Out With The Old,
In With The New

Dateline: 6 April 2017


I bought that stove 32 years ago. Got it second hand. I think I paid $400 for it. It looked a lot better when I first bought it. The stove is a Vermont Castings, Vigilant. Back then, the parts were actually cast at the factory in Vermont.

That relic of a woodstove has heated our home for decades. We never had a breakdown; never had to call a service technician for repair. We just loaded it with wood and it kept us warm. Well, it kept us warm enough. If you've relied on a woodstove in snow country as your only source of home heat, you know that it can get cold at times. 

Mornings are especially cold, until someone (whoever gets up first) gets the fire going and gives it some time. And we've found that when it gets below 20° here, with a stiff south wind, that stove never got the house warm enough for comfort. When that was the case, we would go to our backup heating source.... sweaters and sweatshirts.

After our recent foray into buying a house in town, Marlene and I have come to the conclusion that we'll stay right here in Upland. I'm in the process of getting our house siding finished, as this recent picture shows...



Later this year, or next, we hope to put an addition on the west end of the house. It will give us a first floor bedroom and bathroom and some added living room with a southern exposure. We are thinking of accessibility in our older years.

The addition will have a propane-fueled stove to heat the house. That will allow us to leave the house unattended in the winter months. We don't have that luxury now. When my Grandmother Kimball died in February of 2005, and we went to Maine for the funeral, we had a friend live in our house while we were gone.  Someone had to keep the woodstove going.

When I was growing up, my parents heated their old farmhouse with two woodstoves. Years later, as they were getting up in age, they still had only the two wood stoves for heat.

One cold winter day I got a call from my stepfather. He and my mother were sick with the flu. They were so sick in bed that they could not get up the strength to tend the woodstoves. In a weak voice, my dad asked me if I would come to the house and get the stoves going.

I had no idea they were sick. They lived only three miles away. I was there within five minutes of hanging up the phone. The house was really cold when I walked in the door. No fire at all in the stoves. Not even any hot coals.

After that experience, my stepfather had a propane furnace installed in the basement. 

We don't have much of a basement here. But a propane-fired stove in the addition will keep the house warm. That's our plan.

For now, and for the foreseeable future, we are still able and willing to continue using a woodstove as our source of heat. But I've been thinking that we should get a new woodstove for the past couple of years. I tend to think on things for awhile before I actually do them.

Fortunately, I know Bob Rozonni, owner of Holy Smoke in Dryden, NY. I haven't seen Bob in years but we have a sort of kinship because went through the Y2k buildup together. We were part of a close-knit group of people who met regularly and took the matter very seriously. We helped each other learn new skills and acquire supplies to be better prepared for the collapse of modern civilization.

Bob has been in the woodstove business for forty years. He knows woodstoves. I knew that he would steer me into the best woodstove for my situation. Simply stated, I trust Bob.

So Marlene and I made an appointment to visit Bob and check out his woodstove showroom. Bob's showroom is by his home, way out on a lonely country road. He sees customers only by appointment. When you have a good reputation, you can run a business like that.

I had done some internet research on woodstoves. I was thinking that I wanted to get a soapstone stove. Price was less of a factor than performance, and I was persuaded that a soapstone woodstove would offer the performance we needed. Besides that, I liked how they look.

Bob had soapstone stoves in his showroom but he discouraged me from getting one. He told me that a Regency stove would be far better for my home. He knew we heated only with wood and that I wanted a stove that would dependably last for at least 30 years. We looked at the other stoves he had, but Bob kept bringing us back to the display Regency, which had a fire in it. 

I said I liked the idea of the soapstone soaking up heat from the fire and releasing the heat slowly when the fire cooled down. He told me that I could put soapstone slabs on top of the Regency to achieve the same effect. I could even put soapstone in place of the firebrick inside the Regency stove.

Bob sold us on the benefits and practicality of the Regency. He has one in his own home. Both of his installers have the Regency in their homes. There are more attractive wood stoves, but Bob assured me that the Regency is a remarkably good stove.

