Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Cookstove Fuel

Unless I am canning or doing a long day of baking, the fuel that I use in the cookstoves in the summer is quite different than what I use during the winter.  During the winter, we always want a fire that will be both hot and long lasting.  In the summer, we still want a hot fire, but we want that fire to go out as soon as whatever is being cooked is finished.  Therefore, in the winter, the fuel of choice is hardwood logs or split pieces as you see in the picture below.

A wheelbarrow full of split maple, elm, and mulberry.
The fuel of choice in the summer is anything that is small in diameter or light in weight.  Either characteristic guarantees that its heat producing lifespan in the cookstove firebox will be brief.  This is good because an unused fire in a cookstove can quickly make a kitchen a sweltering place to be. 

Summer fuel can be found anywhere: the maple twigs that have fallen on top of the chicken run, the small pieces of wood which seem to multiply on the ground in the pasture, the sticks which should be picked up before mowing the yard, the stray scraps of lumber which any construction project inevitably produces, the dry corn cobs that can be found everywhere in my world, or the pile of bark which falls off logs as they are split for winter fuel.  The list is endless.  Truthfully, a great deal of my summer fuel comes from my 86-year-old grandmother who is constantly picking up various combustible materials from her farmstead.  She puts them into used cat food sacks and ice cream buckets and brings them over when the pile in her garage gets too big.

A wheelbarrow of summer cookstove fuel.
Often, summer fuel could easily be the same as kindling.  The key thing to remember when collecting it is that you want biomass--in other words, something that was completely alive at one time.  I say this because I have seen people be fooled by some of the manufactured building materials that are used today.  Particle board and plywood, for example, have glues and other chemicals in them which, when burned, produce a hot flame but also a thick black smoke that you don't want coating the inside of your stove and chimney.  Several plastics are also available which look a great deal like wood, but they will make a mess in your firebox as they melt before they burn.  Be judicious.  Oh, and be careful not to use treated or painted woods, including old pieces of treated wooden fence posts.  Again, their smoke is obnoxious.

The key thing to remember when burning summer fuel is that the fire will have to be tended much more frequently than a fire made with winter fuel would be.  But that is what you want: a fire that will go out as soon as you are done with it.  If you are using a wood cookstove for summer cooking, using appropriate summer fuel will help to make it a less uncomfortably hot experience.


  1. I appreciate this tip! I'm always forgetting the difference between warm weather burning and cold weather burning. Very different needs.

  2. A neighbor of mine gets pallet wood for his cookstove and this works great for quick short fires! I was able to get several boxes from him because of abundance last winter.

  3. And some of the materials are noxious as well as obnoxious. :)