The season is turning, that’s obvious. We’re pinned down in Deer Harbor with a frontal system coming through… 30-40 knots tomorrow, a brief respite on Sunday, another blast on Monday. We parked here to rendezvous with Andrew of Navigator Stove Works and get the black-enameled Little Cod wood stove installed.
The timing couldn’t be better. My Webasto AT-5000 diesel heater chose this cold weekend to stop working, failing to start and presenting the 1-blink error message that means, according to the manual, “No start.” Well, yes. I noticed that. But why? (Later note: it was a bubble in the pickup line that dips into the starboard tank, sucking air when the fuel got low… just a trivial re-priming, once I understood what was going on.)
So this was the week for conversion to wood… and quite the marathon it was! In the narrative below, all photos are clickable for larger versions.
First, meet Andrew, shown here contemplating the surgery necessary to mount the custom stainless shelf to the side of my galley counter. This turned out to be somewhat less trivial than expected, as I had been rather cavalier with initial measurements… meaning that without a bit of additional fixturing the triangular leg would extend over the initial curve of the radiused corner. Fortunately, since we had to sacrifice the pole that went from rail to the cabin top, we had some perfectly finished mahogany to harvest for the application:
Once the overall scheme was signed off by all, it was time to start with the surgery. Any sailor knows the trauma of adding a new hole to the boat, even above waterline… and this one was a doozy: a very large opening in .2″ steel topped with Treadmaster, backed with a very dense .75″ marine ply, and blocked for the extricated pole amidst an expanse of foam insulation filling a grid of steel ribs. After much head-scratching and calling out reference marks ‘twixt deck and pilothouse, we punched a pilot hole, then broke out the jigsaw. Here, Andrew’s assistant Jeff from Indian Summer II is carefully slurping up any remaining steel bits to prevent future rust spots…
The guys headed back to the shop to conjure a few parts, including a trim ring that compensates for the 5° camber of the deck and supports the beautiful cast bronze deck iron. This was all bedded in place using screws for clamping pressure, prompting the first of many comments that it looks like it was meant to be that way. (2012 update: I later had serious leak problems because the Treadmaster was not cut back far enough to allow a fillet of sealant… and various sealing problems developed including failure of the primer-Dolphinite interface and a crack in the trim ring from too much screw tension on the curved deck surface. I finally pulled the ring, which popped off with no effort, gave it a proper coat of wood sealer followed by Brightside polyurethane, then bedded it with 4200 after cleaning the old residue):
This made for a nicely finished exterior appearance, but from below we could still see the wood “underlayment” – meaning that it would be exposed to radiant heat as well. The hole had been lined with copper sheeting as a first step:
In a flash of inspiration, Andrew conjured a pair of aluminum components that would further reflect heat while allowing cooling airflow. It also prompted one of many amusing photographic moments, given all the awkward angles necessary when working on a boat…
With the hole prepped, it was time to get the stove mounted. They used the cannibalized wood from the original pole to frame out the plywood wall at the end of the galley counter, allowing a clever hack in which a routed channel created clearance for a row of 1/4-20 T-nuts. The whole assembly is thus removable without dragging out the refrigerator that’s on the other side of that wall… a process that is complicated further by having to remove the foot pumps under the galley sink to provide enough fridge-movement clearance to get an arm into the cavity. Boats are for contortionists, something I am most emphatically not.
When the shelf was installed, Andrew immediately insisted that I park on it to convince myself that it is sufficiently robust…
With that test passed, he added a stainless heatshield to protect the wood… and then the stove was centered and bolted to the shelf, its tripod legs insuring that no amount of heat-induced casting warpage would cause rocking. A few leveling washers induced general positioning consensus, then it was down to the final steps.
Pipefitting is something of an art, it turns out, and I was surprised at how fiddly this part was… but patience and collective insistence on perfection eventually yielded a smooth and well-considered run. Here we are eyeballin’ and tweakin’…
Now you can see the final configuration of the deck-iron interface, with the heat shield spaced away from the headliner giving a strong sense of the etymology of stove-pipe hat:
Topside, we have a couple of operational choices. The smoke head can be plugged directly into the deck iron for a low-profile look like this:
Or, as is the case at the moment in the oppressive wind and rain of an incoming cold front, we can insert a 2-foot pipe section to improve draft and disperse the startup smoke above the level of the dodger:
And it’s done! With the pipe all fitted and already showing a patina from the test-firing, here are three views of the finished Little Cod installation on Nomadness. From the passage to the aft cabin:
Lying on the sole looking up (with the draft damper visible in the angled section):
And from the center of the pilothouse, showing the loading door on the end:
And, you see those little holes on the front corners of the top shelf surface? One of the major issues here is safety — not just keeping skin off the dangerously hot stove pipe, but keeping fast-moving knees off the sharp shelf corners, one hand attached to a handhold at all times whilst bounding along in a seaway, and careening bodies off the stove itself. Removing the original pole, which was necessary to allow pipe to pass through the deck in the only available location, complicated the problem; it’s a large enough cabin that one could get thrown off-balance easily without something solid to hold on to at every stage of a traverse from one point to another.