So we bought one. Bob and his crew installed it a couple weeks ago. They hauled the old Vermont Castings out and put it on the dock of my shop. I've given it to one of my sons, to use, or sell, or give away. It still has some value. I understand there are people who disassemble and clean up and restore old Vermont Castings stoves. Bob says it's not worth the trouble. The newer stoves are better.

After it was installed in place of my old stove, the new Regency stove didn't look too bad. It actually fit the corner hearth better than the Vermont Castings. One of Bob's installers told me that I would find the Regency to be a far better stove that what I had. He said it was like a Ferrari compared to a Volkswagen.

Here's a picture of the Regency in our living room...


The fake z-brick on the wall is kind of dated. I plan to replace it with
ceramic tile someday. There is a 1" air space behind the facade.
My brick hearth has held up very well over the years.

If you look closely, you will notice there is a slab of soapstone on the front surface of the stove. Another slab will fit on the back surface, around the stovepipe (I'm waiting for it to arrive). So, I actually do have a soapstone woodstove, sort of.

Bob told me that once I realize how nice this new stove is, I'll wish I had gotten it years ago. He was exactly right about that. 

It is now easier to start the fire. It is easier to control the fire. It's easier to load the wood in. The wood burns more completely. There is no smoke in the house when the door is opened. There is an ash bin underneath. And it really pumps out the heat!

I never would have believed a wood stove could work as nicely as this new stove does. It is an absolute joy to use. Our old woodstove truly was like a Volkswagen compared to this Ferrari. I'm almost looking forward to next winter now.

The only thing this new stove lacks is a more traditional look. But in the final analysis, I'll take function over form any day.


And now we get to see the fire too.


36 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new stove, Herrick. What I was most happy to hear was something that was really not the focus of your post - that you intend to stay at Upland. When you were talking of moving to town, my thought went to that dark time when The Deliberate Agrarian was no more - before you decided to do the blogazine. I thought what will become of the Whizbang Experimental Garden? Where will I go for inspirational articles? (I must say that I still go back to The Deliberate Agrarian site in the old posts and still find new life there.)

    I'm sure that you'll be even happier staying put, now that you actually have real heat ;-)

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    1. Thanks, Chad.

      I go back to The Deliberate Agrarian site too. It was a fun run.

      It's interesting to note that my average post at The Deliberate Agrarian blog had about 3,000 views. But my average post here gets less than 300 views. I winnowed my readership down to only my best friends. I'm glad you are one of the few.

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    2. Hi Herrick, When I came back to the Island, I also heated with a wood stove. It was a Yotul with a door that would slide under the firebox and a screen would be put in its place for those "Fireplace "nights. Used it for 15-18 years and then switched to coal when a cord of wood delivered to the house was approaching $250! After putting up withe ash floating all over the house every time I forgot to open the draft wide before opening the loading door on top I'd had enough. This was in about 2001, that seeing as I was in the LPG business, Middle son Russell convinced me I needed gas heater or two and so the deed was done.Now it is just go set the thermostat twice a year and let her rip! BUT. I still have the coal stove stashed away, and two unused brand new (4YO) wood stoves in youngest son, Kirk's cellar waiting for TEOTWAWKI! They are the re-burner types that supposedly burn whatever smoke and gases there are before they manage to make it to the chimney. No problem with the wood supply if "IT" happens as there are a couple of thousand "rectangular trees" (houses) that will become unoccupied! Then we will be burning "designer logs"!

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    3. Everett,
      I remember my friend Bob telling me years ago that Jotul made the nicest stoves he knew of. But Jotul is not among the stoves he now sells. Not sure why. They have a great reputation. I put in a 500 gallon propane tank and filled it for Y2k. The cost of a gallon of propane back then was like 35 cents. The only appliance we have that uses propane is the kitchen stove. That 500 gallons of cheap fuel lasted for something like 5 years before we had more added. The company we bought from was Level Propane. They went out of business. You are the most prepared person I know (and I know some very prepared people).

