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soapstone and denial

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by stillcold, Mar 18, 2014.

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  1. stillcold

    stillcold New Member

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    After much research, we dropped over $3300 on a soapstone stove. As if by some government conspiracy, the majority of posts made mention of how warm the stoves were, especially after the fires went out. Terms like "gentle heat" and "high efficiency" were thrown around a lot. Sounded too good to be true. When I talked to other soapstone owners face-to-face, I got a much different story about owning a soapstone stove.

    It is general nature that people who spend a lot of money on a single purchase develop a mechanism for justifying their purchase. Like that $1200 exercise bike you never use, or that new $45,000 pickup truck that gets 8.8mpg, when you should have spent $22,000 on a truck that gets 22mpg. Very few people are willing to admit they are wrong. Me, on the other hand, will confess when I have made mistakes. And this stove was an expensive disappointment.

    I am not going to write a tome here (although it is starting to look like one, isn't it?), but will share my factual experience with the soapstone stove. Our home is about 1850sq ft. The chimney is correct, has excellent updraft, and is insulated double wall pipe. Our previous stove was steel plate, from 1988, and could swallow a 18" log without complaining. For over 20 years it heated the house well. Maybe, TOO WELL. Because it didn't have a glass window, we adjusted the damper based on the surface temperature of the top of the stove. Burn temps easily maintained 475 degrees, right where I like it. Throughout the winter, even when it was -15*F outside, we felt like we lived in a super warm house. Short sleeve shirts were the norm.

    So, why did we replace it? The baffle inside of it fatigued from years of service, and was not replaceable. No matter how you attempted to reposition it to remove it, there was no way to because the stove was welded together. So, off we went to the internet to find a new stove.

    The soapstone stove we chose was attractive, pricey, and promised several things:

    1. ease of operation
    2. increased wood burning efficiency over the steel plate stove
    3. better emissions & less creosote
    4. radiant heat, and heat that would last past the time the fire burned out

    Ok. Sounds great, right? Lemme grab my check book............

    The stove arrived. Installed it with new pipe (not inexpensive), and we are ready for WINTER 2014!!!!
    I performed the break-in burns according to the owners manual. Three gentle small fires to work the moisture out of the soapstone, and season the iron (and also to cure the enamel finish).

    Much like realizing that your flaw-ridden 2013 Volkswagen will never.....EVER be as good as your 1977 Chevy, this stove taught me a few things. Innovations are good, but with their shortcomings. I'll go down my short list:

    1. Ease of operation: Door latch squeaky after 1st month of use. Dealer said it was normal. I ended up oiling it with MILITEC lubricant EVERY WEEK to keep the door hardware from wearing out from friction. And we are to own this for 15+ years? The damper adjustment started making a metal-on-metal high friction grinding noise the 4th month in use. More oiling, and using graphite flake to quiet it. Other than that, it was a pretty easy going stove to live with (as long as you have ME living with you, to keep on top of it).

    2. increased wood burning efficiency over the steel plate stove: Its true. It burned about 30% less wood than "old reliable." And a lot of it I lend to the ability to visually monitor the fire through the glass, and the air tubes above the fire that supplied air for more efficient combustion. LOVE IT. LOVE IT. LOVE IT!!!

    3. better emissions & less creosote: Chimney pipe has a light grey dust on the inside surfaces, looks INCREDIBLY CLEAN (as does the chimney cap), especially when comparing it to the creosote scale and buildup the old stove produced. All wood under 11% moisture (some under 8%), and seasoned to perfection.

    And now, my point of contention:

    4. radiant heat, and heat that would last past the time the fire burned out.

    This deserves a new paragraph. The stove DOES make heat.....kinda. It just doesn't heat a house like the old steel plate stove did. It takes 90 minutes at full burn for the soapstones to even consider warming up. There's a load of good hardwood wasted. Then you watch your surface thermometer slowly go past 300*F, on its way to 400*F. In your mind you think......"I had better not touch the soapstone surface....'might burn myself." Then, like an idiot, I did. Oh, the disappointment. At a 475*F surface temp, you can hold your hand 1/2" above the soapstones, and feel ....literally.....a "gentle heat."

    And that is my problem here. The heat is gentle......TOO gentle. Even with a fan aimed directly at the stove to circulate air around it, the stove did not.....and I repeat....did NOT provide heat like the old stove it. Rooms at the ends of the house that would be 71+*F now were 63*F, and that was when the sun was out.

    Not to sound too much like a member of Monty Python, but you could put this thing in the middle of the playroom at a child daycare and have difficulty warming milk with it.

    WHEN YOU OPEN THE LOADING DOOR: you are reminded of the power and brilliance of F-I-R-E. Because, you are feeling all that heat that you should have been feeling through the "miracle" of soapstone. All of that clean, incredibly efficient burn. Feels wonderful. But when you close the door, it all goes away.

    It burns so cleanly, and so efficiently......BUT ALL THE HEAT GOES UP THE CHIMNEY. The soapstone isn't intended for heat over 525*F, to avoid cracking the stones. You would figure at 475*F, we would be opening the windows a bit, taking off our turtlenecks, and sending the cat to the neighbor's house......but, sadly, no.

    I am so annoyed with soapstone, that I wrote a poem about it.

    Soapstone stove
    You heat Mother Nature's toes
    So well.

    We have heated the house with this from late October to March. It does in fact hold heat through the overnight........but it is rather disappointing. And now its time to get rid of it. I am not too proud. I made a mistake. I will accept the monetary loss. And the new stove will be 1. ugly, 2. less expensive, and 3. steel plate or cast iron.

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  2. CenterTree

    CenterTree Feeling the Heat

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    Bummer.

    Sounds like the only one who is happy is the cat.
  3. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    These are subjects which have been discussed here at great length in the past.....in a general sense, soapstone is usually only considered for 24/7 wood burners due to the slow heating....which also ties into the "very hot stove" part because moderate heat 24/7 will end up heating well, but coming home from work and firing up a heavy soapstone stove to get quick warmth - or to blast out the house - is not gonna work well

    To compound that, this was the coldest winter in memory - which, of course, makes things seem even worse! If it was a very mild winter, you might be here extolling the praises!

    But, yeah, a lot of folks here have big ugly steel stoves......and love them!

    BTW, our article on comparing stove materials says:
    "But soapstone stoves have some disadvantages. Heavy stoves are harder to handle and shipping costs can be higher. They also take longer to heat up from a cold start, so those intending to get quick heat may want to look at thinner walled stoves. The outside temperatures of these stoves may also be lower than steel or cast stoves, which means less chance of serious burns if accidentally touched - however, if you enjoy cooking a full meal on your stove you may be out of luck as stove top temps are generally lower than cast and steel"

    There are almost endless threads here about them - example:
    http://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/lets-compare-soapstone-cast-and-steel-stoves.6256/

    Some of the folks with soapstone stoves have figured out ways to heat them up quicker and get them hotter - those are in other threads:
    http://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/soapstone-stoves-take-longer-times-to-heat-up.24585/

    But, all in all, you are correct. A thinner walled steel or cast stove will generally heat up quicker and get hotter....

    The good news is that the resale value of the soapstones stoves is usually good.
    alforit, Highbeam and begreen like this.
  4. craigbaill

    craigbaill New Member

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    Still,

    I would be grateful if you could private message me with the brand stove ( not on here please ) as we are in the market and looking at soapstone stoves now. The slow heat, weight of the stove and other soapstone characteristics I am aware of. This stove will be a supplemental stove for us so when it gets started, it will run awhile. The squeaks , and other operational issues concern me. Thanks!!
  5. splitoak

