"Then and Now" /A celebration in the Finnish /American Perspective/ "Ennen ja Nyt"/
Education PROGRAM 2010  

Finnish Fireplaces: Well-Crafted Heat Sources

Another FHM Educational presentation

News Report by Elaine Lillback

Consistent ninety-degree weather did not stifle our membership and guests from coming to hear our speaker’s presentation at the Finnish Heritage Museum meeting, “Heating with Finnish Fireplaces”.  It was presented by one of our members, Bill Newbury.   Illustrating his lecture with a power point presentation, Newburyhe presented the history, development and technology of the masonry fireplace since 1500 AD.   Illustrated was the actual building from the ground up of the thirty-foot high Temp Cast fireplace in his nine year old home.  Bill built his home using styrofoam/cement blocks in the basement and planned for his masonry fireplace from the beginning.  His home has basement walls that carry an "R" rating of 34, which is excellent.  Bill explained, "There is no sense in constructing a top notch, exceedingly efficient fireplace if the structure itself is not well insulated." 

   In presenting the speaker to the group, Ann Pohto related some of Bill's early history.  Although parented in birth by a Finnish mother and an English father, Bill learned to speak Finnish from his grandfather, Matti  Lampela of Williamsfield, Ohio.  He later married Mary Mallory of English decent, a lady who had grown up among Finns in Conneaut, Ohio.   Bill attended Andover High School, and following graduation received his engineering degree from Merchant Marine Academy in 1963.  General Electric, Davis Besse and other industries have employed him. 

      Heating homes with wood was common in those early years before the use of coal and oil products.  When the ice age hit Europe, it became urgent that fireplaces be built effectively.  Finland was under Swedish rule during this time until 1809 and the burning of trees became critical.  Finnish fireplaces were built with thick masonry with exhaust gas tunneling through the masonry to absorb the heat for many hours, even days after burning.  It was used not only for heat, but also for cooking and baking.  The measurements and technology of those fireplaces were closely guarded secrets, so the Finnish masons could continue having work.  Flue gasses need balance with fresh air to effectively produce a clean burn, said Newbury.

   Combustion needs to be ninety-four per cent efficient so that there is little ash left after burning the wood.  Bill related that his fireplace only requires the ash pit in the basement cleaned every three years by a vacuum, as the ash is as fine as dust.  "However, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter so the dust does not escape," he said.  If only sixty-six per cent of the wood is burned, it leaves charcoal.  Bill stated that in a heating season he burns 2 ½ cords of wood, and his wood-burner exhibits no creosote. He loads the fire pit just once a day.  Wood is stored inside on one the walls of the fireplace, aiding in drying the wood.

   In building his three and one-half foot deep and seven foot wide fireplace which he purchased from Canada, Bill read the thick manual several times and then explained and trained the Amish builder on the mechanics of building and assembling the heating unit.  The whole unit weighs seven tons, built in layers from three large units.  It is composed of stone pieces, some weighing 126 pounds, requiring two men to place the parts together.  Throughout the massive structure’s interior are the exhaust gas tunnels that carry the discharge vapors to the chimney and in that process transfer heat t the masonry.   There are two steel doors to the furnace.  One opens to the firebox, and another door up above is area that can be used for baking.  The local stone surrounding the fireplace is not hot to the touch, although the doors of metal are hot.  Room temperature is seventy-four degrees.  Bill explained that, "the beauty of a wood burning fire in a masonry unit is that the heat will radiate from the brick, block, or soapstone for hours, and thus it (the fireplace) does an excellent job of storing heat."  

    In starting a fire, Bill suggested starting by laying three logs on the bottom and crisscrossing other logs above these to five layers, and then building on top the tinder load of thin wood and paper.  “The fire takes off, and burns hot and fast, and it‘s clean as the warm air rises.”  He explained that most build fires from the bottom, but in this case, the top start makes the flue heat up and the rest of the fire burn very, very cleanly.  Temperatures inside the box can reach 500 degrees, but the outside of the stone walls do not exceed 140 degrees.  "They are warm to the touch, but you won't get burned by them.  Best not to touch the iron doors, however, since you will experience an instant burn," he chuckled.  

   In Finland they are using soapstone to make many different designs of masonry fireplaces.  It is manufactured under the name Tulikivi.  Soapstone is cut easily and holds a high temperature and is good for heat storage.   It is an excellent radiant heater.

Helen Hadden, Elaine Kangas, and Ailiin Andrews served refreshments.

© Text by Elaine Lillback, © Photo by Lasse Hiltunen 2010


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