Saturday, November 30, 2013

Compressed Wood Fuel

United States Stove Large Pellet Stove
Wood Fuel Pellets, 40 lb.      Compressed wood pellets meant to burn in a wood pellet stove are nice to have if you have the stove.  The cost of the pellets to burn is $5.49 per 40 pound bag at the local Tractor Supply Store nearest me, which is actually 15 miles from me, so, quite a drive.  The stove is around $900 without the vent kit which is another $300.  

Fireplace Heater for Zero Clearance Fireplace-4 Tubes/Blower
     Suddenly the idea of warming the home with the new compressed wood fuel doesn't sound do good.  Well, yes and no.  These stoves hold the wood pellets in a sort of hopper and release pellets to the fire as needed.  They have a blower to suck out smoke and a fan to circulate heat.  They have a thermostat and need electricity to operate properly.  The startup cost to any new tech has always been prohibitive.  Even updating a fireplace with a blower is pricey at $549 ish, but you will get more heat circulating.  But, you're smart, you could make one of these, too!  You tube has video!  

     Still, I was raised cheap, by the descendants of the Great Depression.  In their time, many homes still had fire fueled stoves for warmth and cooking.  Wood was gathered from nearby forest, cut from felled trees or bought as logs and chopped into useable sizes.  
     Also, most of my family was from Pennsylvania, so coal was also gathered from railroad tracks as the cars flew by leaving some coal by the way, bought from a coal vendor and delivered seasonally by the truckload or purchased as needed from a cart vendor.  There was no such thing as waste fuel as there was no such thing as waste.

     My grandmother rolled newsprint logs for her fireplace, well into her seventies.  As a child, she made twisters for her mother.  She would gather newsprint and taking a pile of it and a bucket to the porch step, she would tear a section of the paper and twist it.  When all the papers were twisted she would press them into her bucket, wetting them.
    She poured out the excess water and one at a time, she re-twisted the papers until she had done them all.  The water made the paper pliable and the twists tight, it also allowed the lignin to bind the paper as it dried.  These were used as lighting sticks and as tender to start a coal fire.  Tight twisted paper caught fire quickly at the loose end but burned longer than just balling it up and stuffing it.  It was used just like a small wooden stick.  Sometimes, when twisters built up, they were used in lieu of wood.  This is the prehistoric ancestor of the rolled paper log.

     Compressed wood fuel for the stoves I have mentioned above can be made at home but most instructions start with:  Buy a hammer mill or Buy a pellet mill and plug it in.  Well and good if you have a fat wallet and the power never goes out, ever!  But there are ways to compress wood fibre and what is now called waste into usable fuel for the fireplace without "buy a big new pluggy in thing"!  


     Paper is wood fiber and once made into pulp, it binds itself together and dries into the shape of it's mold.  Sure, you can buy a hand press and mold, but you can make one, too.  Using an old #10 can, a coffee can or a 6" or 8" diameter PVC pipe from the hardware store.  Drill drain holes all around the cylinder for water to runoff.  Fashion a top and bottom plate that will fit inside the mold.  Place the bottom stop plate on a level surface, place the mold over it, fill with wet paper pulp and place the top stop plate on.  Add weight of a brick or block and just let the water run out.  When the water stops, lift the weight, press again.  It will press out foamy.  This is good.  Push the disc of pressed paper pulp out of the mold and allow discs to dry thoroughly.  
     This sample of a bio waste fuel disc was made from sawdust made while turning wood and paper pulp.  The mold method works just as well for paper pulp only as the pulp is the binder that keeps the sawdust wood fibers together. 
     The UK and Australia offer another form of the log maker.  They encourage adding dry leaves to the paper mix.  And, why not? Instead of bagging your leaves and dropping them curbside, make use of them.

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