Life in a Dol house
2016 - Week 52

The smoking chimney and some garden sculpture

If you were celebrating Christmas this week, I hope you had a brilliant time. I did. 

On Christmas Eve, I was invited to participate in the family celebration of my friend Cvjetko, down in Stari Grad, but before getting to that, the answer to the question about my secret project, which has resulted in many emails about what it was, is here.

A young lady called Kristina desperately wanted a Dolls House, for her collection of Barbie dolls. 

There was a design specification, it needed 8 rooms and a swimming pool, plus space to park a car. And that was precisely what Santa Claus delivered early on Christmas day morning, where it hid in plain view, all wrapped up, next to the Christmas tree.

Barbie dolls are 35cm tall, so it took a little calculating, drawing and planning to get a sensible sized dolls house, which met the design requirements and would still fit through doors. Not only that, there was a skew staircase that had to be built and a few other things, like low energy LED lights to be installed.

But it was all done and the building was safely delivered to two of Santa's helpers on Christmas Eve night. There was a lot of happy surprise on Christmas morning and much play value during the day and since.

There are a lot of unique traditions to Dalmatia and on Christmas Eve I was honoured to take part in the traditional meal of a specially baked platted bread, blessed with wine and olive oil, and boiled cabbage, cod and potatoes. 

The Badnjak was placed on the fire in the wood stove and everyone enjoyed the festive atmosphere and fare.

It is interesting coming from a country where the traditions of Christmas are heavily influenced by the 19th Century Germanic traditions, brought to the UK by Price Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, to experience traditions which are of Slavic/Balkan origin.

The centrepiece of the Christmas Day lunch is Wild Boar, not turkey. Marinated in red wine and cooked in white wine and Prošek, the meat was succulent, tender and very tasty. 

There are large numbers of Boar which roam the island and the hunters were out in the week before Christmas to provide enough meat. One group which shot some six boar, had a group of 30 beaters with dogs, driving the boar out of the Maquis towards the guns. But a walk this week along one of the forest tracks illustrated to me the damage that just a few of these mammals cause to the ancient walls.

There are several new holes where large stones have been dislodged by Boar hunting for food. I make a point on my walks of always picking up and replacing a few of these stones - at least stones which I can comfortably pick up and lift.

Generally I face few setbacks or adversity here in Dol, but just occasionally something crops up, which causes no end of grief and requires a lot of problem solving to resolve.

I use an upright wood stove, in the corner of the dining room, to heat both the dining room and kitchen, and because it has a water jacket, to heat domestic central heating for my various buildings. 

After some problems with a build up of clinker in one of the 90º bends at the end of last winter, back in November, I made alterations to the installation, and lit the fire agian for this winter season. Up to about 10 days ago, the fire has been well behaved, providing the heating without problem. Then suddenly it started to smoke. Not just a few wisps, but clouds issuing forth from various unsealed points. It's not done this before!

After trying various remedies, on Christmas Eve I took the inside pipes apart and found that inside the horizontal pipe which exits the room to the outside vertical flue, there was around two litres of wet, gungy clinker. Using my home made tool, I removed as much as I could, but as the tool kept getting stuck on one of the self tapping screws which secures the external 90º pipe, I removed it. A stream of inky black water immediately came out.

Clearly there was a problem with moisture in the flue, together with a build up of clinker where the flue abruptly changes direction. When I relit the fire, I was still getting smoke, albeit not as much, but still enough to require the Velux windows to be opened when the fire was burning and the air vent was open. Over the next couple of days, I needed to keep the window open, which rather defeats the object of having a fire.

Additionally, having left the little vent hole open in the outside bend, it was dripping water day and night. No matter what I did, I could not get the fire to produce the heat to dry the flue out. But we were also experiencing more than 80% atmospheric humidity.

With Christmas over and having done as much research as I could, I decided to cut a hole in the outside bend of the external 90º pipe, so that I could properly clean the flue. Here mild steel pipes are used for flues, without any kind of insulation, so cutting a hole was not too difficult with an angle grinder and cutting disc.

Once the flap had been cut, I could see that there was a huge buildup of clinker inside the bend, blocking probably ⅔ of the pipe's diameter. This was also a soggy, wet mass, all of which would induce smoking because of a lack of draught in the flue.

