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A couple questions about this 200+ yr old fireplace with bake oven. (with pics)

Post in 'The Inglenook' started by Piston, Oct 24, 2011.

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  1. Piston

    Piston Member

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    I took some pictures of my grandfather's fireplace a couple of weeks ago. His house was built right around 1800 and supposedly the bricks were handmade on the property in NH. I thought you guys might like to see a couple pics of just another old fireplace :)

    [​IMG]


    I'm curious if the bricks were really hand made. Is there any way to tell whether or not they were based on these pictures?

    [​IMG]

    A closer view of the bake oven.

    [​IMG]



    ....And here is one of the inside of the bake oven as well as the flu going up the chimney, the flu is directly behind (and of course above) the door, so in other words it is in the very front of the bake oven, is this typical?
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    I'm assuming the section directly underneath the bake oven was used for wood storage or some other type of storage? These pics are of the lower steel door and inside the compartment. Notice the wood planks supporting the bricks to the base of the bake oven above.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    I should have checked the date on that newspaper :)


    I have always loved this fireplace and admire it every time I visit my grandfather. He used to have an old woodstove hooked up to it but he removed it since he doesn't burn wood anymore. It is currently accumulating rust and dust up in the barn, I'm hoping to have it restored one day.

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  2. jimbom

    jimbom Combustion Analyzer

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    If fireplaces could talk. Oh man, I would love to hear the stories. Nice pictures.

    If the bricks were made on the property, then the source soils would still be present. The USDA Soils Survey has been completed for all counties in the US. You can look on line and find your grandpa's property. If brick clays are present, then you have a good case for the bricks being made on the property.
  3. fossil

    fossil Accidental Moderator Staff Member

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    That's a very interesting old installation. I'm going to move this thread over into The Perfect Picture forum. Rick
  4. Adios Pantalones

    Adios Pantalones Minister of Fire

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    Is this technically a Rumford fireplace? I know of an old one with a cook oven built in like that in a barn converted to an art gallery in NH.

    I would think that maybe you could see if there is any clay on the property to determine if it could possibly have been made there. Check embankments and stream beds for clay. What town is this in?

    In those days many brick were made with a self-built kiln. Clay was pressed into a wooden mold that was wetted then sanded to prevent sticking. Excess clay is scraped off the top. The brick is then dumped out to dry. Dried bricks are stacked as to allow some airflow between them, and an outer layer of bricks form a big firebox and chimney around the stack.

    This is fired for several days- slowly at first to prevent steam explosions and cracking. When it's done, the whole thing is dismantled and the outer bricks (fired only on one side now) become inner bricks in the next stack/firing.

    Bricks that were exposed to more direct flame are usually darker- this accounts for variation in brick color, and sometimes you see shadows where another brick crossed it.

    Bricks were made on my street back in da day- we have bldgs in town made of the bricks. I am still looking for the local clay pit or any evidence of a kiln there.
  5. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Neat old fireplace. As far as the bricks I cant really add anything. Adios is right when they made bricks by hand in the old kilns some would get cooked more then others which gave variations in color and strength. They would use the harder bricks in the firebox and exposed exterior surfaces and softer inside.

    For the flues - not sure. I have the same kind of bake ovens but I cant find where the flues were - I think mine were bricked in at some point. Another difference I see is that my ovens are totally blackened inside from years of burning, whereas yours are very clean. That and the obvious rework of the brick around the top oven makes me wonder if it was build sometime much later?

    The fireplace itself is a rumford as Adios pointed out - the slanted sides are the key. It may have been built that way originally as they were introduced right around 1800, or it was rebuilt at some point.
  6. Piston

    Piston Member

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    Thank you guys for educating me on the Rumford Fireplace. I didn't know what that was and have never heard of it, I just did some searching online and have learned a lot in a short amount of time.

    From wiki...
    The Rumford fireplace is a tall, shallow fireplace designed by Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, born 1753 in Woburn, Massachusetts, an Anglo-American physicist who was known for his investigations of heat.
    Rumford applied his knowledge of heat to the improvement of fireplaces. He made them smaller and shallower with widely angled covings so they would radiate better. And he streamlined the throat, or in his words "rounded off the breast" so as to "remove those local hindrances which forcibly prevent the smoke from following its natural tendency to go up the chimney..."



    This is especially interesting to me because there is also a fireplace on the backside of what you see in the pics, which is much shallower than this fireplace is. I always wondered why they made the fireplace so shallow because I figured it would increase the danger of a house fire quite a bit, and it didn't make sense to me. Now I understand there was a reason for it and this was a design that became very popular around the turn of the century. It makes sense that this style would give off more heat than a deeper fireplace, although I'm sure still extremely inefficient by today's standards.



