Xander rewards Voices for his stellar mouse-killing skills. Soon we’ll be heading back to SLC, and Xander will lie on his back inside his crate and wail and wail, for 250 miles of a 530 mile trip. He loves the ranch.
Here we are about to gain Bridger Pass dropping into Bozeman. We followed the plow over King’s Hill pass, meeting it just as it turned around- just like last winter. This time the plow didn’t leave us facing more than a foot of fresh snow for 30 miles of unplowed mountain roads. The highway was mostly clear, save for wind-drifts, and I have upgraded the truck to the stickiest new Michelin A/T tires that have proved up nicely.
I put her in 4-wheel on the back side of the pass as the roads turned snowy, but turns out, clear roads here as well.
From the bottom of Bridger Pass we can see the Gallatin Range bordering Yellowstone National Park. We’ll follow the Gallatin river up through the pass, and that is where we’ll find a spat of winter weather.
Danger is as surprised as you are to see this contraption out of the truck and in place, with the old 300# wood stove moved off.
On the left is the J-Stove with its stainless steel barrel radiator, and on the steel bench is the mass heater. This will be their first time being connected, if all goes well.
While Danger test-fits stovepipe; The mass heater weighs about 130# and was lifted into the truck in SLC with an electric 1-ton hoist. To remove it, the steel bench was cinched to a dolly (flat) which reached the height of the tailgate of the truck. The truck was backed onto the concrete platform outside the kitchen, and the mass-heater was slid out of the truck onto the bench/dolly combo, then the bench and mass-heater were separately cinched. Then it was all rolled through the house. Once in position at the hearth brick, the dolly cinches were removed and the payload was tilted up and slid into position. E helped Danger by stabilizing the load as well as his mental stability.
Nora is so done with all of Danger’s stove tinkering. She had hoped it would all stay in SLC, but no, here it all is in Montana, and her big cast-iron stove is standing cold at her feet.
Butterfly on the main riser dampens the flow (it is open here), directing more heat into the secondary riser fitted to the mass heater.
Danger’s theory of on-site craftin’: bring bunches of stuff and fiddle till it fits, then return whatever is left.
Danger measured and measured and measured, making sure the steel bench would be just lower than the J-Stove. He welded big nuts with riser-bolts into the feet of the bench to raise it and align with the J-stove. Danger’s measures were high by 1/2 inch, and the J-Stove is now mounted on bricks and Danger is glad he put in 3.5 inch riser bolts, though it seemed overkill at the time.
Danger finds Lyle’s big wrench set and deploys the extension bolts.
The double wall pipe from the mass heater points a little bit down, as the concrete floated the tubing juust out of alignment- Danger thinks he can snug it together though.
Snugging the stainless steel pipe into the double-wall stovepipe. It all fits. Whew!
Danger recovers his mojo by making a creative solution to the too-long 8″ to 6″ reduction stovepipe coupled to a 6″ to 4″ reduction. He sleeves the 6/4 inside the 8/6 and it aligns perfectly to the T pipe on the stove, so he lines it with stovepipe caulk, then screws it together with self-tapping metal screws. This part is then calked and screwed into the existing 8″ stovepipe protruding from the wall.
The double-wall T connection with bottom dropout/clean-out is affixed to the stove.
Stove connected to mass heater: check. T connector bonded to stove: check. Chimney pipe connected to reduction: check. Now let’s tinker-toy it all together!
So close! I need just a little extra part of something…right there by the drill! (Left side mid photo)
All fitted out!
Now I loosen it all and seam inside the connections with stove pipe caulk. Then I wrap all the seams with heavy duty AL tape.
Time for a fire biscuit. Not for you Danger! Feed it to the stove.
I made a bunch of these little fire biscuits; formed of wood-chips (from the pet store), paraffin wax, a flat cotton swab, and perlite. They stay lit in wind, which is a must within the J-stove.
“My biscuits are burnin’! My biscuits are burnin’!” -Yosemite Sam-
Fire is go!
The fire will only burn at the bottom, within the stove, allowing long staves to slowly burn down into the beast.
Split firewood needs to be split small to fit in the inferno.
I brought all the piping parts to draw air from the basement, and set that up as well. The stove draws hard, and otherwise would pull sub-zero outside air through the house.
