Sunday 3 November 2013

A paen in praise of my stove

 It's time to sing a paen in praise of my stove.

A stove is the heart of any home, particularly so at this time of year. A stove transmutes wood into heat. But heat comes in a number of forms, and we appreciate it in a number of ways. My stove provides me with toasty warm towels from my heated towel rail, when I step out of the bath. It provides me with the hot water for my bath. It provides me with my hot meals, my well cooked food. It heats my oven and bakes my cakes. And, most important of all, it keeps the whole of my house warm and comfortable. And all this for no fuel bills, save the labour of cutting the wood.

So what is this paragon, I hear you ask; how much, I hear you ask, does such a thing of wonder cost?

Well, for a start, it's not an Aga. Agas are, indeed, wonderful things (although I don't know how well they work on wood) but they're vastly out of my price league; an Aga would cost as much as my house. And, they're enormously heavy. Getting an Aga over the hill to my cabin would have been exceedingly difficult. So no, it's not an Aga. More surprisingly, it's not a Rayburn, either. I've installed second-hand Rayburns in every house I've owned until this one. Rayburns are indeed good, although they are not that good if you burn coal - it's too corrosive, and you end up having to replace the grate and firebricks every year. On wood, which is what I have, Rayburns are fine - a Rayburn would have been good. But at the time I built this house, even a second hand Rayburn was out of my budget.

Also, a Rayburn has a small hotplate - efficient, certainly, but small. A Rayburn oven does not have a window in its door, so you can't see how your cake is rising. A Rayburn's firebox is not adaptable. And, like the Aga, it's very heavy.

No, my stove is a thing called a 'Plamak', or 'Plamark' - it's Bulgarian, and in Bulgaria they use cyrillic script; it doesn't transliterate perfectly. Specifically, it's a Plamak B: B for boiler.

Back in the days of the old Soviet Union one could buy Moskvitch and Lada cars; Ural motorcycles; Zenit cameras. They were sturdy but crude, by Western standards. Simple, but very cheap, and they worked. My first car was a Moskvitch van. The Plamak is a little bit like that: honestly made, a little crude in places, but it works. Unlike an Aga or a Rayburn it's made of pressed steel - very nicely enamelled, but just pressed steel. The handles on the ovens and firebox are made of something like Bakelite. The rail across the front on which one can hang teatowels to dry isn't very sturdy and it's a little too close to the body of the stove for convenience. The hotplate is just a plate of steel sheet, and will probably, over time, corrode and need to be replaced. There's no insulated cover for the hotplate. The oven doesn't have a built-in thermometer (but it does have a window in the door, so you can easily put a thermometer inside). Unlike an Aga or a Rayburn, it doesn't have a lot of thermal mass, so when the fire goes down it cools quickly - if you're cooking something that needs a consistent temperature you need to pay attention, and feed it small logs frequently.

But, it has real good points.

The fire box has an extra, removable grate. In summer you can put this grate in, and it halves the size of the firebox, allowing you to cook more economically. In winter, obviously, you take it out. The hotplate is enormous - it will easily take half a dozen pans. There's a very simple flue control which switches the smoke path from across under the hotplate and up the chimney, to round under the oven, depending on what sort of cooking you want to do. And cleaning out that flue path under the oven is absurdly easy - you just lift out the oven floor.

It also burns exceedingly well. Frankly it's too big a stove for this little house - until I installed the big radiator and my heated towel rail, I couldn't effectively use the oven because if I ran the stove hot enough to cook in the oven the hot water tank would boil. Now I can control that, by pumping heat out of the hot water circuit though the radiator (at cost, sometimes, of making the house too cosy - it can easily reach thirty degrees in the bedroom), and so I can bake. It does go through wood fairly quickly - two bucketfulls of logs in an evening - but in two hours it will heat enough hot water for two long, deep, hot baths.

All in all I'm enormously pleased with it. So, you ask, what does this paragon of a stove cost? Amazingly, three hundred and eighty pounds. Honestly, if you want a stove that cooks and heats water, get a Plamak B. It's a bargain.

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