A trip down to the Stari Grad builders merchants got me the things I needed and I measured and cut an oversize piece from a new bend, to fabricate a removable plate to help with cleaning the flue.

In other countries you can get bends with access hatches already built in - but not here, so necessity being the mother of invention saw me making my own. What I hadn't factored in was although the bend came from the same merchants, and looked the same, after I had cut the new flap and offered it up to the existing pipe, it didn't fit. The pipes were of difference manufacture and had a different profile - not something you could tell from a visual inspection of the outside.

So it was back down to Stari Grad to try and get a different 90º pipe to match the one on the flue. Fortunately these pipes being mild not stainless steel, are only around £4/$6 each, so I had not wasted much money. I bought the right bend this time, came home and again cut a new hatch. This time it fitted perfectly. So with it in place, I lit the fire again only to watch in horror and disappointment as smoke continued to emerge from the wood stove.

Back down in Stari Grad, I bought heat resistant rope and once the fire was out put new gaskets on all the parts I had opened to check and clean. 

Except as is usual here, I could not get the right size of thermic rope that I needed and there was no adhesive to fix it, so I had to improvise with high temperature silicone sealant, which was only partially successful. To seal the top of the fire, I need 10mm rope, but I could only get 6mm or 4mm. The man in the shop helpfully suggested that 6 + 4 equals 10, so if I combined them I would have 10mm. Well I tried, but was not confident it would work and it didn't.

Again I lit the fire and again it smoked. More research suggested I needed to get the flue really hot to dry it. So up in the forest I collected bone dry fir cones, of which there is an abundance. Fircones contain a lot of oil and resin and burn with little smoke but with a high calorific value. But I was still getting smoke in the room and could not get the flue temperature above 80ºc, so not hot enough to evaporate water and condensation trapped inside.

Taking the access flap of on Thursday, I removed almost 350ml or a half pint of fairly clear water from the inside. Clearly condensation was a major problem, even after burning several kilos of fir cones and kindling with a moisture content of less than 12%. Replacing the flap and lighting the fire saw it smoke again. Cvjetko stopped by and suggested reducing the height of the external flue and removing the rotating cowl.

So on Friday morning, I was up the ladder dismantling the three meter flue. With everything removed and dried, I lit the fire with just a one meter pipe and no cowl. Again I lit the fire with fircones and bone dry pine sticks from the forest. Still it smoked, but not as bad as it was.

Not being a person to give up, I again took the top of the fire, and this time laid a double row of thermic rope on some improvised double sided aluminium tape, to keep it in position. With the internal flue outside, I turned it over and found the cause of all my problems. Above the fire I have an air radiator. This has six 50mm pipes. Three were blocked and three had their diameter reduced to probably 15mm or less.

To be fair, the inside of the stove top had been very clean when ever I opened it, and as this air radiator is flat and the other end curved, I have never had cause to turn it over before.

Certainly the stove top had given me no cause to suspect fouling of the flue immediately above. It was just a few minutes work to clean out the clinker from the six pipes, and replace and re-seal everything. 

Success! This time when I lit the fire, not a wisp of smoke inside and I was able to get flu temperatures up to +300ºC to dry the flue completely. For now, I am leaving the lower chimney as I suspect that the cool, tall chimney caused the fire to burn cold, which caused the build up of soot and clinker, which made the flue even colder and eventually blocked the tubes. At least I know where to look now.

I have the two new 90º bends, with flaps. I would like to solicit readers ideas for how I could use them as pieces of metal garden sculpture or ornaments. Answers on a postcard please.....
My frequent trips into the forest this week have led me to appreciate again the wonderful natural resource that surrounds my Dol house.

There are still flowers in bloom, butterflies and bees flying and all manner of other insects.

The sun set here an hour ago. 

Having just been out to bring some more logs up for the fire, the resident Eagle Owl, Bubo bubo, is calling from the trees behind the house. Seldom seen but often heard, this majestic bird is an all- year-round resident, like me. 

So, as the end of the year approaches, it is time to sit down in front of my now roaring fire and reflect and be thankful for all the good friends and good things in 2016.