailer for transport I seriously thought it was going to squash it. I did a few back of envelope calculations and realised my little monster weighed approximately 300 kilos, and the trailer was legit for only 250. We pumped the tyres up a bit more and drove to the south coast as gingerly as possible, especially round the corners.
A few weeks later and installed in my new cavernous workshop I burned my way through two boxes of welding rods building up multiple passes as I welded the plates together, then ground the corners back to a nice radius and welded the top plate on.
The project waited patiently through the spring and summer while we found some work but with the arrival of autumn and the by now traditional sewing of selves into thermal underwear I tackled the project again. Did the geared mechanisms with help from local machinists who turned up the mounting bosses, ran into trouble welding the handles onto the cogs but discovered that cast iron welding rods did the trick. Ordered some stove glass and hefty firebricks and then made up a tee for the flue out of 150mm heavy wall pipe and hoisted the new stove onto a trolley, and towed it outside with the truck for testing. I attached a short length of flue and lit the stove. The resulting spectacle drew a bit of a crowd so consequently I got fuck all done the rest of the morning but everyone seemed to like it.
Getting the new stove on board turned into a whole project on its own. I originally considered delivery by boat at high water, this was how we got the generator on after all and that weighs in at just over half a ton. The weather however had other ideas, and one autumn gale after another swept through to stymie the suggestion. The alternative was delivery by land. Unfortunately our vessel is moored to a muddy island with uneven ground, access to which is via a narrow footpath and over a narrower footbridge. I measured everything and made a cup of tea.
I made my solution out of some scrap angle and some wheelbarrow wheels. After a few frantic hours I’d built a sort of heavy duty barrow that we could strap the stove onto, and it was specifically made to JUST fit the footbridge. It was not a thing of beauty but I fervently hoped it would do. To address the awkward problem of lifting my lump on board I made a sheerleg out of 75mm box, this was essentially a giant A frame, and I hoped that with two chainhoists it would function as a crane.
Living on boat rule number 347: chainhoists are your friend.
Part one of the big move was undertaken by Becks and myself. We hoisted the stove onto its dolly and strapped it down hard, luckily we got the balance more or less right and trundled off down the road with it attracting funny looks from the local ramblers. navigating the footbridge went slowly, left a bit right, keep that wheel on that line and over we went the longer flatter way round the island and next to the boat. I attached the sheerleg hook and was ready to lift. We decided to leave the trolley attached as the hoist took the weight just in case anything went wrong, and as I pulled the chains the new stove rose, as planned into the air. Then my banksman ran away. Becky was wibbling about on the other side of the island shouting that the sight of it all made her armpits itch. I coaxed her back and once the trolley was off we swung three hundred kilos of steel on deck just so. Then we both ran away to the pub.
Part two of the move involved Jan and me, my best lifting and slinging buddy. The next morning off came the engine room skylight and by means of rollers, chainhoists and davits we lifted the stove along the deck, up and across and then down into the middle of the engine room floor. Rearranged the hoists for one more lift forward a couple of metres onto the hearth and remarkably into the right place first time. It took the rest of the day to rearrange the flue sections and fire-cement everything together.
Ever since then the stove has supplied us with a plentiful and reliable heat source. One day I will get around to plumbing in the boiler back that I built into it, but for now it works great as a simple stove, happily eating whatever fuel we throw into it. One day soon I’d love to build another one.
So, why the Catfood Box Bomb of the title?
That’s easy. My preferred method of lighting our stove goes like this: Take one empty catfood box, fill with scrunched newspaper and curls of woodshavings. surround with wigwam of wood splints, cedar is brilliant, but this utile stuff is surprisingly good too and thats a hardwood. Apply lit match. Close door, open vents. After a few minutes, stoke her up and you’re all set for a nice warm evening.