    splitoak Member

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    To the o.p...what stove do you have?..i dont know who told you that 525 degrees will crack stone....mine will cruise at 500 with less than optimal wood...i regularly burn it @ 575 plus...it throws pretty good heat..i birn a hearthstone..they dont recommend over 600... because of stone thickness...i believe woodstock is 700...the 24/7 thing is correct..but it really isant that bad on startup...the glass gets hot pretty quick...ive seen it up close to 700..no its not a cast iron stove but the difference between 475 and 575 is worlds apart..im sure other "stoners" will chime in...there def is a learning curve..
  6. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    Post number 11 or 12 for the season of "My new stove doesn't heat like my old one.". Perennial topic. It is always the wood or how the stove is being operated. No matter what the stove is made of.
  7. Dakotas Dad

    Dakotas Dad Minister of Fire

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    Bahh. I am heating almost 3000 sqft total with a stone stove. I have no issue keeping the house at almost any temperature I choose, within reason.

    This is from this winter: This is were my house sat temperature wise when we got up that morning.. The stove was loaded around midnight, and there where 15mph winds all night. Plenty of coals for the reload. No complaints here.

    [​IMG]

    and as stated above, have no clue about 475F or 525F, ours says 600F should be the top end of the burn, measured in the middle of the center stone. I have had mine a bit above that, and I assure you, when 500lbs of stone is at 600F in your living room, it's all kind of hot.

    What stove, what is the instal, and what is the house insulation like? How seasoned is your wood and what species?
    Woody Stover and splitoak like this.
  8. Bub381

    Bub381 Minister of Fire

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    A squeaky handle and you turn it how many times a day? How long would it take to wear that out? Mine squeaks but what do you expect from a piece of steel heated at those temps.I have a Woodstock Fireview and wouldn't trade it for the world but like they said,if you expect quick heat from a relit stove you're out of luck.I'd try to deter you from buying another but I'd say it's too late from your opinions.Good luck on your new stove.Keep us posted.I will tell you 1 thing though,whoever told you you can't crank 1 to 700 needs their head examined.Heat it slow but run that baby!!!!!!!
  9. Dakotas Dad

    Dakotas Dad Minister of Fire

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    It occurs to me, he must have a Hearthstone. Or does Woodstock not still have that 1 year "we will take it back" thing? As far as I know, that's the two players in the soapstone world.. right?
    Joful likes this.
  10. splitoak

    splitoak Member

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    As far as i know..my hinges dont squeak...no metal on metal sound..using the ash pan..also..are u using an ir thermometer or a condor stove top...mine is shows 50 degrees warmer than it is..condor that is..i would try different things b4 u give up
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2014
  11. woodybiomass

    woodybiomass Member

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    Nice post OP. How about trying the new Ideal Steel hybrid stove? I have no experience with soapstone but hope to someday..different game I guess.
  12. webby3650

    webby3650 Master of Fire

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    I'm not surprised. An old smoke dragon that makes heat like the sun is hard to beat! Except when its compared to burn times, beauty, cleanliness, and reduced fuel consumption. Some people really have a hard time getting over that super hot stove, in exchange for a warm house. The fact is, a 900 degree stove isn't necessary once the house is up to temp. A nice mild heat over an extended period of time is much nicer, its just hard for some to except this.
  13. HotCoals

    HotCoals Minister of Fire

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    I don't know..anytime you insulate a stove more it would seem more heat would go up the flue percentage wise.
    The OP has burnt wood for awhile and seems to know what's up. I'm sure he's being up front with his experiences..why is that so hard to accept?
    His old stove ran mostly around 475 per his post..not 900.
    I burnt a old BKK smoke dragon for years. My chimney was cleaner on the old BK when I cleaned it once per year compared to once a year on the BKK cat.
    but I am saving 30% of wood usage..so I'm happy and the house is warmer ..stove cruises way lower and way more even throughout the cycle.
    alforit likes this.
  14. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I don't think that is backed by fact. Woodstock has some highly efficient soapstone stoves. They are not wasting heat, they are storing it. The OP is running the stove a bit too cool. As webbie pointed out, this is also a record breaking cold winter. Based on heating degree days he may be saving 50% wood.

