When people conjure up images in their heads of an old-fashioned homestead, a wood-fired cookstove in the kitchen is often part of that mental picture. If you don’t have one of these iconic appliances in your homestead kitchen, here are some good reasons why you might want to consider the expense and hassle of installing one.
1. The most obvious reason is that they are an ideal power-out alternative. If you live off-grid, chances are you already embrace the idea of a wood cookstove and probably use one regularly. But those of us who are normally connected to the commercial electric grid know it is not a foolproof connection. Loss of power, from brief accidental outages to a catastrophic event, can make people wish they had an alternative source for heat and cooking. Occasional spikes in fuel prices can also increase the appeal of simple wood fuel.
2. Wood cookstoves increase self-sufficiency. If you have a wood cookstove and your own woodlot, you can stay warm and eat hot food, no matter what. Even when the price of oil skyrockets or the propane truck cannot fill your tank until next week, you don’t have to worry about the basics. High fuel prices affect the cost of running chainsaws and other wood processing equipment, but you can do it by hand if you have to—unlike other heat and cooking fuels, which you cannot acquire on your own.
3. You can cook and bake with them! We’re talking about wood cookstoves, so you might think that’s obvious—but I get this question a lot: “Can you really cook/ bake on that?” I open the oven door and show them—look, it’s an oven! With racks and everything! “But how do you…?” It does take a learning curve to regulate the heat, for sure. And it’s less precise than turning a knob or setting an electronic panel.
Even in winter, I do not rely on mine exclusively. But I keep a fire going in it most of the season, and I love being able to just heat up a casserole or roast winter squash—or any number of other uses that don’t require a precise oven temperature—for no more cost than a few extra sticks of wood.
4. Wood is a renewable resource. When fossil fuels are gone, they’re gone for good. When a tree is harvested, new ones grow.
5. Wood cookstoves can save energy by way of zoned heating. In most homes and homesteads, people spend a lot of their time in the kitchen, where a wood cookstove can provide a warm comfortable spot without turning up the thermostat to heat the whole house.
6. Wood cookstoves also can save energy by heating water for free. Some models have a water tank attached to the stove, but it’s easy enough to set a kettle of water on top to heat. Free hot water is great anytime for countless applications around the house and barn, and particularly valuable when no other way to heat water is available.
7. You can use cookstoves for free humidification. Anyone who lives in a cold climate knows that many heat systems dry out the air indoors. A teakettle kept simmering on the cookstove all day does more than keep water for tea and hot chocolate ready at a moment’s notice—it helps add much-needed humidity to the air.
8. You can hang clothes next to cookstoves for drying. I’ve rigged a homemade rack using a wire hanger and a heavy-duty magnet, which I used to hang wet mittens and hats from the end of my warming oven. I follow safety precautions, of course, and you should, too. When I was a kid growing up off-grid, safety sometimes was foregone in favor of desperation—I remember the smell of singed wool socks someone laid on the surface of the kitchen woodstove in an attempt for a quick dry.
9. Wood cookstoves add home value. Installing a wood cookstove requires money and space. But because they are such a beautiful and valuable addition to a homestead, there’s a good chance you can recoup your investment if you would ever sell the place.
10. Some people say food tastes better when cooked or baked using a wood-fired stove. I don’t know if that’s exactly true, but I do know that nobody ever turns their nose up at the homestyle baked beans and steamed brown bread my cookstove turns out.
11. Wood fires smell great, as long as you burn good clean fires with quality wood. And as long as you like that kind of smell. If you would like something a little less rustic than wood smoke, a little dab of scented oil in a container in the upper warming oven is cheaper and safer than candles. And if you prefer expensive perfume to natural smells, you probably don’t live on a homestead anyway.
12. You can melt butter on them. Okay, don’t laugh, but one of the things I miss the most during summer when I use my modern gas range instead of my wood cookstove is the ability to plop a couple tablespoonfuls of hard butter into a little metal cup and set it in the warming oven to melt. No worries about forgetting it and having it burn, and melting a little extra means I always have it handy for brushing bread or pies. But it’s not just butter. It’s convenient to regulate how fast foods heat up by moving them around on the cooktop—directly over the firebox for the most heat, and on the far back corner for less—and to keep them warm in the upper oven or top shelf.
13. They make natural gathering places. People gravitate towards a wood cookstove. The metal bar across the front of mine makes people want to lean on it, even on a hot summer day when there hasn’t been a fire in it for weeks.
14. Cookstoves are an instant toaster. At least, some are. I frown on the idea of setting food directly on the clean metal surface of my relatively new Amish cookstove, but people with older stoves aren’t always so picky. A lot of us grew with wood cookstove surfaces that handled toast, wool socks, and whatever else came along without anyone batting an eye.
My wood cookstove plays a central role in the lives of those on my homestead. It is a primary heat source for all but the coldest weather, adds great comfort and convenience, and is one of the smartest and treasured investments ever.
What would you add to our list? Share your thoughts in the section below: