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Wilderness Homes
Chapter II - The Fireplace


YOUR lodge in the wilderness demands a heart to make it lovable the fireplace. And you will want a generous hearth built for service rather than for show, thus will the old ties with nature be renewed.

And do not fear that building for service will detract from its beauty. My word for it, neglect its architecture for its utility and it will still "look right," though here as elsewhere we want no sham honesty or fake simplicity. Build it for the purpose intended, and when the chill gray days do come it will warm your very soul with cheer and make the home complete.

A fireplace of stones, with its roughhewn log shelf, falls at once into complete harmony with the cabin and its life. It needs no adornment, yet everything, from the flintlock gun to a snowshoe, seems a part of it.

Select your stones with a care for their coloration, and the moss and lichens clinging to them.

The opening should be three or four feet wide, or even five; if the room be very large, about two feet deep, and not over twenty-five or twenty-six inches high. To hold cordwood, the dimensions are about four feet six inches wide and three feet six inches high. A fireplace should not be too deep, or an important proportion of the reflected heat will be lost. The sides should not be set at right angles to the back, but should slant to nearly an angle of forty- five degrees.

Now, the draught of a fireplace is most important, and a mistake in the construction is almost impossible to correct. Slope the back of the fireplace inward toward the front, terminating at the throat about four

or five inches above the front of the arch. It should be drawn in until the throat is narrowed down to almost three inches. This will leave a ledge which will accelerate the draught, and form a shelf to prevent too great a volume of air from rushing down the flue.

Have the flue large; it should not be less in area than ten per cent. of the area of the opening of the fireplace. Constructed in this way, you will have no trouble from a smoky fireplace.

Under no circumstances attempt to build the chimney with a woodwork support. Dig down in the earth and lay a solid bed of rocks and mortar as a foundation, the full size of the chimney and the hearth, which should be about twenty-four inches wide. This will keep the woodwork well away from the fire. Neglect of this point, where I rested my hearth on woodwork, came very near to having serious results.

Corbels may be built out to receive the ends of the floor joists.

The fireplace should be lined with firebricks, and iron bars must be put in to support the superincumbent brick or stonework. Do not trust too much to your arch, if you have one. A couple of iron bars, about two inches wide and a quarter of aui inch thick, will make all secure.

Mortar is not difficult to prepare. Get unslacked lime and put it into the box which you have made to hold it. The lime is now to be slacked by wetting with water. As you throw the water on it will heat up and steam, and enough water should be added from time to time to keep the lime from burning or slacking dry; it should be kept about the consistency of thick paint. Lime should be slacked for several days before the time for using it.

To a cask of lime add six bushels of sand, and stir until the lime and sand are thoroughly mixed. It should be thinned with water until it mixes easily with a hoe. It should stand for two or three days until ready for use.

Cement will greatly increase the strength of mortar, and, when desired, should be added in the proportion of one or two quarts of cement to each pailful of mortar. Remember that, with cement added, the mortar will set much more quickly than it would otherwise do.

Keep your work plumb by means of cords fastened by nails in the roof and floor. As your work emerges from the hole in the roof, select small and flat rocks and insert some sheets of lead, cut ten inches long by eight inches wide, in the different layers of stone in shingle fashion.

After the chimney is completed the shingles may be inserted in the layers of lead, and so make a tight joint around the chimney.

Now, if you are unfamiliar with the building of a fire, you will be vastly entertained by your inability to get the thing to burn. One after another the various members of the family will be inspired to try their hands and lungs. For pure cussed contrariness, an open fire takes the honors. When you have all given up in despair and left in disgust, the thing is apt to start up of its own accord.

The shavings which have accumulated during the building of the camp should be kept for this time. Between the fire dogs a generous supply of dry shavings; on top of them, a few short, thin pieces of larger wood; resting in the fire dogs, three sticks of wood with a space between each stick. Across these, three more sticks, and across these, two more. Light the shavings. When the fire is burning well a large greenwood log of maple or beech may be put against the back wall as a back log. On top of it another green stick should be laid and the fire drawn out to the front of the fireplace. A slight replenishing from time to time will keep a fine fire and the back logs will burn all day. At night the fire may be banked by covering the embers with ashes. In the morning this covering may be raked off, and fresh sticks laid directly on the glowing coals will soon spring into life again.

Soft wood will crack and sputter, and it would be dangerous to leave a fire without some protection. Even the hard wood will at times throw burning coals out into the room. A fire screen is the solution, and is easily made of quarter-inch wire screen, fastened to a frame of quarter-inch steel wire. The screen should extend an inch all around outside the opening of the fireplace. It should not be flat, but should be from three to five inches deep. This will prevent sparks from flying out of the crack between the screen and chimney. The shape can be had by bending the screen over a box or similar form.

If a crane is contemplated, it should be put in place during the building of the fireplace. In the North, where beans are a prominent part of the bill of fare, it would be well to have a "bean hole" built in the center of the fireplace. Make it about twelve inches square, and provide a stout iron lid to cover it. An iron pot with an eccentric-clamped lid may be kept here. Pork and beans cannot be cooked better than in such an arrangement, with the hot coals covering it and left overnight.


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