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  2. I'm glad to hear you are happy with your new, modern stove. We installed a soapstone wood stove shortly after we bought our house. We knew right away that the prefab corner fireplace would never keep us warm, and as it turned out, it was installed incorrectly and would likely have caused a house fire. We have not used our furnace once to heat our 2400 sq. ft. house in the ensuing 3 years. My husband cuts and stacks the firewood, and I keep the fire going all winter long. That stove is my very favorite thing in our house.

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    1. Nice. You have reinforced my belief that soapstone stoves are good stoves. But I have a friend with a soapstone stove and some of the stones cracked.

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  3. I would like to hear an update on how you keep that glass clean.

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    1. I didn't want the glass front because my assumption was that the glass would black up and never be fully clean. But there is "airwash" technology going on with this stove that is supposed to keep the glass from blacking. Bob says it will still black up, especially after burning it dampered down overnight. But if you burn it hot the next morning the glass will clear off so well that it'll look like there is no glass there. I haven't had a full firebox overnight because it's spring here. But the glass is staying mostly clean so far. Time will tell.

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  4. Just looked at the picture again, is the handle on upside down? I would think it should be locked in the down position so it doesn't get opened by an accidental bump.

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    1. The door is locked with the handle at 11:00. An accidental bump will open the door (I just tried it). I actually see that as a plus. It was easier to intentionally bump the handle to open the door than to open it by hand!

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  5. Anonymous said...
    The glass will indeed get dirty. When you go to empty ashes (assuming you won't bother with any ash drawer as they are not worth the hassle) take a slightly damp paper towel, dab it in a bit of ash, and use that to clean the window - the ash is abrasive enough to clean the soot deposits without damaging the glass. A second, slightly dampened paper towel will get the residue. I've done this for over a decade now and it works well.

    Tim(fromOhio)

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    1. Tim—

      Excellent. I'll give it a try.

      I've been scraping the ash into the ash drawer but have not emptied it yet. There is a little opening with a cover in the firebox. So far, I like that option far better than the shovel and ash bucket we've used for so long.

      But the wood burns so completely that there are almost no coals. This means I won't have material like I once did to make woodstove biochar (like I explain in my garden idea book). :-(

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    2. 100% on the ash and damp rag trick to clean blackened glass. It is only an issue when you have the damper shut down overnight (Or all day in the shoulder heating seasons) and a piece of wood is real close to the glass.

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  6. You should be happy with the regency. One of my sister's has one and it's great

    As far as soapstone goes, I've had one for 13 years now (Woodstock soapstone) and it's done extremely well. Once or twice I have banked it and came back 24 hours later and had just enough coals to start a fire. I love the heat retention qualities of the soapstone! Very efficient too.

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    1. J Eby—

      Okay, that settles it. My NEXT woodstove will be a soapstone stove. :-)

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  7. We recently bought a house with an old (1977) Vermont Castings stove. The insurance company won't insure us if we use it, which is fortunate because now we 'have' to get a new stove. Our old house had an excellent new wood stove and I look forward to getting one again.

    I also still read 'The Deliberate Agrarian'. Your readership is possibly higher for that blog, as the content was so much broader. I enjoy 'Upland' too, but I'm not a passionate gardener, at least not yet! You probably have lots of best friends at both sights. Thanks for writing.

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    1. Interesting. My old Vermont Castings has 1977 cast into it. Bob told me that it was not up to firecode, which fits with what your insurance company told you. I wouldn't recommend the Vermont Castings for anyone unless it was a post-collapse emergency heating device, or for a workshop.

      I have no insurance on my home because the insurance company wants me to have an alternative source of central heat besides the wood stove. And they want me to have the whole house sided. And they probably wouldn't have approved of the woodstove if they inspected it. I don't like the idea of an insurance company telling me I have to side my house.

      The good thing about having Bob at Holy Smoke do the stove installation is that he knows the fire code requirements and ensures that the installation is up to code and safe. So, someday if I decide to get insurance on this place, at least the stove will not be any problem.

      Yes, the content was broader at The Deliberate Agrarian. I actually had more time to think and write when I worked the state job. That is no longer the case. My writing is more like Facebook postings I think. And I'm intentionally staying away from political issues. Believe me, I'd love to write about this recent bombing of Syria and my disappointment in Donald Trump for that. Gardening posts are more productive and more in tune with my current interests. Amazingly, I had someone tell me that liked The Deliberate Agrarian better because I discussed agriculture there. That confused me.

