The How Zone

Inside a Pellet Stove

Logs to Pellets

Spring is approaching and with it a time to clean and put away our winter toys. It is also time to clean out our pellet woodstove. Let's take the stove apart, see how it works, and discover all of the places dirt might be lurking.

When we moved into our current house eight years ago we had two choices for keeping it warm: working part-time at the electric company to power the electric baseboard heaters or firing up THE BEAST!

The beast was a huge box stove the previous owners had left behind. Standing almost four foot tall and able to take two foot long logs it ate firewood like nobody's business. Probably just the thing to heat a High School or Airport Hanger.

There were only two settings on THE BEAST: inferno and smoldering creosote generator. Other folks will have different opinions, but damping down a stove to make the log(s) burn overnight seems like a waste of good fuel. You don't get much heat, the stove spew out tons of smoke, and the chimney gets coated with creosote.

Inferno is the optimal use of fuel, since the high heat burns most of the fuel up and there's hardly any smoke (and creosote) going out the chimney. The problem with inferno mode is that a lot of heat goes rushing out the chimney because neither the stove nor the pipes can transfer that much heat to the surrounding room fast enough.

At our last place we used a little Jotul stove with a built in catalytic converter. What the catalytic converter does is burn all of the "unburnt" smoke that would normally be wasted out the chimney. This reduces pollution, but it also gets more heat out of the same amount of wood.

The problem with that stove, and it may not be the case with more modern catalytics, is you have to get (and keep) the catalytic at a certain temperature for it to operate. This means you can damp it down, but not way down. All in all it was a pretty efficient stove, but it was also too small for the new house layout.

Pellet Master Stove & Vacuum

I started researching stoves and reading about Pellet Wood Stoves. We didn't know anyone who used one, but from the review and articles they sounded pretty good. At the time there were two problem areas: clinkers and battery backup.

Battery backup was no problem, just stick an old computer UPS (uninteruptable power supply) on it. Clinkers I wasn't sure about. Basically a clinker is a byproduct of ash getting hot enough to fuse together. You get this hard, black clump of stuff that "clinks" around in the burn pot, eventually getting large enough that you have to shut down the stove and clean it out.

Of the stoves we looked at the Pellet Master (which has since gone out of business ) seemed ideal. It's claim to fame was a rotating ring around the crucible edge which kept the pellets and ash moving for an even burn and no clinkers. It's true, we've never had a clinker but we've had clunkers, which I'll talk about later. The stove also claimed to work equally well with feed corn, olive pits, and nut shells should you be in an area where those are cheap and abundant.

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