Topic: Homes

Knowledge & Wisdom: Russian Fireplaces

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Wood Fireplace

The heat-storing properties of bricks have been utilized to keep people warm for centuries, and a Russian fireplace takes maximum advantage of this capacity. By slowing the passage of hot gases through the stove without having to slow the intensity of the fire, you have maximum combustion without the extreme fluctuations of temperature resulting from hot fires in metal stoves. In a Russian fireplace, a big fire gives off the same heat as a small fire, but for a longer period of time… The warm masonry heats the living space. It also radiates heat back toward the fire, where it’s needed for highly efficient combustion… Russian fireplaces have a minimum of three switchbacks, and the convolutions of the flues seem limited only by the builder’s ingenuity. In 1940, a Maine dairy farmer named Sam Jakola constructed what essentially we call a Russian fireplace. He called his a Finnish fireplace. Using fieldstones rather than bricks, he built a 45-foot flue within the fireplace… A newspaper report in 1950 about his fireplace said, “If the weather is below zero, Sam builds a fire every evening. But when winter temperatures are normal he doesn’t have to touch the firebox for two days.”

—”What’s So Hot About a Russian Fireplace?” February 1978

Editor’s note: Albie Barden of the Maine Wood Heat Company in Norridgewock, Maine, was mentioned in this original story. Three decades later, he still builds and leads workshops on masonry stoves: mainewoodheat.com


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