    It is unrealistic to expect similar radiant heat performance from a soapstone stove to an unshielded pre-EPA stove, especially if it had no firebrick. They are very different animals.

    Take the stove top up 100F and you may find it working just fine. I would certainly try that for a season before changing out the stove.

    Also, please tell us what stove you had before and have now. This could be a matter of surface area. If you have reduced it significantly you are putting the new stove at a disadvantage.
  15. blades

    blades Minister of Fire

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    One more Little tid bit not mentioned DRY WOOD, DRY WOOD. This almost always the problem with people switching from old pre EPA style stove to current units. You must absolutely ( no excuses, this ain't your daddy's stove and no,what you always did doesn't work, don't care if ya been burning for 40 years) use wood that has been dried to a minimum of 20% or less internal moisture content. Get it down to 12-15% and it is a whole new world. Sorrry I"m a bit grumpy this morning.
    webby3650 likes this.
  16. firebroad

    firebroad Minister of Fire

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    Webbie hit it right, you really have to run those things 247, in my opinion.
    Sort of reminds me of when I first got my insert; I fired it up, and sat back. And wondered,
    Where's all the heat?
    When I was using my fireplace, I had instant warmth, even though the rest of the house was growing steadily colder from the convection pulling right up the chimney. I soon realized I had to burn for at least an hour before the thing started to warm anything, and it took several hours to get my house nice and warm. Would I go back to an open fireplace? Are you nuts?!
    Older "Smoke dragons" definitely will run you out of the house with heat. BUT--they are dirty. This is why EPA approved stoves are now what is being sold. Yes, you give up some heat in order to clean up the air. But I feel it is a good trade off.
    Give that thing a chance. Call your dealer about the squeaks, and mention that the heat ain't so hot. Maybe he can take a look at it, maybe find a flaw in the construction.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2014
  17. DanCorcoran

    DanCorcoran Minister of Fire

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    Blades, as noted above, OP did mention DRY WOOD, DRY WOOD. Grumpiness is probably why you didn't notice...:)
    Joful likes this.
  18. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    No way.
  19. webby3650

    webby3650 Master of Fire

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    That's what I thought! This is most likely tested on the exterior of the wood, not the interior. The other possibility is that he is using kiln dried firewood.
  20. craigbaill

    craigbaill New Member

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    11% MC?? Maybe I should start a thread..."whats the lowest MC you ever got on a split.." Maybe he is using kiln dried wood?

    I would also like more info...
  21. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

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    Kiln dried firewood ain't down to 11% much less 8%.
  22. webby3650

    webby3650 Master of Fire

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    It was a joke.
  23. webby3650

    webby3650 Master of Fire

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    I've had 14%. It was cherry and had been barn stored for many years. It also was standing dead before that. Unless you live in the desert, its not gonna get any lower than that!
  24. HotCoals

    HotCoals Minister of Fire

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    In my years of burning the old smoke dragons they kept the flue pretty clean TILL you smoldered some wet wood. You can still gunk up a newer stove doing the same thing..maybe not as bad.

    If I were to add a layer of stone or tile or whatever to my stove right now..I would expect to lose more heat to the flue all else being equal . Because of a reduced heat transfer rate.
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2014
    alforit likes this.
  25. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    This was a good post, with a lot of positive AND negative feedback, but being the first post from a new account, one does have to consider the possibility he is just trolling.

    Actually, I've always read in woodworking magazines that KD is usually right around 8% out of the kiln, and up to 11% at point of purchase. Haven't tested much KD lumber myself, tho, as I don't think my meter is that accurate way down in that range.

    I've posted the equilibrium MC% for firewood stored under roof (i.e. in your wood shed) in various cities before:

    EMC_wood.jpg

    Looks like 11 - 12% is achievable in the OP's locale, but not 8%. This will vary some by species (dry density).
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