A different kind of heat

Kachelofen? Tulikivi? Masonry stoves? Do these words mean anything to you? This is what Mark Twain had to say about these European wood-burners more than 100 years ago:

"All day long and until past midnight, all parts of the room will be delightfully warm and comfortable ... Its surface is not hot; you can put your hand on it anywhere and not get burnt ... One firing is enough for the day; the cost is next to nothing; the heat produced is the same all day, instead of too hot and too cold by turns ...

"America could adopt this stove, but does America do it? No, she sticks placidly to her own fearful and wonderful inventions in the stove line. The American woodstove, of whatever breed, is a terror. It requires more attention than a baby. It has to be fed every little while; it has to be watched all the time, and for reward you are roasted half your time and frozen the other half ... It is certainly strange that useful customs and devices do not spread from country to country with more facility and promptness than they do."

Kachelofen is a German ceramic-masonry stove. Tulikivi is a Finnish version made of soapstone. A masonry stove is a stove that uses very little wood to create radiant heat, and it really is hard to understand why more Americans have not adapted to them in the past 100 years.

Jamie Paiken owns Alaska Masonry Heat in Ashland, which distributes Tulikivi soapstone stoves in the western United States. He says one problem with Americans accepting this technology, used in 80 to 90 percent of all Scandinavian homes, is the nature of our society itself.

"We live in a fast-turnover society," Paiken says, "These stoves are really legacy products; they'll last for 150 years."

The stoves cost more than most woodstoves, and more than a ton of soapstone requires a strong floor. But they produce almost no creosote, are never hot to the touch (so risk of burns is very low) and they do not dry out the atmosphere as woodstoves do, meaning they seldom affect people with respiratory problems.

Heat from a masonry stove's firebox is retained in a series of interior channels before exiting through the chimney. In the Tulikivi, the channels are made of soapstone, which absorbs the heat from the fire before it can slip up the chimney, then radiates it out into the living space over eight to 24 hours, depending on the stove's size. Other versions use brick or ceramic tiles for this function.

"There are three types of heat: convection, conduction and radiant," says Dave Cornell, a retired Phoenix contractor who built more than 70 masonry stoves over the past 25 years. He says most of his customers were Europeans who missed the efficient stoves.

"Conventional woodstoves heat by convection," Cornell says. "Masonry is radiant, and radiant heat penetrates the body. It gives a different sense of heat, like a heat lamp. It's quiet, nonpolluting, and the only moving part is the door. It burns really efficiently."

Applegate artists Dennis Meiners and Leslie Lee built their own masonry stove with a core kit they purchased from Cornell.

"We build one fire a night, then we turn off the air, shut down the damper, and it radiates out for 24 hours," Lee says. "It's not like it is blowing out of vents — it's just this really gentle, even heat. We like that. I think it is by far the healthiest heat you can have."

Lee says they use a cord and a half of wood each year to heat 1,500 square feet.

"Typically it burns 60 percent less wood than conventional woodstoves," Paiken says. "It's clean, safe, and you are liberated from the bondage of feeding a stove all day long."

With more than 22 models, including some with fire-view doors, added ovens and thermostatic controls, the Tulikivi has become the most popular masonry stove in the U.S.

You can almost picture Mark Twain leaning against the mass of veined-gray soapstone in his white suit, a cigar clamped between his teeth, smiling.

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