Rocket stove roundup

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At Milkwood Farm we love both our rocket stove water heater and our mini rocket stove, but with winter taking hold I’m dreaming of new ideas, so I thought I’d review what else is out there.

DIY rocket stove technology is exploding world-wide at the moment – here’s a couple of the treasures I’ve come across:

The first thing i discovered was who initiated the rocket stove idea. Previously i’d had the fuzzy impression that this technology was dreamed up by the fabulous Ianto Evans, as outlined in his excellent book Rocket Mass Heaters super efficient wood stoves you can build (with Leslie Jackson). But it turns out that the originator of this technology was Dr. Larry Winiarski from the Aprovecho Institute.

The guts of Winiarski’s work is encapsulated in a very simple document called

Ten design principles for wood burning stoves

And out of this work came the idea of rocket stoves, which a worldwide community of folks with both a clue and a need picked up, ran with, and continue to refine.

The Aprovecho Institute produced an excellent basic hand-out on rocket stoves and other cooking technologies called 

Capturing HEAT: Five Earth-Friendly Cooking Technologies and How to Build Them.

It’s a great little introduction to low-energy cooking techniques.

Rocket stove technology is exciting for a couple of reasons, but the central two are both simple and profound: the first is the fact that you don’t need much wood to run a well-made rocket stove. The second is that a well-made rocket stove gives off very little smoke.

Anyone who relies on wood-burning systems for heat of any kind, will automatically appreciate both these factors.

Whether you’re schlepping wood every week from the woodpile, or gathering it from the forest nearby (or far away, for that matter), the less wood you have to use, the better. Both for the gatherer, and for the forest being gathered from.

On an everyday level, this factor is extremely attractive. Take your living situation out of the every day, however, and into crisis mode where a community lacks automatic access to the raw materials to heat or to cook, and rocket stoves start to potentially become life changing, and even life saving.

The not-so-much smoke thing might not seem such a big deal to us westerners, but it’s both a measure of energy efficiency, a question of pollution and, for households where cooking is done inside on a wood stove, has a huge impact on the health of that family.

From this basic idea, a million DIY rocket stove experiments have unfolded. And many of them are very cool indeed. Some of them are domestic scale, and some of them are community scale. Some are for cooking, and some are for heating. All rely on maximum effect for minimum input. Energy efficiency at its best?

First, some diagrams. i do like a good diagram, especially one that de-mystifies something truly useful:

Rocket stoves are awesome for a variety of applications. Some of these include:

This cutie was one of the designs our mini rocket stove was based on.
Heating water for showers at Milkwood Farm, via our rocket-powered shower
A digram of the Milkwood Farm rocket powered shower
An extremely cosy looking indoor rocket mass heater with heated cob bench
A diagram which explains the basic logistics of above system
A rocket stove making lunch. This is a good thing. Especially with that cup of tea.

Beyond these basic applications, there are heaps of amazing folks refining bread-baking rocket stoves, industrial and community scale cooking with rocket stoves, food drying and many, many things I have no doubt not yet come across. Ahrg, the awesomeness!

Do a youtube search on rocket stove and you’ll get all the how-to’s you can handle… however in the course of my meanderings i noticed that Aprovecho have a new ‘what-why-how’ video for their institutional stove model, which is perhaps a good place to start:

The Aprovecho Institutional Rocket Stove

Followed by a great little tour of 12 domestic-scale rocket stoves as outlined by Paul Wheaton:

12 rocket stove mass heaters

I think our next rocket stove project will be a rocket stove bread/pizza oven for our tinyhouse courtyard… anyone out there have experience in building something like this? Any advice before we take the plunge?

Just a few rocket stove resources:

See the comments

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24 responses to “Rocket stove roundup

  1. Kirsten, while travelling in NY last year, I came across a really neat pizza/bread rocket oven. Built from pure scrap materials and worked really nicely. I can get you some photos for reference if you like. The rocket heated the cooking chamber (old burn barrel) and fire brick cooking surface from below. The feed chamber was on the back side and a removable oven door on the front end. They’re still kicking out pizzas over at Regneration CSA!

  2. Can you guys or anyone else answer my question? J profile or L profile: which works best and what are the pros and cons of each? I’m about to build rocket stoves for a couple of applications and would really like to hear about people’s experiences of both.

    1. Hey Wendy, hmmm from our experience I’d say J profile, partly b/c vertically feeding the sticks mean that they burn down of their own accord, rather than having to constantly poke em further in… but i would pose this question on the permies forum which has a world-wide community of people with strong opinions about it: – search on ‘rocket’ in there and off you go! Good luck –

    2. Dear Wendy
      profile is dependant on application, Efficiency is totally dependant on distance from fire to pot or whatever you are heating. j profile is always longer unless you have a flue after the pot or whatever you are heating. In my experimenting I found that without a flue the vertical distance between where you feed the fire to the underside of the pot needs to be 500mm minimum for smoke free operation and to maintain a good draft.
      Hope that helps Joe

  3. Thanks Kirsten! Why didn’t I think of that? Think I’ve been spending so much time in the permaculture section I’d forgotten there was an alternative energy section …

  4. Hey there, I just wanna say thank you so much for this great work , I just appreciate everything on your blog, valuable writing great layouts! it’s only Awesome! thank you again.

  5. Agreed. What an exciting and engrossing concept. Thanks Milkwood for sharing your discoveries…until now I had never heard of rocket stoves. I’ll be building one myself!

  6. I love your blog Kirsten! I was in Aprovecho (USA) (the place where was invented the rocket stove) and I didn’t realized that since the last week! hahahha. We built a rocket mass heater with a cob bench and a rocket cooking stove! It was so fun! We would love to come back to Milkwood and see what’s going on there, it looks really well!

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