I added the steel throat, slung into the mouth of the stove at an angle to direct wood in and protect the firebrick maw. There are two air openings for the outside of the steel, pulling the air down to the low foot of the fire. There is another air port pointing down at the center providing air to a custom channel that leads to the base of the internal riser stack where superheated gasses are ignited. The stove is near to zero emission.
You might wonder; how can you split firewood down to size to fit the steel throat? Ask New Zealand, they have a great answer: this handy and precise manual kindling splitter.
The little mallet does 90% of the load, and the bigger mallet is the convincer for any stubborn bits.
E and I brought in a few wagon loads of broken discarded corral lumber, the Kiwi splitter made super-long staves of it- and it burned down nicely.
E makes fresh peanut butter cookies to keep me off the fire biscuits.
Xander and E both display symptoms of feline Stove-Syndrome.
After creating an air-baffle with rockwool around the air intake at the steel throat, we thought it might like some dressing up. E recommended “pressed tin” from Home Depot.
It matches the deepening bronze colors of the stainless steel radiator drum.
A tidy surround.
I had made an air-tight lid for capping the steel throat, and restricting the airflow to the draw through the tubing from the basement. It was dressed out as well, and I scrounged up this old ceramic insulator as the handle/weight.
Cap in-situ.
Like a fancy cake.
Well, this is all just getting a bit too fancy for the ranch.
Skinned all the way around.
Our near zero degree nights were pulling heat out of the mass in a matter of hours, leaving it stone cold by morning. So I made it this nice blanket of rockwool. That helped a lot.
The blanket got a temporary cap matching the stove, as the mass heater will eventually be skinned in stone and have a flagstone cap. Another tweak (not picutred): driving 28 giant corral screws through the mass heater (air-crete is similar to styrafoam in density, and screws jump right through it) to penetrate the interior piping, and sealing their heads with piping caulk. These became immensely hot, quickly transferring heat throughout the mass. This means less time burning wood to charge the mass, and much longer heat retention as the heat is more thoroughly dispersed.
80% less firewood. Near 0% emission. Immediate heat, with immediate feedback on level of heat desired with in-line butterfly and amount of wood. No carbon dioxide back-venting at night. No fire at night, so no danger while sleeping. No carbon build-up in the chimney. No smoke smell permeating everything in the house all winter. No visible smoke out the chimney, and little smell of smoke outside. Plus, it is fun to feed.
6-10 inches overnight at the ranch. E & I took Nora for a night walk in the storm and on our return the house looked storybook cozy.
I sat next to a Montana firefighter on a flight to Reno this fall, and described our big lovely pines by the house planted by my grandfather 75 years ago. She said they don’t pose a dire problem as the forests are up the hill and the corral and road make a good fire-brake.
It was in the 40s when we arrived, and we raked mountains of leaves from the yard, as the warm temps were fleeing in front of an arctic air mass. 10 degrees and less, with snow.
The storm breaks. Clear skies and no wind, so we head up top to walk the bluebird line along the county road. E has 6 frozen blue eggs of Bluebirds in her pocket from a nest too late in the season, and will add one more.
Mountain Bluebirds head to Mexico for the winter, but will return in March when it still looks about like this. This house is new this past summer, and spring will be its first occupancy. This bit of the ranch is delineated by imagining a line from the bottom L to top R.
This bird house marks the southern border of the ranch, on into the Little Belt Mountains.
Hawks are spinning up out of the forest, heading out to hunt on the blank wind-scoured highlands.
The forest runs out of cover, and the alpine highlands lead to the mountains.
Nora and E can hear “The Hum”, maybe it has something to do with the blurry shapes flying about that only the camera can see. Or there is frost on the camera lense.
Looking North across the winter moonscape of the alpine highlands, down and across to the Highwood mountains on the great plain of the Missouri river.
About 2/3 up the frame is all ranch land, the distant Highwoods seem to connect right into the alpine grassland.
Nora tells me how great her long legs and a long coat are. They just seem like a particular sort of fashion in town..