    The soil in the region seems to be more gravel like than clay like, however I don't know too much about soils. I had a county forester on the land a couple of years ago and he described the site well drained and poor nutrient soils. I also just had the surveyor doing some work up there last week and am waiting for the final survey from him, which I believe will have soil types so I will check to see if there is anything in the survey about clay soils. I'll also keep my eyes peeled when walking the land and maybe dig a few holes here and there to check for clay. The property is in Belknap County which I believe has a pretty good website for soil types. I looked it up a few months back and remember being confused by the different types :)
  7. Piston

    Piston Member

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    Your right, it is remarkably clean and makes me wonder if they really even used it? I was looking close at the separation of bricks between the bake oven and the main portion of the fireplace, it looked as if it was an addition because of the way the brick spacing lines up, but following that line down to the lower section (storage I guess?) it doesn't continue. In other words if the line spacing of the bricks all lined up the entire way from the bake oven down to the floor, it would make perfect sense that it was an addition, but it doesn't go straight down to the floor?

    I've always loved looking at that fireplace and seem to notice something new each time I stare at it. I've always envisioned taking the wood covering down that is hiding the rest of the chimney, and thought it would look so nice to show off all that brick behind the wall!
  8. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Actually that was a typo on my part - I meant to write "rebuilt" rather than built.

    I think the top oven was reconstructed, the lower one looks original. Keen eye on the difference in brick spacing. You can see that the mortar joints are thicker and more grey in the rebuilt area. The older bricks have thinner joints of white lime mortar.
  9. firefighterjake

    firefighterjake Minister of Fire

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    Very nice . . . love seeing these old ovens and fireplaces.
  10. Piston

    Piston Member

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    I'm not sure when the barn was built, but it is partially timber framed and partial rough cut 2x4's, which I imagine means it wasn't built until after at least the mid 1800's when sawmills became more prevalent. However, there are still old hand split shingles on one gable end for siding, which are in rough shape now but considering how long they've been there untreated they have lasted a long time.

    There is an old chimney and wood stove in the barn as well. It really has a lot of character and I am hoping to 'save the barn' in a few years when I move up there permanently. Here is a "not so good" pic of the barn chimney.

    [​IMG]


    This is a cropped pic of the chimney, I was trying to get closer but it's not too clear.

    [​IMG]
    These pics were taken a while ago so my intention wasn't to get a good pic of the chimney, I was just taking a few random photos of the barn. 2 yrs ago my father and I stripped the old shingles off the roof, repaired some rotted sheathing, and re-shingled the roof, so at least there are no more leaks in there for now.

    Unfortunately, the original barn that was close to the house had burned down. The granite stone foundation is still there, which actually leads right out into the bridle path that I posted a pic of in the fall foliage thread.
  11. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    It is not a rumford. Just having angled sides doesn't make it so. It is too deep, and not tall enough to be a rumford. Rumford fireplaces are kept to strict specific ratios of height-width-depth.
    The only similarity to a rumford are the angled sides, but the angle is far less acute than a rumford.

    There is no black in the oven because of the type of oven. Without a flue, it would never have had a fire in it, relying only on the heat conveyed through the bricks.

    The lower area is not an oven, but an area to raise the bread loafs.
  12. fishingpol

    fishingpol Minister of Fire

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    Rumford's are pretty shallow and I have seen a few to make me wonder how the wood did not roll out onto the floor. Regarding bricks, in the colonial settlement times of the 1600's to 1700's many of the bricks were brought over from England as ships' ballast. In my town there was a clay deposit and brickyard about a half mile from where I live. I believe that around 1650 bricks were being made there. There is a picture of the brickyards in the 1800's and a horse was employed to either mix the clay or press the bricks in a form. The picture is hard to determine. It would not surprise me that bricks were made in a few different towns across New England back in the day. A little research with the local historical society may yield locations.

    Regarding wooden beams - Early beams would have axe and adze marks where the wood was chipped along the length to square it up. Pit saws were used after that and the wood would show angled straight cuts. Early up and down saw mills had vertical straight cuts, and finally circular marks from more modern circular saws. The beams cut patterns may give you an indication to their age. History can be so fascinating.

