Sunday, September 23, 2012

A tale of fire and ice

Well, not really much ice, more sort of rain and some cold wind but hey.. got your attention. But the fire, yep a real fire on the boat!

Intentional of course, and nicely contained in the welded metal firebox, nicely warming the boat to 29 degrees, and warding of that icy weather. Finally after many years of procrastination the wood heater is on the boat, and working exceptionally well.

It replaces the smelly little Taylors diesel heater that I never really bonded with. In fairness I did buy it from a garage sale for $100 and it really needed a bit of an overhaul, a very small diesel leak used to develop when it heated up and it gave of a slight whif of diesel... Yuk. 

This wood heater was of my own design, (or rather adapted from my friend Adrian's design). It is just big enough to fit a normal sized log, and has a  mesmerizing window, a secondary burning chamber, and enough controls to keep a concord pilot busy. 

I love it, I love the slightly smoky warm fug inside, the flickering of the flame through the door, and the radiant heat. 

I love the hot kettle simmering away on the top. I love playing with all the controls, stoking it, lighting it, and the lazy way the smoke curls out the chimney. Shame it has taken 6 years to build, and now I have it installed just in time for summer...

See the post on welding stuff for details of the tools I used and a photo of the door being made, I managed to source some heat proof glass to fit inside the scrap stainless steel door. It's welded up from 6mm (1/4") mild steel plate (that I also got from adrian, thanks mate!), and it weighs a ton.

The installation is not quite complete. Hopefully soon the stainless steel heat shields will be fitted instead of the cheap galvanized one, and some tiles will be glued on the floor. I also need to make a new stack top, the old one was washed overboard in the knockdown on the way to Antarctica. And finally weld up some fiddles and guards. But all in good time, I guess I have until next winter!

Maybe amongst this hive of activity I will find time to post a few things on here, my apologies for the long lapse. Some time soon my old man will get his website up and running about his book "Snow petrel". So soon I can post a link to that, and with luck it may stop him harassing me to put something about the book on here...

Ohh, Important stuff I nearly forgot, Playing with fire is something most of us grow out of when we are about five, I clearly have not yet achieved this level of maturity. However I am very careful about shielding, and do not leave the fire unattended. I was told by a firefighter that wood can slowly change into a more flammable state after years of exposure to "safe" temperatures. Then one day it bursts into flame at the same safe temperature it has always been exposed to. A homemade wood heater is also liable to nasty antisocial habits like belching carbon monoxide, flames, and hot embers, or worse. Be careful... 


  1. Great to see you posting again, Ben.
    How long will a fire stay burning in your heater without stoking it?


    1. Hi Richard, In truth I haven't had it long enough to really know. And I still need to sort out the dampers, at the moment it only has full air flow so I get about two hours depending on the wood type. My parents have a smaller woodstove that with care can be banked to still be warm in the morning which make it much easier to relight. I will let you know when I have more information. Cheers Ben

  2. Hey Ben,

    I was thinking about getting a wood burner for my boat, but priced the little Sardine ones around $2,000. So stoked to see they can be home built. Hopefully around Christmas I will get myself a little inverter welder to start the project and others.

    Thanks, Shane

    1. Hi Shane, It's a fun project. My mate Adrian has made a few different types. His current one is very simple and small, being made from 4 inch square steel tube. It's top loading with a simple hinged lid. Mine is much more complex and bigger. But the glass door is fantastic, and being able to fit decent sized lumps of wood in can be handy.

      If you like I can post a few drawings sometime showing the internal airflow concept and some design considerations.

      Oh, if you have space at home you can always get a really cheap Buzzbox wielder instead of the more expensive inverter ones. They work fine for smaller projects like yours. I did quite a bit of work on Snowpetrel with a hundred dollar 125 amp buzzbox. But they need a decent power supply. I found it didn't work properly on the power supply at my work-berth, so upgraded to the Inverter Welder.



  3. Ben,

    Thanks for the advice. Give me a year and I will be on my way to Tassie where I will need the fire box