Ye old stove…

We have a Volgerzang wood stove that heats our shed in the winter time.  We bought it a few months after we moved in to our off-grid palace and installed it right before the first freeze that fall.

We have had wood stoves in 2 other not off grid, previous residences as heaters-those places had no other heat source (both in south Texas-where cold is 50F).  Both worked decently well as long as you were in the same room as the stove and because it wasn’t too terribly cold.

Hence the advantage, in this moderately cold environment, of living in one room–a wood stove does just fine as the only heat source!

While we are putting up walls and brick tile behind the stove and in the kitchen, it was a nessecity-and perfect time :)-to pull out the stove and clean it.

We will brush out the stove, stove pipe and chimney to rid it of flammable creosote build up

 and have heat painted the outside to cover the rusty spots on the stove.  The stove pipe will get the same heat paint treatment.

Result-new looking, spanky-clean heat source.  Nice!

I’ll post pics when it is reinstalled in the new kitchen!!


Gathering Fire Wood…

Although the last two winters have been short, dry and warm, we still need to prepare for the “cold” months, just in case they live up to their name.

For the past three years we have gathered cotton wood from our dry creek bed and everything from elm to locust and cedar from the local wood waste sites.  All good and reliable sources for free (minus the labor of cutting and stacking) heat!

This weekend a friend and fellow, local, off-gridder delivered a pile of pine scrap to our driveway.  He gathered it from another gentleman in town who builds with it.

Our favorite wood to burn has traditionally been cottonwood.  It’s soft, light weight, easy to season and split.   It also does well in our stove for several reasons.The stove pipe in the pictures above contains 3 years of creosote build-up-not bad at all.  We owe that, in most part, to burning low-resin/dry wood like cottonwood and elm.  That’s the first advantage to cottonwood-the second is the heat it produces.

Cotton wood produces a reasonable amount of heat for our small space; 10′ x 20′ and 12′ at the peak.  Because it’s so light weight we don’t have to worry about over firing the stove.

In contrast using a wood like pine which has lots of resin will produce a lot of heat in a wood stove and can be, if not dried well, a bit concerning because of sparking, popping and the amount and speed of creosote build up.Drying pine out, or seasoning it, follows the same process as all woods–cut it and stack it where it can be rained, wind, and sunned upon for at least 6 months before use.  For wetter wood, like elm, it can take up to a year for it to be ready to use.  

In the case of our newly gathered pine, we needed to stack it differently because it’s been milled and is flat.  Stacking it with no space would not allow it to dry and could result in it rotting in the little rain we get.

As a solution, my husband decided to create these smart (and nice looking) stacks.  Air flow is allowed and the elements we want, rain, sun and wind can get to most of the wood’s surfaces.  

We usually have our first freeze by the end of October-so for this pile, we are behind the curve-it will however be ready by the coldest part of our season, January and February.
We will use pine this winter for the first time in our stove, but not exclusively.  The best use of it will be to mix it with our other woods to create a more balanced fire.  The pine can quickly get the fire going-which is important.  Often when welcome home during the coldest part of the winter it will be sub 40F in the shed and in the mornings, the same.  Having a way to raise the temperature in our space by a few degrees quickly will be nice.

As always, it’s all an experiment and we shall see how this one works out!

Up next:  Volgerzang refurbing!

Walls are going up…

Today’s project is putting up our wall covering.  We helped my twin brother construct a new fence in trade for his old fencing material, or as we call it, new walls!

We came home with multiple bundles of “cleaned” fence pickets.

Cleaning them requires using a rip saw to remove the top and bottom of the pickets and then using a sawzall to cut the nails holding the center slat.  We obtained about 5 bundles!This morning after breakfast we began attaching them to the wall.  We used a miter saw to cut them to length (about 4ft each) and then to cut the angles against the stairs.To attach them we used a small, fine-finish nail gun.  It took most of the day to get them up and then trimmed-but it went smoothly and the results are fabulous!We chose used fence pickets because we like the look-old wood always has interesting marks, holes, bug damage and often human damage as well. (Note the pellets in the wood below…inserted there many years ago by my nephew and his pellet gun.)Additionally-it’s always great to re-use materials. They are often free, very cheap or easy to trade for and their use follows the trend of most of what we have built and will continue to build.

Next project on deck:  finish the bricks behind the stove and put up the used tin behind both the gas and wood stoves.

Updates soon!


I’m not sure I ever told the story of the dog that has appeared in so many posts.  His name is Happy Jo Jensen-Happy for short-and he came to us in October of 2014 as a free agent of the high plains…

I had left for work one day and half way there remembered I had left some borrowed art supplies and decided to turn around and come back.  When I arrived at our house I saw a strange black and white dog roaming around.  I was wary of him (never know about country dogs) and told him to go on-which he did, sort of.

That evening we were sitting in the tool shed after dark and the same black and white country dog walked in and sat down on my husband’s feet.  As my husband tells it, the dog told him his name, Happy Jo Jensen, and that he was now his dog.

I was dubious (that is my job after all) and said I’m not sure about keeping this one.  My husband said well, we’ll just see if he hangs around-not invite him in the gate or anything…Not only did he hang around, the next day when I came home he was in my fence.  Apparently he climbed the woodpile and hopped in.  When I got onto him for being in the yard, he promptly jumped back over the fence.  Oh yeesh. 

One thing led to another and suddenly I’m ordering dewormer online and he’s sleeping on the floor on my husband’s side of the bed.  Yeah, he was a part of the family and I totally fell in love with him and wanted him to STAY in the yard.  I told my husband, if he stays in the yard, we can keep him and keep him safe.  My husband argued against it saying, “Happy came to us a free man, and he will leave and not come back some day, the same free man.”  

I didn’t like that one bit, but trying to keep him in the yard risked him hanging himself trying to get out.  So we built him a launch pad in both sides of the fence so he could maintain his free agent status, coming and going as he pleased.

The result was that Happy kept very close watch on our house and land and kept all the coyotes, bob cats, porcupines and every other critter imaginable a safe distance out.  

Every time we would drive up the road he would busy himself making sure our path was clear and all was safe before we got out of our vehicle.   Once out he would greet us with great, loving enthusiasm.

When I ran on our roads, Happy ran with me.  When we worked around the place he stayed close, keeping an eye on us.  Anytime we ventured out to use the restroom at night, he waited patiently beside the outhouse for us to return to the safety of our shed.

On cold mornings when I would get up and start a fire, he would sit by me, keeping me warm until the fire place heated up.  He was a constant I could count on and one I became quite attached to.

Last Wednesday morning he was spotted by a neighbor a mile across the valley.  She took a pic of this super friendly dog and sent it to our friends wondering who he belonged to.  Before she got the response-he took off again, not to be seen since.  

I have spent hours driving through prairie, finding roads that barely exist, and calling his name-nothing.  No body-no leads-just gone.  

Happy has reclaimed his free agent status in full and has disappeared.

My mind spins with the possibility of what could have happened.  Each time I drive up my road I long to see him clearing my path.  Each night I wait to hear the sound of him coming over the fence or to see him laying in the front porch in the morning listening for coyotes.

But that hasn’t happened and I think I have to go ahead and accept that it will not.  

My heart is sick.  I have to say goodbye to my friend but I will only do so with the following wishes:

  • May the place you have found keep you as purposeful as ever,
  • May those that you protect in the future know that you love tight hugs, ear rubs, chin scratches, and that you MUST ride in the center console of any vehicle, 
  • And may you never spend a moment bound where you cannot run fast and be absolutely free.

I love you Happy Jo.  Goodbye.

Base is dry-ready to do walls!