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Multipurpose Living

December 11, 2013

Credit: Margaret Boyles
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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.

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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.

Comments

In 1950's, before electric

By KACTUS JACK

In 1950's, before electric co-op reached my grandparents ranch, we read at night by kerosene lantern and heated entire house as well as cooked on wood burning stove. And today our wood burning stove is a blessing we look forward to every winter.

I really miss mine. After 35

By beachbum43

I really miss mine. After 35 yr.s of comfort, warmth and security when the power was out I now have NO means of one in a Mobile Home after downsizing.

Great memories of my

By Vinnie

Great memories of my childhood. I was raised on a farm where LaGuardia Airport is today (1928-1939. We grew vegetables from early spring to late fall and brought them to market on the West side of Manhattan and the Bronx farmers' Market. The center of our home was the large wood-burning cast iron stove which provided all the things you mention in your story. In fact, one April we had a blizzard. In order to save a spring crop for market, we had to quickly harvest the vegetables and bring them into our gigantic kitchen to prevent them from getting frozen. That stove saved the crop. Our family members were all great cooks. The Wonderful aromas of delicious foods which came from that stove provided three meals per day for all of us who lived and worked on that farm. I actually miss those days and I am happy that you are experiencing that simple but joyous and healthy life!

Interesting! I hope that

By potsonna

Interesting! I hope that everyone's weekend was both great and safe,having a good week and has another good weekend. I also hope that they had a Happy New Year/Day!

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