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The Masonry Furnace - Enjoying the Task of Staying Warm
Our Montana Masonry Furnace

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There are sometimes good reasons to learn the hard way. Staying warm and being energy independent is a valuable asset from our perspective. I can remember well the first time Alexandra and I were in an energy crunch. It was the mid 1970's in the Colorado high country. How I wanted to fight back at the orchestrated manipulations of the natural gas and electrical companies! I felt helpless and reliant with no recourse. It was then that we acquired our first wood heating stove and began our experiences with wood fired heat

Of course energy independence comes with a price and a learning curve. It was here that I realized that my freedom from those who controlled the amenities of our culture required skill sets and work as part of the costs. And in my youth such an exchange for a cozy home was well worth it.

Years went by and I never regretted taking that initial step. Albeit the annual ritual of getting the winter's supply of wood in never really panned out. I always found myself getting my firewood when it was least convenient and extra work to boot. Bless those who are free to do otherwise. Consider your good fortune and take it not for granted!

If push came to shove we could always fall back on the system.

Fast forward to our Montana homestead off the grid and in the back woods and you have a different story. Heh, I will never forget the first time it dipped to -50° F. Ah yes, the joy of it all. Even with the old Montgomery Ward depression era wood cook stove glowing red, the 6 mil plastic we had for windows on the work shop (our temporary dwelling while we built the log home) was taught and brittle as glass. Nothing we did seemed to help.

It was then that we decided to install our wood burning heating stove. (Squeaky wheel gets the grease when initially establishing a homestead.) In the middle of December, knee deep in snow, felling dead beetle kill Lodge Pole pine trees, bucking them up, burning the slash and hauling the firewood home is the picture you should have. No regrets mind you. Just a lesson on doing things the hard way. The force of experience insisted that I at least get the majority of the firewood in before the snow arrived.

On average we consumed ten cords of wood each winter in that shop (16 feet x 32 feet). That was for cooking and heating. Some nights I had to wake every two hours to keep the stove stoked so our canned goods wouldn't waste. There's few things as disheartening as hearing your masonry jars full of beets etc. neatly stored on kitchen area shelves bursting due to the bitter cold. Actually the first time it happened in the dark of night I wondered what that strange noise was. Day light told the tale. At least everything was frozen solid and the mess was manageable.

When the log home was finished it was three times the square footage to heat and two stories to boot. Total wood consumption for the average year was a little over three to three and one half cords. It was the masonry furnace that made this striking difference.

Our awareness of the Masonry Furnace began in the 1970's with an article in a magazine. The profundity with which this simple and very effective heating device impressed us sealed forever the notion that we would some day build one.

It was there in Montana that we were first inspired to get the job done. The Flathead County Extension Agent had a 2100 square foot double envelope home that he said required only one cord of dry small dimensional wood to heat during the bitter cold winters of the Montana NW. He also put out a pamphlet on the subject of building a "grubka" (the Russian Style Masonry Furnace). When I met him he graciously allowed me to view his copious files on the subject, along with a video he had made of his own furnace being built.

With inspiration from his work and a prayer ( I am not a mason by trade ), I began the great experience of building the furnace. That was in the mid 1980's. We have used the masonry furnace to heat since that time and highly recommend it to anyone desiring efficiency, aesthetics, and class for their heating needs. The estimates of 98% efficiency with the masonry furnace are not exaggerations. It is a perfect way to conserve and heat with wood. So strongly do I feel about this heating system's virtues that I would feel a sense of guilt and folly to resort to anything else for warmth except under dire need. Anyone who has spent long arduous hours cutting, splitting and stacking firewood will understand the sharp interest I've had in reducing wood harvest time, costs and wood consumption. Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't want to heat with anything else. Any homesteader understands the beauty of efficiency that does not harm. For heating with wood, the masonry furnace is it. The comfort level exceeded that provided by conventional convection wood heating. Radiant heat is tops, clean and much safer than convection stoves. Picture it as a large rock glowing with warmth in the middle of your home. The infrared radiation of the masonry mass shines out warming objects in the building which in turn creates a pleasant even multi-directional source of warmth. The surface of the heater hovers at around 110° F.

russian furnace

Our Present Furnace

Most times here in Oregon I fire it up once per day unless it is unusually cold and damp. Then once in the morning and once in the evening does it. A quick hot fire and then shut it down. No fuss. No muss.

During a long winter's season a while back I spent some time putting together a compendium of information that I have gleaned over the years on the construction of masonry furnaces. It inculcates our personal experiences having built two of these as "owner builders". It's not exhaustive but the essentials are there. At the recommendation of a friend and as a result of the many queries into the subject by individuals through the WWW I have taken the better part of that information and turned it into a CD for public use.

This CD contains the following in the main index. It should give you a fairly good idea of it's content. I tried to be a thorough as possible to assist the owner builder in his masonry construction effort.

List from the Masonry Furnace CD Index

  • Introduction
  • Building Codes
  • Old World Examples
  • Firing Up Facts
  • General Information
  • Example Materials Lists
  • How the Furnace Works
  • Foundation Construction
  • Important Cleanout Port Information
  • The Blast Gate Option
  • Russian Masonry Manual Images
  • Index of Heatchambers
  • Index of Masonry Furnace Plans
  • Index of the Animations
  • Index of the Construction Pictorial
  • About this CD

A short explanation of the CD's contents


Intro and discussion of how to use the CD.


Building Codes:

Information relating to local building codes


Old World Examples:

Illustrations of real world northern European and Russian stoves.


Firing Up Facts:

A table of information produced by scientifically analyzing furnaces.


General Information:

Facts helpful for a successful project.


Example Materials Lists:

Two materials price lists. One from each end of the expense spectrum.


How the Furnace Works:

Thorough explanation of furnace function.


Foundation Construction:

Important points about the foundation.


Important Cleanout Port Information:

Making maintenance easy.


The Blast Gate Option:

Enhancing furnace operation.


Russian Masonry Manual Images:

Interesting images. Even more helpful if you read Russian :)


Index of Heat Chambers:

Illustrations of the workings of the furnace internals.


Index of Masonry Furnace Plans:

Five sets of plans derived from classic masonry stove patterns. If one of these doesn't fit your needs they will at least be a good starting point to inventing your own.


Index of the Animations:

Visual inspection of the internal and external looks of the furnaces.


Index of the Construction Pictorial:

A step by step pictorial of the construction of our Montana grubka.


About this CD: You buy it. It is yours. Share it all you like. But please don't copy and sell it.


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In Summary

The CD includes 5 sets of plans. Vertical, horizontal, split flow, attached oven or stove and various other options. A step by step pictorial on each phase of the project in html web browser format. And an extensive array of 3D animations to better visualize the components and working of each.

I tried to be as detailed as possible and to date have had no complaints. The entire CD is accessed by your web browser. Either Firefox, Internet Explorer or any web ready browser should work.

The CD is fifteen dollars US ($15.00-US) and includes postage and handling. Be sure to include your mailing address with your order and send us a snail mail or email notice that you are ordering. This will guarantee that your Furnace CD will be sent out promptly. Make checks or money orders out to:

Stanley & Alexandra Petrowski
34620 Tiller Trail Hwy.
Tiller, Oregon 97484

You can use paypal if you like. Please email me and let me know of your $15.00 payment to our paypal account and the address I should send the CD to. Just click the paypal image below.