I have added a few more strategically-placed handholds around the boat, but the central fixture is a sort of “caging” of the stove made with 7/8″ stainless rail and Sea Dog stainless fittings.
The other huge issue, actually the biggest trade-off of this whole project, was the impact on engine and generator access. Massive sole panels have always lifted to the 90° position and locked in place with springs, but now they only make it to 60° and have to be held up manually… obviously inadequate, although the most-frequently serviced bits are still easy to reach (Racors, tank-selection valves, oil filters and dipsticks, the sticky shutoff rail on the injector pump that needs an occasional tickle, coolant caps, and so on). The raw-water impeller on the main engine, already a major pain to change, is now more so, and I shudder to think of having to change out the starter with this reduced clearance.
We’ll immediately fashion a couple of latches to support the access panels from the stove shelf, but if serious surgery is necessary, it will be necessary to unscrew the hinges and lift the units completely out (removing the stove as well if major gymnastics are going to be involved). Fortunately, it’s all serviceable by design.
Other than that detail, I am thoroughly delighted with this new life-support component in the technomadic escape pod. An efficient heat source is now readily harvestable, and even a small fire renders the cabin cozy without the Webasto roar or the shore-power requirements of an electric heater. And to anyone who Googled their way to this page whilst contemplating a stove for their boat… I can warmly recommend Andrew and his products. He exudes an old-fashioned sense of quality craftsmanship rarely seen these days, and this little stove of time-tested design is clearly going to outlast the captain of the ship.
Second, I finally got around to building the safety cage around the stove, and it has been a surprisingly pleasant addition to the boat… actually better than the post that had to be removed for the installation. I used standard 7/8″ stainless rail and fittings (I bought mine from Defender).
Third, it’s pretty easy to light with the normal methods (paper and little scraps of kindling), but if you want an effective shortcut, try these little fire-starters. Actually, I usually make my own with sawdust and melted wax, poured into egg cartons… but that’s a messy job and kind of a nuisance. The commercial ones work great, store forever, and save a lot of fiddling. The ones at that link should be broken into quarters, good for 144 fires.
The heavy stainless shelf took threads nicely, and where the angled braces meet the thinner heat shield they are bolted deeply into the supporting structure. I haven’t tested it with airborne body weight yet (and hope never to!) but it easily handles the dynamic loads of rough conditions and grabbing it hard to prevent a fall. The height was optimized for leaning, and the top rail will get decorative hitching some rainy night.
The latest additions (2012) are a Caframo Ecofan Original and a window! The fan is not as hearty an air-mover as a dedicated DC one, but who wants to cable and listen to another motor? This uses a thermoelectric element to generate power from the difference between the hot base and the relatively cool fins, and does a nice job of gently moving air across the stove and distributing it around a small boat cabin. I had considered mounting mine to one of the disks (with high-temp adhesive, given the enamel), but thought better of it… that’s precious horizontal surface most of the time and the fan lives in a foam nest off-season or underway.
As to the glass window… Andrew now offers a glass-front option when you buy one of these, but quoted me $400 for a retrofit. As much as I wanted one, that was a bit too rich on my current budget for a purely aesthetic item. This launched me on a lengthy quest, culminating at last in a source for custom pyroceramic shapes (not glass) that can take about 1300° F continuous and 10% overtemp for a short time… a healthy margin of error for a wood stove that will probably never see more than 750° F for more than a few YIKES moments as you frantically reduce the draft. It also survives thermal shock very well; here’s mine along with the Caframo fan:
It casts a beautiful warm light around the cabin, reflecting nicely off the overhead, and it’s great to see the fire without having to open the door! I still think it would be better to get the glass front option at the time you buy a new stove, but if you already have a Sardine, Little Cod, or Halibut… you can buy a piece of 3/16″ Neoceram, 6″ diameter, with pencil-grind edges from One Day Glass. (I was reselling them for a while, but don’t really need to be in the loop… gotta choose my battles!) It will pick up soot from the flames, but is easy to clean; just use a wad of wet newspaper and some of the ash from the firebox.
Follow-up (2013) note on fuel
When I had a domestic woodstove, I avoided burning driftwood because of the salt content… mixed with sticky creosote, it leaves a hygroscopic layer that absorbs moisture year-round and can quickly destroy cast iron or non-stainless stovepipe. Since this stove is enameled inside and out, I have not worried too much about that, though it is still not ideal.
Researching this recently for a discussion thread on Facebook, I turned up an interesting article from a chimney sweeping expert that advises against using one of my favorite fuels… mill ends. Clean, dry, neat-stacking, and often free, these cut-off chunks of dimensional lumber are really tempting, though I have noticed that they usually burn insanely hot. Now I know why (and they have other dangers as well, including salt and some nasty chemical). Worth reading.
Also, this classic book is worth having in your library: The Woodburner’s Encyclopedia (1976), usually pretty cheap on Amazon.
I sold the lovely Nomadness in 2016, and happily, the Little Cod did not fit the new owner’s cruising plans. I’m now installing it in my Delta 50 named Datawake, over here on the Dark Side.
Cheers, and stay warm!
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