Monday, October 6, 2014

Autumn Heat

It's that time of year again ... it's chilly enough in the house for us to feel chilly, but not cold enough, yet, to fire up the woodstove. We're in that limbo period of the year, waiting until we light the first fire.

As with so many of the years past, we've gotten to October, and we're looking at our store of firewood and realizing that we're not going to get through the winter if we can't find some more cord wood ... some where. We waited too long, as usual.

But it's also that, at the end of winter, when we scrounging dead wood for just one more fire ... you know, to take the edge off ... we're not thinking about finding wood for next year ... and then, it's late spring/early summer, and we're not thinking about how cold the next winter is going to be. We should be. But we aren't.

Again, as with so many years past, in the interest of conserving what little wood we do have, we're waiting to start our first fire.

The reality is that it's not cold enough, yet, for a fire. The thermostat in the hall says it's 65° ... in the coldest part of the house, which means, maybe, it's warmer in the parts of the house where we spend most of our time.

And we're also still able to warm up the house, a bit, in other ways. Cooking - especially baking - always makes things a bit toastier. We also throw open all of the blinds/curtains as the sun moves around the house to allow this solar passive heating to warm things up a bit. It works amazingly well. In fact, yesterday, I spent the afternoon outside (in short sleeves) painting, and when I came back inside the house, it was actually too warm and a bit stuffy.

The other day, Deus Ex Machina and Little Fire Faery helped a neighbor with moving some old newspapers, and Deus Ex Machina got to thinking about how those old papers could be used to heat a home. Paper, alone, isn't a very good heating fuel. It's great for starting the fire, but as the primary fuel, it would require a huge supply, and someone who could constantly monitor the fire and feed the stove. Kind of like the guy at the front of the steam engine on a train who is continually feeding coal into the fire to keep the train moving forward.

When I was a youngster, my family lived in the suburbs of Alabama, and we had a fire place. One chilly winter evening, my parents decided we needed a fire to warm things up in our den (the name for the family room - separate from the "living room", and not a "parlor" either - in 1970s suburban homes). We didn't have any firewood, nor any where to get it (because we didn't know much about gathering fallen dead wood, although I'm sure there would have been plenty of it, if we'd gone for a short walk). So, my father started rolling newspapers into dense paper logs. We burned those, and it was nice, but if one had to burn paper as a primary fuel source, rolling newspapers into logs is probably not the most efficient way to use it.

In our society, we have lots of sources for getting paper for heating fuel, but those papers come in all shapes and sizes - some of which would be great for rolling into logs, but others of which would be very poor for that use. The denser the log, the longer it will burn, and with some paper, it would just burn to quickly, because one couldn't manually roll it tight enough for it to be useful.

After working with the neighbor, Deus Ex Machina started wondering about paper logs - not the kind my father made, but logs made out of compressed paper - kind of in the way wood pellets are made.

And, then, he did what Deus Ex Machina always does. He got on the Internet and started doing some research, and he found several wonderful YouTube videos about making logs out of paper.

This video shows how to make a very simple press out of a piece of PVC pipe and a caulk gun. In the video, the paper is shredded before it is used in the caulk gun.

But the maker of the video started to wonder, what if I can't get shredded paper?, and so he made a second video showing how to make paper sludge, and using the same method as used in the first video, he made paper briquettes.

There were several other videos on making paper logs, and even some products that can be purchased to make paper into bricks for fuel. There was even one video of a guy who was engineering a way to make leaves into logs for burning.

As the maker of the above linked videos says, in some places, paper is abundant, but wood is not, and knowing how to make compressed paper into burnable logs, bricks or briquettes is definitely a worthwhile survival tool. For those who are concerned about deforestation, or those who live in suburban/urban areas where trees aren't as prolific as there are where I live, this kind of project would be incredibly useful.

Plus, the recycle/reuse aspect of the project makes me smile.


  1. This is awesome! I was thinking of rolled newspaper logs when you first started addressing it - reminded of it by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the rolled straw logs. This is even better though. I will have to check out those videos! We don't have a fireplace but my folks have one at their house. I can see where this would be a good DIY Christmas gift for them to add to their "wood" storage.

    1. You're right! It would make a great gift - especially for someone who only occasionally wants to have a fire, or for someone's emergency supply closet. I