It’s a frigid December day here in New Hampshire, so I have both woodstoves going, the kitchen cookstove and the one that sits on a brick hearth in the living room.
Despite the work and, yes, the mess (sawdust, ashes, smoke), I love heating with wood. There’s nothing as comforting as the radiant heat it provides. And there’s no other artifact I can think of that’s quite as multifunctional.
Let’s start with the exercise. There’s no getting around the reality that if you heat with cordwood, you’ll get quite a lot of exercise. Maybe you’ll cut, saw, and split your own fuel, but even it you don’t, you’ll need to stack the wood, haul it into the house, stuff it into the stove, then remove and dispose of the ashes.
I spread mine at measured rates (determined by regular soil tests) into the soil of my vegetable gardens, so our wood-heating scheme works its way directly into our family food supply.
Speaking of food, we do much of our winter cooking on the kitchen woodstove. Soups, stews, stir-fries, omelets, pancakes and more The small woodstove oven thaws, warms, and even bakes, though it takes coddling to maintain an even heat for something like bread or pizza.
We don’t own a clothes dryer, and getting clothes dry on the outside lines during the winter is chancey. But a clothes rack over the kitchen stove, and three large free-standing clothes bars get the winter wash dry in hardly longer than it would take in an electric dryer. As the clothes dry, they humidify the dry indoor air.
We also set one or two large canning kettles full of water on the stovetop before going to bed at night, to moisturize the air. By morning, the water is hot, and we use it for washing dishes and for washing hair in the sink.
Exercise, space- and water-heating, food production, cooking, humidifying, clothes drying—seven uses for an appliance that also looks cool in a rural home. Oh, and a more abstract benefit: scientists say burning local wood for heat is carbon-neutral, meaning it stores as much carbon (in the form of new forest growth) as it releases during harvest, transportation, and combustion.
I’ve written before about the joys of repurposing cast-off items. But what about design strategies that multitask?
For example, I wish all garments, from utilitarian work clothes to formal wear, were designed and constructed along the lines of today’s competitive sportswear:
- Both tops and bottoms would contain their own underwear.
- They’d “wick,” moving moisture (sweat) away from the body and out through the garment to the air.
- They’d provide comfort over a wide range of temperatures.
- They’d always remain wrinkle-free, right out of a suitcase or after having been worn all day.
- I make a game of trying to discover new uses for ordinary objects, which leads me to understand that with minor design changes, may more items could become multifunctional, thus simplifying our lives.
I’ve written extensively over the years about the many uses of duct tape, old socks, and tired toothbrushes. And what about a sturdy, two-bladed vegetable peeler. It not only scrapes carrots and peels various fruits and veggies, but it also shaves butter and cheese, does a great job of sharpening pencils, and can shave just enough from a wooden wedge or shim to make it fit. (I’ve also used it to shave built-up calluses from well-soaked feet, but I don’t recommend it for that purpose.)
I could go on, but there’s a giant pot of white beans stewing on my cookstove that needs attention.
Maybe some of you could add a few of your own favorite multifunctional tools.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.