      But I will have more posts here about things besides gardening. For example, I'm about to launch a series on Inflation, based on a 1945 book by Ralph Borsodi.

      Thanks for the comment.

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  8. Thanks for another useful review. I am using an old MIRCO stove at the farm house. It works reasonably well but is showing its age and I am thinking a lot of heat goes up the chimney when there is no fire in the stove. There is a dealer 7 miles away that sells these stoves in my neck of the woods.

    RonC

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    1. Hi Ron,

      I've never heard of a MICRO stove. If you get a Regency, I suggest that you avoid the catalytic models. More expensive and the catalytic unit needs to be replaced in time. I guess they are more trouble to operate too. Or so I was told.

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    2. M-I-R-C-O as in Malleable Iron Range COmpany. The classic Monarch cook stove. I was looking at the Regency F5100. The ability to load the stove and have it burn for over 24 hours would be very appealing, but it may also be out of my price range. I would like to put something like that in the basement of the farmhouse I am renovating. Dropping what you are doing to go feed the wood stove every 30 to 45 minutes like I have to do with the MIRCO is obnoxious. The mid sized Regency models that could be loaded to burn for even 8 hours would be nice. I'll look into prices tomorrow on my way out to the farm. I'm sure the catalytic unit would bring complexity into the picture, and it is something one would have to budget for. I'll ask about it.

      RonC

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    3. Okay. Got it now. I looked up a picture. My grandparents had a similar stove in their kitchen. I remember my grandfather putting wood into it in the morning. Such a small firebox. I can see where that would be discouraging. But a wood cookstove would be a nice thing to have.

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  9. Although we live in the Deep South (about 40 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico) and only get a handful of days a year below freezing, we also use a small wood stove to heat our house during the winter. My father-in-law gave my wife and I a Jotul 602N shortly after we were married ten years ago. I have found that it is not only incredibly efficient, but that it also serves as a nice centerpiece in the kitchen/living/dining area of our small home. We have never had trouble with smoke in the house or with lighting it, and the glass stays fairly clean. Like Mel said above, it Is one of our favorite parts of the house. In fact, we jokingly tell folks that there are only two seasons at our house - "front porch" season and "wood stove" season. Nearly every evening will find us in one of these two spots catching up on the day's events and winding down together once the children are in bed.

    I must also admit that, like Everett, we also have a few "spare" stoves stashed away - just in case we or any of our extended family should need them in the future. Once we saw how well ours worked, I began to look for used stoves locally. We have managed to pick up two gently used cast iron models for very reasonable prices over the past several years. In fact, I believe one is a Vermont Castings model. Anyway, they are sitting in my parent's garage waiting for the day we need them.

    By the way, I too am glad to hear that you're staying at Upland. I can't quite explain it, but it just makes my heart glad. Hope you enjoy many years with your new stove!

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    1. Hi Stewart,

      I looked up the 602N. That's a real nice stove.

      I love to sit in front of this new stove of mine and watch the fire. I was never able to do that with the Vermont Castings. It would smoke opening just one of the two doors. Bob told me they are notorious for that.

      Wow. You have stoves stashed away too! Maybe I better hang on to that old stove of mine. I don't have a garage or a basement. I may have to build another shed!

      I do, however, have some new stovepipe and elbows socked away. They don't take up much room and I wouldn't want to try to fabricate those myself in an emergency situation.

      Thanks for the comment.

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  10. Elizabeth L. Johnson said,
    Wow, Herrick, you really hit a nerve! Fifteen comments!! Our family has generally only used woodstove heat for 30 years. Our first one was homemade--a small, metal barrel, resembling but not as big as a 55 gallon one. We learned after that that an efficient stove must have two walls with brick inside. Our stove looks much like yours, but no soapstone, just brick. Everyone that comes over loves to saddle up to the heat. Everyone likes woodstove heat. Heat is distributed by ceiling fans, and we keep a pot full of water on top for humidity. By-the-way, Herrick, thanks so much for the info on Beyond Off Grid and Return to the Old Paths. I purchased the online film. Excellent watch. Everything you've taught us!

