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Looking for Suggestions Here

Goal: Make Ziggy functional
Dilemma: I don’t want to warp the ash trap in the hearth
Solution: If I had one, I wouldn’t be asking

I need input from anyone with any fire building/hearth cooking experience. Because I’m out of my element here.

Ziggy, for those of you who don’t know, is the cooking fireplace in my dining room.  The former owners left the crane in place, so we’re ready to go as soon as certain conditions have been met. The first one is a supply of seasoned firewood, and only time will take care of that. The load of wood we just got is VERY green. Beggars can’t be choosers, and I’m glad to have it, but it’s completely unsuited for Ziggy at this point in the space/time continuum. However that situation is solved by waiting. The biggest problem is the ash trap.

Everything I’ve read tells me that for hearth cooking you need to build the fire directly on the hearth, not in a grate. Makes sense – you want a nice hot slow-burning bed of coals, so you only want oxygen getting to one side. The problem is that Ziggy has a metal ash trap built in, and my husband tells me (from unfortunate prior experience) that if you build a fire directly on that there is a good chance that the metal will warp from the heat and never seat properly again. Despite the fact that I’ll never use said trap, there’s no reason to break it. Maybe it will be okay, but maybe it won’t. I doubt it could be replaced easily.

So how do I protect the metal fitting and still lay a fire directly on the hearth? I’ve only had two thoughts so far. The first is to dry-fit an extra layer of fire brick over the top to cover it over. There might need to be some chiseling to get everything to lie flat, but I could probably do that. This was actually my initial plan, but my first choice place to get the fire brick dried up. There are a couple more places I could get it if that’s the right choice. It’ll look a little odd, but I’m not real worried about the appearance.

My second idea is to start by laying down a thick bed of ashes, and then lay the fire on that. The ashes will definitely insulate, I just don’t know how much. This has two things going for it: first that everything I read says that you need a good bed of ashes, and second that ashes are cheap and easy to come by – we take buckets full out of the wood stove. That idea is appealing in its simplicity, but I don’t know if it’s realistic or not.

Anyone? Thoughts, ideas, suggestions? I’ve poked around on the internet, but so far I haven’t found anything helpful. That’s not to say it isn’t out there – I just haven’t found it.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 13th, 2009 03:59 pm (UTC)
When we cook on fires in period houses, we do not build the fire directly on the hearth. We use andirons, spread to roughly 3 inches or so less than the length of the logs we'll be using. That way, we get a good roaring fire at the back of the hearth, with the coals falling through between the andirons. That way, we can use a shovel to pull them out and make a small pile to put under a pot or on top of a dutch oven. Basically it's a two tiered fire, flames up top to keep producing coals and the coals below. Seems like that still might be a problem with the ash dump though, since that glowing red pile of caol is pretty much like a blacksmiths forge. How tall is the fireplace and how high does the crane sit? Is it tall enough to allow you to put in a layer of firebrick over the base of the fireplace? It wouldn't even have to be mortared so you could remove it to clean, but it would only raise your base 2-3 inches.
Jan. 13th, 2009 11:58 pm (UTC)
Interesting. They did leave us a set of andirons also - they just need some quality time with a wire brush to clean them up. They're in the garage right now (and weigh a bloody ton.) So when I figure this out, will you guys come and teach Elizabeth and I how to build a proper cooking fire?

"that glowing red pile of coal is pretty much like a blacksmiths forge."

That would be the problem in a nutshell. I haven't measured up to the crane, but by eyeball I think it should be okay. You went to the same place that I did with the firebrick. Unless someone has a better idea, it sounds like I need to get back to locating twenty or so firebricks.
Jan. 14th, 2009 05:13 am (UTC)
Two ideas: Contact the Noah Webster House here in West Hartford. I think they demonstrate hearth cookery pretty regularly or might be able to point you at a local expert. Or contact Riki (rikibeth here on LJ) who you may remember from my wedding. She was in the SCA back in the day and has a culinary certificate and is like you in the thoroughness with which she pursues her interests.
Jan. 14th, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC)
Riki as in Mark and Riki? I do indeed remember them. We all went to my first Birka together, if I recall.

I hadn't thought of the Noah Webster House - they're certainly close enough.