    Has anyone wondered about the metal bedpans that were used to store hot coals in them for warming beds or under sleigh blankets? I always thought the embers would catch a bed or blanket on fire. Then I thought, maybe they just warmed stones in the fireplace and placed them in the tins? My wife likes the second idea:


    http://www.vermontsoapstone.com/acquiring_bedwarmer.asp
  13. Piston

    Piston Member

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    That's exactly what I wonder about! On the other side of this fireplace (in the 'music' room as he calls it) there is the opposite side of the same chimney, in that room the fireplace is extremely shallow (at least in my opinion) and I would worry about the flames or coals easily spilling out into the room. I'll try to get a picture of it when I go up there for Turkey Day.

    Thanks for the info about the identifying marks on the beams. I knew about the adze marks but certainly not the vertical vs. circular style of marks left by the earlier and later sawmills, that is another thing I will check when I go up there next. I learn a little more about those old buildings, as well as the land itself, every time I go up there!

    Does your wife have one of those bedwarmers you posted the link too? That's pretty neat.

    Speaking of pitsawing, here is a pic from this summer's trip to Plimoth Plantation.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
  14. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Hmm.. I guess you guys are right that a 'true' rumford has to fit those specific ratios, but I thought that any fireplace with angled sides was pretty much from the time period after rumfords were invented ? - aka rumford inspired. Or at least rebuilt after that time. Every original fireplace older than 1800 Ive seen in museum houses generally tend to be big square boxed with straight sides.

    As far as the beams - fishingpol is right on in identifying the saw marks. The straight mill could be any time after the mid 1700s, and circular saw work is generally after 1840 in the US. One thing to keep in mind though - it was common to have a mix even after sawmills were widely available. Remember heavy beams were hard to transport, so often what they would do is clear land fora house and shape the best trees into the beams and posts by hand - then buy sawn lumber for the joists, studs, floorboards, etc. My house is built with hand hewn timbers and straight mill sawn joists and studs and we think it might be as late as 1830.

    Even more confusing! Long after the west and midwest had moved to balloon framing, in the northeast they continued to build a partial timber frame style called a "New England Braced Frame" This had heavy timbers for the sills and corner posts but the rest of the wall structure was balloon stud framed. In some areas they didn't do away with the heavy timbers entirely until the turn of the 20th century. Just this week on oldhouseweb we were discussing one guys sill repair on his 1874 house in New Jersey and it was built in just this way - much later than you would normally expect to see large timbers.


    Some examples:

    This is my basement stair stringer. Perfect example of a straight blade vertical water mill
    [​IMG]


    This is a hand hewn post with the obvious adze marks. One thing to note is that this was only exposed in some 20th century restoration... Rough beams like that were never exposed in the 1700s and 1800s. Back in the 1600s when beams were exposed they would have been planed so smooth and decorated with mouldings to that you might not be able to tell they were hand made.
    [​IMG]


    And examples of the difference in old vs new brick work. The hearth here is original, the fireplace opening and chimney stack was rebuild 15 years ago with modern brick. The second photos is another chimney stack with all old brick. Notice the bricks are a bit smaller and the thin white mortar joints.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
  15. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Sorry for a potential thread jack. (mods delete if so)


    Dune,
    what do you make of this oven? Its all black inside but I cant see any flue connection to the chimney - unless its way in the back there where I cant see it. Its the middle oven. The upper one is similarly black, domed and definately has no flue. Both have 1800s vintage iron doors with adjustable air vents.


    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
  16. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    I am no expert. I read a book about Count Rumford, a contemporary of Ben Franklin but never as famous.

    My only guess as to the soot stains would be from use as a cooking oven. My electric oven gets the same color after a lot of use.
  17. Piston

    Piston Member

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    Is that a snake in the back of your oven?

    The pics I posted of my bake oven show the flu at the front of the oven, which looks like it has some soot buildup on it, however there is no black soot in the oven? I imagine it was refinished and then not used after that, but the flu remained the same. It's interesting to try to figure out.

    That's a gorgeous fireplace you have there.


    Don't worry about a thread jack, it's all relevant.
  18. fishingpol

    fishingpol Minister of Fire

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    Some water powered sawmills had "gang" saws that had a cradle with 2 or 3 blades vertically for cutting a beam into several pieces at a time. Old Sturbridge village has a vertical saw mill and when that thing is running the whole mill shakes. Pure raw waterpower. It is pretty cool. I did not know they had a pit saw at Plimouth, talk about a workout.
  19. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    snake... yeah its a rutland snake a.k.a. old piece of stove gasket.
  20. Piston

    Piston Member

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    Hahaha. Well that makes a little more sense! :)
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