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    1. Hi Elizabeth—

      I think it's less a nerve and more of a topic that a lot of people can relate to more. Woodstove heat is actually solar energy that was captured and stored by the tree. I think it was Paul Gatuschi who said that in one of the YouTube videos I watched.

      I'm glad you liked Beyond Off Grid. I have given copies to several neighbors and friends around me.

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  11. I'm curious if you ever considered a rocket mass heater, Herrick. You use far less wood and you have that long heating period over night from the radiant heat from the mass. I find it hard to believe you didn't assess RMHs for your needs. If you haven't considered them, let me know and I can point you to some good resources out there so you don't have to wade through the clutter from a general internet search.

    Love ya, brother.

    Dan

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    1. Hi Dan,

      No, I never seriously considered it. I love the rocket stove concept. I even have a milk can rocket stove in my garden idea book (it really cooks!). But every rocket mass heater I've seen takes up a lot of space and has a free-form look that is not something I would want in my home.

      I would love to experiment with the idea in a workshop or cabin someday, but not my house.

      What I have considered for many years is a Russian masonry heater. I love the concept and it is akin to the rocket mass heaters, but less weird looking. For all I know, there is a Russian Rocket Masonry Mass Heater (RRMH) already being made. I hope my mention of Russion Rocket does not get me in trouble with the NSA. I would need to build the house around a Russian masonry "stove." You can't wheel them in the front door.

      I welcome any links you can send me if you think I'm missing something about this subject.

      Sincere thanks!

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  12. Regarding your comment about enjoying the ability to watch the fire. IMHO, sitting by the stove in the early morning enjoying the first fire of the day while sipping coffee is one of life's great pleasures!

    Tim(fromOhio)

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  13. Hi Herrick,

    If you are interested in masonry stoves you may want to check out gimmeshelteronline.com, a company from Amherst, WI that we came across at a Midwest renewable energy fair a few years back. We are considering using a masonry stove when we build our home on our 40 acres in Pardeeville, WI, but I'm still not convinced it will heat a house evenly and two 50-something year old backs can supply enough firewood for Wisconsin winters. They can look really neat though and we could use the stone we have picked from our hayfield as stove material. For some reason we are also glad to hear you are staying put in the house and land you worked so hard on over the years...and we are very glad we came across the Deliberate Agrarian a few years ago, we built a cider press, chicken plucker, and then branched out and had a maple syrup evaporator made (my husband works in the packaging industry and when it was slow he got them to build it from scraps). Thank you for all the great info!!

    Leslie (Wisconsin)

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    1. Hi Leslie,

      I checked out the link. Lots of styles. Wish I knew someone who had one around here to look at and talk to. I love the concept.

      It's nice to know my blog and books were an inspiration to you. Thanks for saying so.

      We made 5 gallons of maple syrup this year with our simple batch pan, back in February. It was the earliest we ever tapped and boiled.

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  14. What a beautiful looking stove. That's something I can add to list of things to get -- NOT! Why I am here in Southwest Florida - the Sunshine state! Fireplace!? What's that? :)

    Karl

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    1. The older I get the more than appeals to me.

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  15. Hi Herrick,
    Is that the S2400?
    Regards,
    Muns

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    1. Muns—

      Yes, it is the Regency Classic S2400. The soapstone pieces on top are not from Regency.

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  16. Herrick, I have loved your writing since the I found you over at deliberate agrarian. Take a look at the Pacific Energy Alderlea T6. It has the old time look, and is similar to a soap-stone in that it is a steel stove cladded with beautiful cast iron.
    It pumps out the heat but my kids can bump into the sides without getting a blister. The top of the stove swings out so that we can warm mittens or hats on the cast, and cook a pot of chili or stew straight on the steel top.

    Probably too late to change anything, but I can say nothing but positives about the PE Alderlea series. Keep up the great writing!

    J. James

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