Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Masons Exceed Expectations at 2015 Contest

The Masonry Heater Association Annual Contest was held in April at Wildacres Retreat, Little Switzerland, North Carolina. Masons and craftsmen were asked to present their best work in three categories: Masonry, Bake Ovens, and Masonry Heaters. There were three trophies awarded in each category. This year, some of the best work yet seen was entered in the contest. 

Each entrant was required to take before, during, and after photos, and provide a detailed explanation and description of the project and materials used for judges to examine. Judges did not know who did the work in order to assure fairness in the contest. Some entrants missed placing by only one point, and all of the projects submitted were top quality, demonstrating the outstanding craftsmanship of the participants.

Materials used in the designs were varied and used in unique ways. Entrants used such products as custom-cut steel, stone, brick, and custom-fired clay Kachels in their work.  

There were 16 entries from several countries, including the United States, Canada, Scotland, and Germany. Attendees and instructors at the MHA annual meeting came from all over the world. 

Masonry Category:
First Place
: Derek Kowalchuck, Fiddlerock Masonry, Edmonton, Alberta, CA
Second Place: Jeff Owens, JTO Masonry Construction, Riverview, MI
Third Place: Ryan McCutchan, Homboldt Hearthstones, Blue Lake, CA

Bake Oven Category
Tie for First Place: Jessica Steinhauser, Stonehouse Pottery, Guelph, Ontario, CA
Tie for First Place: Martin Swift, Swift Masonry, Sooke, B.C., CA
Second Place: Jeff Owens, JTO Masonry Construction, Riverview, MI

Masonry Heater Category:
First Place:
Dave Wilcox, Wilcox Masonry, Wapakoneya, OH
Second Place: Martin Ruzicka, Stovemason Masonry Heater Builders, Ardovie Lodge, Brechin,Scotland
Third Place: Axel Schmitz, Masonry FireTube, Elterlein, Germany

The Masonry Heater Association of North America holds this contest annually. Only members of the MHA may enter the contest. Contact Richard Smith, Executive Director of the MHA at 850-883-0191 or email for more information about the MHA.
Photos for all of these projects are on the MHA website at and may be used by the media with credit to the owner and the MHA. 

The MHA is a non-profit organization of builders and manufacturers of masonry heaters and masonry wood-fired bake ovens whose purpose is to promote the industry, sponsor research and development, shape regulations, standards and codes, inform and educate the public, and further the expertise and professionalism of its membership. Some of the best masons and related craftsmen/women in the world are members of the MHA. 

The MHA sponsors professional educational programs in the U.S. and Canada throughout the year, and members also offer private workshops and schools. The association has an annual meeting in North Carolina where industry professionals share different construction techniques. The MHA certifies Heater Masons, and will soon offer a certification program for oven builders. Currently there are 33 Certified Heater Masons in the United States and Canada. Books on masonry heaters, bake ovens, and masonry are available on the MHA website. 

Contact Marge Padgitt, contest organizer at or 816-461-3665 for questions about the contest. 

See the photos here:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Spring preparation tips for wood burners

As difficult as it is to think about cold weather during the nice spring and summer months when the trees are green and the flowers are in full bloom, wood burners need to start prepping for fall now.
Since wood needs to be cut, split and stacked months in advance so that it dries out properly, now is the time to get that project completed, and get some exercise to boot. There are several types of log-splitters available that can make the job much easier. Prices range from $150 for a hand-operated splitter, to $3,000 for a professional gas splitter. 
Wood should be stacked off the ground, away from the house, with a covering over the top but not on the sides-- so wind can blow through and dry the wood out. For the serious wood-burner, a wood shed with a permanent roof will offer years of protection from the elements. Wood should be kept away from the house because creepy crawlies like brown recluses like to hide in between the logs. Check wood with an inexpensive moisture meter to be sure it contains less than 20% moisture content before burning.

Any dry wood will do- but hardwood will burn for a longer time since it is denser than softwood. By using hardwood less time is involved in loading up the wood stove or fireplace insert, but softwoods will burn nicely. Stay away from dry pine and hedge, however, because they burn so hot and fast there is a greater risk of a chimney fire or damaging a wood stove or fireplace.

Another maintenance task that should be completed in the spring is chimney sweeping. The Midwest Chimney Safety Council suggests that a professional CSIA Certified chimney sweep do the job. Professional sweeps are trained to check things that the layperson may not be aware of such as proper chimney and connecting pipe installation, clearances to combustibles, wall and floor protection. If used for primary heating purposes, wood-burning stoves and insert flues or chimneys should be swept at least twice during the wood-burning season and once after to be sure that flammable creosote is removed.

Chimney sweep at work. HearthMasters, Inc. 
All wood creates creosote- even dry hardwood, and removal is critical to avoid chimney fires. Chimney fires can not only damage chimneys and connecting pipes, but may escape into the home and cause a house fire.

Check exterior masonry chimneys in the spring for damaged, missing, or spalling bricks (brick faces popping off due to moisture penetration), missing or deteriorated mortar joints, bad flashing or gaps in the flashing, cracked or deteriorated cement crown, and missing or improper chimney covers. Apply masonry water repellant sealer on a dry, calm day to help slow down the deterioration process.
For a prefabricated chimney check the wood chase for wood rot, holes from woodpeckers or squirrels, rusted metal chase tops, and damaged chimney covers.

All of these chimney maintenance items are best addressed in the spring and summer before cold weather sets in and makes work more difficult and expensive.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Masonry Heater Contest April, 2015

The Masonry Heater Association of North America is hosting a contest at their annual meeting in April of 2015 at Little Switzerland, North Carolina. The contest categories are Masonry Heater, Masonry, and Bake Oven. To be eligible to enter the contestant must be a member of the MHA and submit a portfolio of the project at the annual meeting. First, second, and third place winners receive a trophy and their project is featured on the MHA website. The entrant does not need to be present to win. To see the complete rules and entry form and past contest winners visit

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Masonry heater workshop April 13-19, 2015

Masonry heater workshop April 13-19, 2015

The Masonry Heater Association of North America will present a masonry heater, bake oven, and masonry skills workshop at their annual meeting at Wildacres Retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains north of Asheville, North Carolina April 13 – 19, 2015. 

Masonry heaters are site-built wood-burning appliances that radiantly heat a home with wood.  They are very efficient and use relatively small amounts of wood heat without the use of electricity, gas, fans, or ducts. Wood is burned in a firebox, which connects to channels inside a large thermal mass.  After the fire is out the appliance gradually radiates heat to the living space for many hours without causing large temperature fluctuations or drafts.

Brick masonry heater with
brick oven by Gene Padgitt
The annual meeting and workshop will include hands-on building a Rocket Heater Incorporated in a Masonry Bell, Five Run Masonry Heater with testing demo, Finnish ContraflowHheater for Beginner masons, Bake/pizza oven with vaulted arch, Grundofen Cabin Stove with a Cooktop, a bricklaying clinic, and Building a Masonry Smoker.

Classroom seminars include Google Sketch-up Clinic with Boris Kukolj, My Masonry Heater Smokes - Yikes!, Masonry Heater Challenges in Australia, and Untold Stories and Oops that Confront a Masonry Heater Builder. The Heater Mason Education and Development class will be held throughout the week.

The annual Design/Build Contest for masonry heaters, bake ovens and masonry will be judged during the week and trophies will be awarded at the final meeting.

An auction and pizza party are held every year.

For more information on how to join the MHA or attend the workshop contact Richard Smith, Executive Director, at 520-883-0191, e-mail or visit