Warm Hearts, Cold Stoves and Burnin' Kittens
by Calendar Hacksaw
To my dear friends April and Mike:
It occurred to me recently that I had sent little more than an e-mail to express my profound gratitude for the hospitality afforded me during my recent visits, and I hope you will accept this column and the wisdom contained herein as a more appropriate showing of my appreciation and affection.
Spending time with the two of you is always a pleasure, made even more so with the recent addition of Otto the kitten and the splendid chiminea given by our very generous mutual friend. I took great satisfaction in both, and it is my purpose here to expand on the meager advice I proffered regarding the care and use of your freestanding fireplace.
Chimineas have become all the rage in recent years, and I see a number of them gracing the patios and decks around Twin Oaks and Walker Basin. The sensuality of a fire seems to make casual outdoor entertaining all the more enjoyable. Who can resist the allure of a bottle of fine wine, a soft guitar, social intercourse and the warm glow of a chiminea?
As you know, Betty and I have had our modest terracotta chiminea for a decade or longer, and we think it adds significantly to the ambiance of our front approach. On chilly evenings like these, I like to fire it up with some kindling and add dried apple leaves for a delightful aroma.
Anyway, as I meant to tell you before we both got distracted by your 80 proof Mexican elixir, there are several precautions you need to take in order to best prolong the life of your new unit and to enhance your enjoyment of same.
First, I recognize that yours is made of cast iron, making it far heavier and significantly more durable than the clay variety, which require special care. Your fire box has significantly greater capacity than ours, and can accommodate a larger blaze. I found it beneficial to construct a small "stage" for mine, to serve much the same purpose as the grate in my fireplace, upon which the logs rest. This provides for better air intake, and makes it easier to get the kindling burning, as I can place a small fire starter beneath the grate, directly below the wood. I would suggest that you do the same. I'm sure your neighbor, Don, has all the materials and beer necessary to complete such a Saturday project.
And while I'm on the subject of fire starters, you will note that I have mailed you a box of 36, which I made only last week. As I described to you, they are very inexpensive and relatively easy to make. Simply take an empty egg carton (dozen or 18 is best; avoid flats), remove the top, pack clothes dryer lint firmly into each cavity. Then, dig up some old, unwanted or broken candles, melt the wax over a low flame, and slowly pour the paraffin over the lint-filled carton. Do not over-saturate. Let cool, and break into individual "cells." Store in plastic grocery bag hanging from nail in garage, where they will always be conveniently available.
Remember what I taught you: those small twigs laying around the almond orchard aren't much use in the main fireplace, but are perfect as kindling for the chiminea. Get a small fire burning and then gradually step it up to the desired size by moving from kindling to split logs.
I share your concern for the potentially adverse impact the chiminea might have on your beautiful wood deck, marred only by that ugly incident with the candle. Yours has a clean-out door on the bottom, which can not only allow hot embers to escape and damage the wood beneath, but also permit the passage of rainwater bearing soot and ash. Covering the stovepipe during wet months or whenever not in use is a good idea, but little can be done to prevent some rain from entering the front.
Although it would be relatively easy for Don to fabricate a sheet metal drip pan to place beneath the chiminea for deck protection, a better thought would be to simply purchase a round pizza pan of the appropriate size. I would recommend you use a heavy-duty dish, such as the aluminum models used by Shakey's and Gay 90s Pizza during the 1960s.
Whereas the old truism that "it's hard to light a cold stove" is most often used to metaphorically describe the obstacles faced by senior citizens contemplating sex, it unfortunately also applies to cold stoves. The air inside the fire box is so cold that it can literally extinguish a small fire, and the cast iron body does everything it can to resist heat. Pre-warming is very much advised, and can be accomplished in a number of ways, not the least of which is to simply burn wadded newspaper for 5 or 10 minutes before building the real fire.
During the hot summer months, the dark interiors of chimineas become magnets for nesting spiders, including black widows. It is for that reason that I advise you to light a small fire at least once each month. But, be absolutely sure you know where Otto is before burning it off.
I've also taken the liberty of acquiring a one-year subscription to the Fence Post in your name, as I know how hard it is for you to keep up with the people and their activities down this way. Like modest chimineas, Fence Post subscriptions are not very expensive, and make an excellent holiday gift for "the person who has everything." In fact, I would have taken one to Carol Staats' housewarming a few months back had I been invited. I recommend avoiding the terracotta models from Guatemala, as they are so gaudy as to look proper nowhere short of the Vatican.
I must close now, as it's almost 7:00 a.m., and time to arouse Betty. She's experimenting with a breakfast casserole of refried beans and Mandarin oranges. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Calendar Hacksaw keeps his stove warm at firstname.lastname@example.org, and he hopes we all learned a lesson from last month's column. Don't ever give 1,000 typewriters to 1,000 monkeys and expect anything good to come of it.