First, lets remember the J-Stove / Rocket Stove project:

To capture the heat from the J-Stove, a secondary stove pipe connects into a separate mass, the pipe then exits the mass and rejoins the main J-Stove stove pipe to flow out the chimney. This is the mass form I designed and made. It will warm to a few hundred degrees durning a 40 minute burn of the J-Stove and radiate heat for 8 to 12 hours.

The side vent of the stove fits into the hole pictured below- the mass form is upside down and will have a welded metal platform to align it with the side vent.

This is the mass heater form / mold, inverted for pouring in the mass. It will have stove pipe connections and tubing added, along with rebar and expanded metal to add strength to the mass of aircrete (foamed concrete). This form provides a large mass and a bench for warm seating.
The holes are where the tubing will enter and exit, and the L shape is the bench. The form is made of one 4×8 sheet of Laminated 3/4″ MDF. It is screwed together, then hot glued, then silicone sealed along all edges and some exposed MDF was taped over as well to create a water tight form that could hold hundreds of pounds of aerated concrete.
The fins under the seating ledge provide support for the concrete weight it will bear.
It has to live through the pour, holding hundreds of pounds of liquid concrete, then after the concrete cures it has to be able to come apart and knock free of the internal mass.
The form had to wait a bit on the order of two 6″ long sections of 4″ diameter double-wall pellet stove vent that fit into the enter/exit holes. I thought I had the right pieces already…then tape on the flex tubing and add in a rebar cage with expanded metal to carry heat through the mass.
Another layer of expanded metal is added to bolster the seating platform (remember, the form is upside down / inverted for pouring.
All connections have to be secured from the outside, and water tight.
Hats off to the Honey-Do Carpenter for the aircrete cannon and aircrete recipe- just add warm water and a bit of shampoo (and my air compressor) for foam too thick to shave with. Then I use a “barber-pole” drill bit to lift the concrete mix from the bottom of the bucket into the foam laid over it, until all the concrete is suspended in the foam. It seems impossible, but it works.
The aircrete mixing station: 17 five gallon buckets will fill the form- at about 1/3 the weight of concrete. So about 300lbs, should have been 275 but the first three buckets were a bit off. Nora is next to the drill with the concrete mixer attached (black), the silver spiral between Nora and the drill is what I used to blend the concrete into the foam.
The main mass of the form is more than half full. I’m using a red dye in the aircrete.
This is all very tiring, and I’m only half convinced it will work- the form could blow out at the sides/bottom, the aircrete might not set, and even if it does the thing is a lot more massive than I had conceived.
4 hours after the pour is finished and not even beginning to cure out.
I wake up with a dread that the form has popped overnight, and the concrete never set, and it all flooded into the pond and killed all the fish and ruined the pump and waterfall. Now, 5 days later, and after 3 nights below freezing wearing a foam cap, it is solid and curing toward a respectable hardness.

I’m letting it cure into next week. There has been some small shrinkage/settling that will need another round of pouring- I may use a fast setting concrete to make a stronger platform for the mass, then I will remove the form. If all that is successful, I’m going to cut it down in size quite a bit. This is designed as the ideal form to have at the ranch that can fit into the back of the pickup, but it is too heavy to move without at least two more strong guys and a bit much for a 500 mile trip in the back of the little pickup. I’ll remove the bench and bevel an angle into the body of the mass, dropping around 100lbs. If all that works out, it will travel up to the ranch sometime this fall for installation and testing.

Pulling off limbs, with a few chunky ones like the one landed in the creek.

Feller work shown is where E gets bored and grabs the camera. Not pictured is all the fun stuff, like; putting up the 12 new Bluebird houses, checking all the other bird houses and finding lots of chicks and getting pushed off of the last few houses by a bossy bull; switching out road bikes for mountain bikes (E’s birthday present) and cycling in the morning up over Kibbey Ridge to find a guy from SLC making breakfast from the back of his truck on his way to Glacier, then a twilight ride down the road a piece to spot Elk (singular this time) and seeing the Snipe fly from the marsh below the corral upon our return, as well as loading them onto the truck and heading up Belt Canyon past Neihart to ride a dirt road alongside a mountain stream (same that we had skied last year); enjoying a big hours long mountain thunderstorm from the front porch (while Nora chatters her teeth until slipping into a pill-induced bliss); Xander and Voices kill at minimum 14 mice (all-time record) plus they ate a few…; the house was swarmed by a sudden Gypsy’s curse of fat flies, hundreds roaring and driving against the doors and windows (while the kitchen door was in triage and before the storm door had been resealed)- followed by me with the big shop-vac removing the scores that forced their way in; dinner down at our cousin’s ranch outside of Belt; the whole time it felt like the 1970’s or 80’s- just cool nights, mild days, rainstorms- and finally a big fire in Helena sent the now-seasonal smoke billows on our last day, reminding us that the arctic is 30 degrees or more above normal and the collapsing jet stream is why our weather seemed “normal”; just as we near the foot of Malad pass in Idaho we watch from under the dark twilight of a churning storm ahead as the craziest verga down force of violent wind and rain hits from directly above in a hovering smoke that levitates with violent speed over the hillsides and mountains, and we are soon facing a wall of ripping waves that dwarf the truck, then we punch into the wall with a gale pushing hard from the side and down, as we pass through the whole truck lifts for a dizzying moment, then into the sideways car-wash zone with cleansing hail set to new-dent-level we motor up the steep pass with the highway transformed to a standing waterfall upheld by screaming wind. The most different weather I’ve ever been through, and I’ve been in some pretty different weather up on the 14er peaks.