Jan. 14th, 2009 06:45 pm (UTC)
Yup, that Riki, they're divorced now, but still in the area.
Jan. 14th, 2009 05:31 pm (UTC)
I've prodded Rob to read this in case he has any suggestions from growing up in a 18th century house where they regulary lost power in the winter.

One idea from me though, since you're talking about building a protective structure. I'd suggest a heavy plate of steel raised up a bit off of the actual bottom of the hearth so air can flow. Put your firebricks down on top of that so you don't have to replace the steel too soon.

If you want to try a small-scale something with loaned firebrick to see if you like the results before you buy exactly the right stuff, let me know and I can count what I've got out by the shed. I picked up a small pile from a neighbor's garage sale to repair the backyard firepit, but then built the shed instead. Rob's using about 9 to protect the picnic table when he cooks outside. (He has a heavy steel hibachi-type contraption and builds open fires from the wood that falls in our yard. Damn those pine trees.)

Hmm...if you do the false-bottom with airflow, maybe you could make use of an old '70s energy-crisis trick... there used to be fireplace inserts that were a set of half-circle pipes, both ends facing into the room, openings at the bottom and top -- this helps direct cold air from your room up the back of the hearth and forward into the room.
Jan. 14th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC)
All of that requires fabrication of metal, which isn't going to happen unfortunately. The goal here is to get Ziggy up and running as soon as I have wood seasoned enough to burn - not in ten years after I've gotten access to someone with access to metal working. Sue is already claiming that I'll never actually build a fire in there, and I'm determined to prove her wrong sooner rather than later.

That's the kind of incentive that I actually respond to.

Of course, if I get Ziggy operational, it begs the question of where I'm going to keep the wood for the woodstove...
Jan. 14th, 2009 06:32 pm (UTC)
Bricks over andirons
My suggestion is pretty much what my sweetie said - leave an air gap under a layer of firebrick. I'd suggest either laying a metal grate over your andirons or just buying the modern andiron equivalent (looks like a slightly cupped metal grid on legs). On top of that lay firebricks with edges touching.

The firebricks needn't be tight fitting, a few gaps will quickly fill with ash. The air circulation will dissipate any heat from the grate or heavy mesh under the bricks. Even a piece of chain link fence under the firebricks would probably survive a dozen cooking sessions before it burned through.

Make sure you get firebricks, the bricks she mentions that we have are *not* firebricks, they are paving stones and survive because they are not in the hottest part of the fire.

If you can't get firebrick, lay down pavers and cover them with an inch of sand or even garden dirt, when you are done put the ashes and dirt/sand into the garden, it's a great fertilizer (but not for holly, laurel, roses, or any other acid lover)

A good thought to keep in mind is whatever you build need not be permanent, if you only use it occasionally then getting a dozen uses out of it for $50 might be a better deal than something that lasts forever but costs $200! I say that only because I know nearly everything you make is a work of art and worth preserving for generations, but a firebed is nearly as transient and inconsequential as the paper cup you mix your pigments in :-)
Jan. 14th, 2009 08:46 pm (UTC)
Re: Bricks over andirons
I'm specifically looking for firebricks - I even know which kind, although I'll have to find the piece of paper where I jotted it down. There's a couple of local places where I can get them.

I'm specifically looking for it to NOT be permanent, just because someday *someone* will need to sell the house. I figure they need to fit just closely enough that I can run the ash shovel over them without too much swearing. :-)
Jan. 15th, 2009 01:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Bricks over andirons
NOT firebricks?
Drat that George...that's the only reason I got 'em.
Jan. 15th, 2009 01:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Bricks over andirons
Why the heck does my reply end up here!? I'm clicking to reply coffeementat's comment...
Bad karma day. This calls for another cup of tea.

BTW what I was thinking of was just one big square of steel sitting on firebricks, no metalworking if you can just find/buy it the right size. But no biggie, Rob's idea sounds much easier to get in&out.
Jan. 15th, 2009 01:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Bricks over andirons
Because you're replying to a comment in my journal - this is where the whole thread lives.
Jan. 19th, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Bricks over andirons
D'oh...you had already replied to him so my reply went below yours... I thought it was indenting to be a reply-to-your-comment.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )