Fired Up About Tiny Wood Stoves: The North Woods Interview!
By Julia Speirs
Out of the hundreds of tiny-living products we have curated at Tiny Life Supply, nothing seems to generate more interest than our tiny wood stoves. And three of these small wood stove models - the Woodsman, Mini Woodsman and Basecamp - have been particularly popular. In this interview, we connect with our friend and owner of North Woods Fabrication, David Steinke, to learn more about him, his small-town wood stove manufacturing business, and his beautiful tiny wood stoves! During our conversation, David shared some great insights into his wood stove designs, general tips for tiny wood stoves, and some of the backstory behind his business. So if you've been considering incorporating a small wood stove into your tiny living space, this is a conversation you don’t want to miss!
So, how did the idea for North Woods come about? What made you excited about making small wood stoves in the first place, and how did you get started?
The idea of North Woods Fabrication started in 2010 when I built a tiny off grid cabin in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. I wanted to heat it with a little wood stove but couldn’t find one small enough for my tiny 64sqft cabin so I made my own wood stove out of a .50cal military surplus ammo box. The cabin was surrounded by thousands of acres of trees so I had an endless supply of free fuel and I didn’t want to go through the hassle of burning propane and carrying tanks out to my remote cabin. Nothing beats the warmth and ambiance of a wood stove and it really made my little cabin come to life.
Where are you and your family based? Do you (still) manufacturer the wood stoves yourself or where are they made?
North Woods Fabrication, LLC. is located in a small rural town in southern Minnesota. All of the stoves I sell are made by myself in my 16’ X 24’ shop. I work with a local company to cut the stove parts out of sheets of metal using a CNC laser. The CNC laser makes a super clean cut and ensures every part is cut out perfect. It’s a far cry from the early days of cutting parts out using an angle grinder! Other components like glass, paint and hardware are sourced from local businesses too. This helps keep costs down, supports local businesses and ensures the stoves are made as responsibly as possible. I’m known as “the stove guy” at some of these places.
So, what does an evening in your workshop look like? Is it just you or do you have help? Do you get any tunes or podcasts going?
A day in the shop this time of year starts with making a fire in The Woodsman Stove that I have installed in the shop. I usually make stoves in batches so I start by bending parts for one particular model in the sheet metal brake. Once everything is bent I MIG weld everything together. After welding, the parts are cleaned and it’s on to paint. The stoves are then assembled and boxed to be shipped to my awesome customers around the world. I usually listen to podcasts like The Joe Rogan Experience or Off the Husk and different rock or southern country stations on Pandora.
We're carrying three of your tiny wood stove models: the Basecamp, the Woodsman and the Mini Woodsman. Can you break down the basic differences between the three models? What kind of customer or uses was each model designed for?
The original Base Camp model was the first stove I made 100% from scratch. Before that I was using ammo boxes for the main body of the stove. This change was driven by customers looking for a larger stove to heat their ice houses, campers or little cabins. I then made an even bigger version of the Base Camp design called the Explorer that would accept standard length pieces of wood. The Woodsman was the next stove I designed and quickly became my best seller because it looked like a smaller version of a traditional wood stove and had a window in the door. The Woodsman is used by people that want to heat their garage, workshop, a tiny house, cabin or even full size converted school buses. Based on the success of The Woodsman stove I made a mini version (The Mini Woodsman). It’s just like the full-size version but smaller. The Mini Woodsman is commonly used in converted short busses, tiny houses, cabins in warmer climates and even saunas. The Woodsman and Mini Woodsman take turns being my best sellers.
Is there anything different about these small stoves that people should be aware of? Are there any tricks to getting a good burn or installation methods that you've seen work better than others?
Small stoves take more to keep going than larger stoves. They have to be re-fueled and ashes need to be cleaned out more often. We recommend using a sheet metal or cement board heat shield around our stoves with a 1” air gap behind the shield. The stove can be mounted as close as 12” from this shield. This keeps all combustible surfaces safe from the heat the stove produces. Routing the stove pipe straight up and out the roof works best. You can use elbows and vent through a wall but that reduces draft and stove performance. Heat powered fans are a great addition to the stoves to help distribute heat around the space and they don’t require electricity!
You seem like the kind of guy that keeps track of your process fairly meticulously. How many wood stoves do you think you've made so far?
I’ve learned a lot about running a business in the past years. Making stoves is only a portion of what I do. Creating shipping labels, customer correspondence and keeping track of finances are a big part of my day. I’ve sold about 1000 stoves in the 10 years. Most of those sales have been in the last few years. The fall and winter months are super busy for me!
Do you hear back from many of your customers about how they're using their stoves? What's the coolest space that you've seen your stoves used in, or what's the most unique install you've heard of?
I get feedback from about 10% of my customers. I started my Instagram account @northwoodsfabrication to share some of the feedback I get and let others share their experiences and how they’ve done their installation. Sharing experiences is super helpful and important because so many of these installations aren’t in traditional houses so there isn’t much information out there on what to do and how to do it. Resources like Tiny Life Supply are very helpful to get information and products in one convenient place from people that have actually built tiny houses.
The coolest installation I’ve seen was where a customer installed a Woodsman stove in a bunkhouse in the Colorado Rockies. Not only was the bunkhouse cool and they did a great job on the installation but the scenery around the cabin was amazing and so much better than southern Minnesota.
What are your plans for the future of Northwoods Fabrication?
I’m going to continue to improve upon my current stove designs and hopefully include a secondary burn chamber in my Woodsman and Mini Woodsman models. I’m planning on bringing the Explorer model back into production later this year. It will be a larger version of the Base Camp and it will have long legs so it can be mounted on the floor instead of a shelf or counter. I’m also going to have to find a bigger shop because I’m quickly outgrowing my current space!
Thank you, David, for the chat and for giving us a behind the scenes look at North Woods Fabrication and all of the amazing work you are doing over there in Minnesota. We have loved working with you so far and are excited to see what you have in store for the future!
*Images sourced from North Woods Fabrication’s Instagram*
About the Author: Julia Speirs
Julia has come onboard as the Marketing Coordinator at Tiny Life Supply to gain some valuable, hands-on marketing experience before returning to the University of Victoria to complete her Bachelor of Commerce degree. Growing up, Julia would spend time in the summer at her family’s lake property in Ontario where she got to experience tiny home living for the first time. It was love at first experience and she has been following the tiny house movement ever since. She is most fascinated by the innovation she sees when it comes to people building and outfitting their homes and is always eager to learn more about people’s tiny dwellings.