Lawn mowed (with both new-this-summer mowers), edged, and weeded; time to jerk dead branches from the willows with the cutting pole.
More passable airspace for the birdies.
A feller might as well grind down and paint the old beehive, as it is covered over and has no bees. Next ladder work is bondo-ing up a gap under the soffit around the house at the gutter over the kitchen window (I already solved the drainage problem), then onto the roof again at twilight (the porch bees are all back in the hive for the night) to seal up a leaky spot.
Kitchen door is missing (just the storm door remaining)? I replaced the air-bump strip across the bottom, and the door could no longer shut. Obviously, this has always been the case. Off the door comes.
After a few passes with the circular saw on a rigged up square jig, the door is rehung and fits perfect on one end, so two more thin cuts aligns both sides, and the door is rehung to find it fits perfectly snug over the air dam.
The door jamb / portal is beat up and needs wood glue with clamps, scraping with blades, removal of old felt & nail air seal, and bondo over old holes from long gone hardware as well as old hardware still in place that I removed. Eventually all corners and edges are square and clean.
Might as well make the door square and clean while I’m at it, at least the inside of the door (the outside will have to wait).
The oscillating paint stripper churns up the old lead paint by heating it into a sludge and pulling it away from the wood in weird sticky glorps.
I’d spent 4 hours organizing the wood shed a few days back, and had moved this mystery cinder block to the big garage. I remembered what it was for as the door cleared up: eroding the sticky paint off the sanding burr. E ran across the county road and retrieved it from the garage.
Ready for orbital sanding: 60 grit / 80 / 100 / 120.
The yard Bluebird doesn’t have a door on his house, just a narrow slot. Lucky fellow. His chicks chirp a loud chorus about bugs, bugs, bugs!
I need a fat log to mount a new tool on, and so pull half of the remains of our beetle kill yard pine out from under plastic in the ice house. All lined up for the Chopper One axe.
Bees tasted the sap seepages.
I leveled the log with a wood grinding head on the grinder, pre-drilled holes into the log, then used some fat bolt screws as anchors. But what is that thing?
It’s tech from New Zealand- a kindling splitter.
A friend’s dad was sitting at a campfire splitting kindling on his knee and drove his hatched into his knee. I’m not saying I’d never be dumb enough to do that, but now we don’t have to find out.
Yeah! Idiot proof!
Winter likes to plant a snowbank on this edge of the porch, so I strip and repaint it, along with the post and along the roofline as well.
Big clouds poofed up as evening shadows pushed the sun out of the valley. Time to jump up to top for a sunset tour.
This big thunderhead sat over the valley to the east.
Almost dramatic….
Really close to getting spectacular.
And it all slips away.
Close up of the new air dam that started the door project: the gray rubber fit into the aluminum rail.
Refurbished door jamb in bluebird-roof blue & white, with new rubber-poly weather sealant in brown. The hinges are stripped of their thick layers, spray painted white, and sport new screws.
The bright blue is like a UV light bath as you come through the doorway. The storm door is now mostly air tight again as well.
The refinished door with a bit of dash. I didn’t trust stripping around the big window without flexing the door and snapping the old glass, I also had to dig out and bondo over big cracks in the three wooden panels after cutting away the thick layers of paint. The panel boards had to be painted to cover the triage (and the panel wood was really basic stuff), but the door was pretty nice and matched the wood trim we’d already exposed. So the old gal is now a bit “aged mountain hippy”. Make sure to pull her closed tight!
I rounded up all the old batteries and oil, and here had just drained the oil from the derelict Chevy Viking.
The siphon pump came up with nothing, as the gas cap was gone and the gas had evaporated out. One less thing.
Stormy sunset of electric blue, periwinkle, rose, and static yellow.
Cold front rolls over the ranch, condensing from the Little Belt Mountains.
The setting sun is just touching the high grasslands along the East side of the ranch, with the Highwood mountains poking up from far down on the great plain of the Missouri River.

Up at the Montana ranch for the last 10 days of July, spanning our 10th wedding anniversary, and E’s birthday. The hills and pastures were still green. The little front pictured here dropped our night temps to 38 degrees, with daytime highs in the 70’s with a few “hot” days in the 80’s (our overnight lows in SLC are about the same as the daytime highs at the ranch).

13 houses of similar design; by the last three I had it figured out.
A flip-open lid for quick nest inspection, and a side door for seasonal cleaning. Two cedar fence panels (5.5″ x 6′) makes 3 houses, and with the hardware each house costs about $5. There are cheaper ways, but these get hit by bears and cows and hail and blizzards.
The little brass hooks pin the lids and doors closed. The metal D-rings (a pair near the top, and at center bottom for stability) provide sturdy metal-to-metal contact points for the hanging wire.
Slot openings rather than holes. The process moves right to left for prototypes to show model. The first four originally were side-door only and have turn screw doors that pin into a matching cylinder mounted in the door.
These door-hinge-only houses were the first, and at the end I went back and added roof hinges made of bicycle inner tube (one long $10 hinge cuts into 4 double hinged houses- and I ran out of hinges before I ran out of houses). I also ran short on D-Rings, so went old-school with wide-head screws.

It seems that every two years I have to make a new bluebird house design. I hope these answer all the issues the prior designs haven’t addressed.

Two different designs of the past were my Zero Profile which are only used by tree swallows, my redwood house designs began here which led to and then a series of 6 slot houses that the bluebirds have used successfully.