Is it safe to use cinder blocks or red bricks in stoves and ovens?

As how-to book and blog authors we face many questions that begin, “Is it safe to . . . ?” And, for some reason, any post of ours involving rocket stoves sets off a firestorm of incoming Google hits.

An old blog post on a “Redneck Rocket Stove” made out of cinder blocks prompted many to suggest that the cinder blocks would explode due to heat. Leon, of the blog Survival Common Sense, does a good job of refuting this notion in a blog post, “Build a brick rocket stove: Is it safe to use concrete blocks?” The short answer is that those concrete blocks are not going to explode. But if you want something permanent you should use fire bricks and fire clay as mortar so it won’t crack.

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Related to this issue is our use of regular bricks in the hearth of our adobe oven. Most sources suggest using fire bricks or kiln bricks. Kurt Gardella, the adobe master who led the workshop where we built our adobe oven, is a fan of recycling materials and saving money. We happened to have a pile of ordinary red bricks and he said it would be fine to use them for the oven floor. He was right. We have fired the oven many times and none of the floor bricks have cracked. If I had not had the red bricks on hand and I was at the brick yard buying materials for an oven, I probably would have bought fire bricks. But having just paid for sand and straw gives me cheapskate bragging rights.

Opinions? Have you faced this issue?

024 Water, Wilding our Gardens and Sewing

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Kelly and I return this week to discuss a recent talk I gave to a bunch of Master Gardeners about water harvesting and encouraging wildness in our gardens. On the second part of the podcast Kelly discusses the process of learning how to sew. During the first part of the podcast Erik mentions:

In the sewing portion of the podcast, Kelly talks about:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.

Introducing the People Washer

peoplewasher 1Another gem from the June 1977 issue of The Futurist, an excerpt from Stephen Rosen’s book Future Facts: The way things are going to work in the future of technology, science, medicine and life (available for a penny on Amazon!).

Egg-shaped “People Washer” is an ultrasonic bath developed by the Sanyo Electric Company of Japan. The machine showers and bathes the body, cleans the skin, massages the muscles, and dries the person off.

To take a bath, the bather selects the water temperature, climbs inside the egg, and starts the machine. The machine first gives the bather a warm shower, then begins ultrasonic washing with bubbly warm water. Then the bath fills with warm water to a set level, at which point the water intake automatically shuts off and the hot water begins to whirl, cleaning the body even more thoroughly. While the water whirls, small rubber balls float around in the water, massage the skin, and relax the muscles. After seven minutes of washing and rubber-ball massage, the bath water drains from the sphere and the body is reshowered for two minutes. The shower and the ultrasonic waves cease and the water is drained out. Finally there is a dry cycle during which low moisture air circulates through the chamber. The entire cycle takes 15 minutes.

As crazy as this sounds, it looks like a version of it actually got made for taking care of elderly folks.

Councilmen Want to Astroturf Los Angeles and Turn it Into a Big Minigolf Course

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Los Angeles’ political leaders have a tendency to say the right things and get all the details wrong. Offering homeowners rebates to replace water hungry lawns is a good idea. Letting them use those rebates to put artificial turf in the parkway (see council motion 14-1197–introduced by councilpersons Blumenfield and O’Farrell) is not ecologically responsible.

I disagree with a recent editorial in the Los Angeles Times, about giving rebates for artificial turf. It’s time for all of us in this dry Mediterranean climate to go beyond the lawn and bad topiary paradigm. Yes, we need to reduce irrigation, but we also need to create landscapes beneficial to all life: to insects, mammals, reptiles and human beings. And we need beauty. Gardens are both ecological and spiritual. If the author of the Times editorial needs a good example of what’s possible, I’d suggest visiting the new garden surrounding the Natural History Museum.

Artificial turf has a place on athletic fields and put-put golf courses. It does not belong in residential landscapes, especially in the parkway.

Thanks to Travis Longcore, science director for the Urban Wildlands Group, for tipping me off to this situation.

017 Heirloom Expo Recap

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On the seventeenth episode of the Root Simple Podcast Kelly and Erik discuss Erik’s recent trip to the National Heirloom Exposition in Santa Rosa, California. Some of the things and people we mention during the podcast:

If you want to leave a question for the Root Simple Podcast please call (213) 537-2591 or send an email to [email protected]. You can subscribe to our podcast in the iTunes store and on Stitcher. The theme music is by Dr. Frankenstein. Additional music by Rho. A downloadable version of this podcast is here.