In the middle of one of our periodic cold snaps in the unpredictable Texas winter I was reminded of what a good idea it was to purchase a Vogelzang Boxwood Stove a few years ago. The stove is a well-made, compact and handy little unit which fits a need which I suspect we share with many other households perfectly. It may seem anachronistic, but it fills a need which is as real now as it was hundreds of years ago.
Like a lot of houses ours has problems with distributing the central heat evenly. While the master bedroom and the second story get good head distribution, nothing seems to keep the main living area warm because of its many windows, glass doors, and high ceilings. And if you turn the heat up high enough to compensate, the upstairs and the master bedroom become unbearably hot. The only answer is to set the thermostat for the rest of the house and find some other way to heat the living room to make it bearable on the 30 or so really cold days we have each winter.
When we bought our house it came with a fireplace with a built-in gas heater as the answer to this dilemma, but the blower makes so much noise you can't hold a conversation anywhere near it, and the heat output was never impressive. So a few years ago I bought a Vogelzang Boxwood Stove and installed it on the tile pad in front of the fireplace, running a vent pipe from the top of the stove into the chimney. The stove was inexpensive, well made, and does a remarkably good job of heating the living room when we need it.
The boxwood stove is an interesting device. It's a small woodburning stove designed more for function than for aesthetics. The interior is only about 22 inches deep and about 9 inches wide. It has no glass window or open grate so you can watch the fire. It's a little, rounded hunk of cast iron designed to generate the most possible heat from the smallest amount of fuel. Instead of a window it has a solid door in the front with a pull-out base plate for cleaning out ash and drawing in air. On the top there are two warmer plates which work nicely for keeping warm drinks warm. It's called a boxwood stove because it was made for use in warehouses and workshops to run off the scrap wood from shipping crates and boxes and pallets which would otherwise just be thrown away. The utilitarian design makes it much more efficient as a heat source than fancier stoves with windows and a fireplace-like design.
A lot of woodworking hobbyists use them to heat their workshops. I need mine more in the living room, so I bring in scraps of leftover wood from my woodworking projects and keep them in a brass bucket next to the stove to use as needed. I'm also using up branches from our Christmas tree bit by bit as convenient, fast-burning kindling. They give off a nice smell, but I suspect the creosote deposits they leave behind will eventually be a problem. My wife is on a recycling kick, which fits right in, since all the cardboard and paper she wants to recycle goes right into the stove as well.
When I bought mine at Tractor Supply Company a few years ago the price was very reasonable. For reasons which are unclear they've gone up in price considerably since then, but they are still well worth the investment and I've seen them on sale recently at Harbor Freight. Of course, there are a few caveats. If you buy one you are likely to also want to buy a grate to go in the bottom so that your fires draw better and the ash is easier to clean out. You'll also want to buy a magnetic thermometer to put on the top to keep track of the temperature. You'll also want a brush and an ash bucket to periodically clean out the ash.
The stove draws best when it's kept running at a fairly high heat and you need to be prepared for a new stove or one you're just starting up to give off a little bit of smoke. Not a problem in a large space like a living room. If you have a setup like mine or if you don't have a fireplace and want to vent the stove through the wall, be prepared to lay out some money for a vent pipe. Even the cheap galvanized stove pipe is fairly expensive, but I went with the more attractive powder-coated black pipe and I think my five feet of pipe with two bends cost almost $100.
A boxwood stove is a practical item for many homes, but that doesn't mean it can't still be fun. It has a lot of old fashioned charm, and the front door does open if you want to watch the fire and maybe even give the kids a chance to roast some marshmallows. Plus, when society falls apart it may be all you have to keep warm with.