Friday, November 25, 2011

Oysturkey and the Tea Stump

Thanksgiving was very creative this year.
Ernie can't eat poultry, so we did a wild-rice and oyster 'stuffing' with oyster mushrooms and lots of other yummy stuff in it. I got silly and made it look like a turkey, complete with oyster 'wattle'. We shared it, and lots of other good food, at the Campbell family thanksgiving dinner. There were only 15 people for dinner this year, plus another 5 who stopped by after dessert - down from 30+ people when I was growing up.
In between seeing family and helping with the Trackers Thanksgiving Break camps, we got excited about making a tea-stove for a local preschool teacher. Turns out the pre-school (and kindergarten) is located in the basement of the same church where the Campbells went as kids - talk about a small world, or at least a small Beaverton.

The program has the kids outdoors every day, sometimes all day, and so they wanted a way to make hot tea or snacks, without risking the kids getting hurt. We've done tea stoves for outdoor kitchens before, but this site had a special challenge: since it's a shared space, the stove has to be able to move to a storage shed when not in use.

So we went looking for light-weight, weather-resistant, insulative materials that could handle internal temperatures over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. And be safe on the outside for little fingers. We found Western Industrial Ceramics, who cater to glassblowers and other small-scale artists and businesses, as well as large-scale foundries and high-temperature furnace installers. Nice to meet people who are equally happy to help you on a tiny project, while telling you about orders from the aerospace industry!

We used their ceramic-fiber insulative board, and a cool-looking tube they happened to have in overstock, to make a lightweight stove that works beautifully. It boils a gallon of water in under 10 minutes (a liter takes less than 5), on a tiny handful of kindling. (You can see the amount in the fuel feed; it's literally the split pieces of one or two sticks, and a couple of 'big' pieces of 1x2" scrap. After the water boiled with this amount of wood, we added one stick at a time, and kept it boiling for another 20 minutes on two more sticks, just because we could.)

Plus we got to decorated it like a magical stump. The brass rim helps keep the heat around the pot, and little fingers away from the danger zone. The outer shell is plaster-of-Paris on canvas, with a non-toxic clay paint. Not super waterproof, but reasonably tough, and easy to repair.
I'm going to post the basic plans on our website soon at; the one alteration will be a slightly taller heat riser (the pre-formed core is a bare 18" tall) so the pot is up above the tip of the flame and doesn't get so sooty. Paul Wheaton of the Permaculture Forums is also interested in working with us on a bigger model that could be used as a turkey-fryer (or, for my own personal preference, an outdoor cookstove for canning when it's hot in the summer, without violating the burn bans on open flame).

We were pretty pleased with ourselves. Hopefully, the teachers will be happy with it - they are planning to coat the outside with some linseed oil so it is a little more waterproof.

Another fine mess at Mom's house, by Ernie and Erica.