Home made fire blocks for the wood heater

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Posts: 805
Joined: Sun Aug 16, 2020 5:32 am
Location: Australia

Home made fire blocks for the wood heater

Post by Downunder35m »

Recycling is starting to slowly take off in AU.
Still there is lots of paper and carboard around.
Some people get the daily newspaper and lots of other promotional things in their letter box.
And we all hate it when we buy something big and right after struggle to figure out what to do with this huge carboard box....

On the web and now even in quite a few stores you can find these brick presses.
If you like DIY then there is plenty of instructions on building your own in endless ways.
But what is best brick press and more imporantly: What is the right paper for the job?

Let me start with the press....
The idea is that you place your paper slurry in there, compress it and that get a brick or log shaped thingy you let fully dry before using it.
Thing is that recycled paper ends up to be very dense once properly compressed.
Great in terms of energy value, bad in terms of actually getting them to burn properly.
There is ways to get much better results even with a single brick press that produces, well, bricks.
I will go into this further down.
If you want to try out making paper bricks or logs at home you certainly don#t want to invest a ton of money.
But be aware that a lot of these cheap press thingies wear out quickly and won't really tolerate any (accidental or intended) abuse.
Press down not fully straight and the handles might kink sideways.
Press too hard and the hinges wear out or the entire body starts to bulge.
Just check the darn thing properly and use common sense while using it - if it looks and feels flimsy then be gentle with it ;)

Brick or log....
There isn't much of a difference, although some people say a log type is easier to use and requires less force.
For the end result it really make very little, if any difference.
What matters though is the size.
You want to be able to get the stuff into your heater, maybe even stack it out a bit.
Buying or building a press without KNOWING what comes out fits into your heater is something to avoid.

How get a better brick or log.
If yours just won't produce any real heat and take forever to burn down in a slow glow you need more air.
I know you tried and I know just opening the vents won't help a bit.
What you need to do is to include a hole or several to go through the brick or log.
For example by just standing up some PVC pipe ends in the brick press or having one going through the log press.
Those holes mainly provide more surface area.
But of course, once burning they also provide airflow through these holes - giving a faster and more uniform burn rate.
Adding a layer of crushed or powdered charcaol also helps - only a thin 2 or 3mm layer is needed.

How much paper do I use?
Tricky one as there is a ton of factors to consider.
What paper was used, how well is it broken down, what chemicals are left in the slurry......
As a rule of thumb: If the brick feels very light once dry and is fragile when taking to the drying area you might want too add a bit.
If it fails to burn properly and struggle to keep glowing you definately made it too dense.
Trial and error will give you the right amount after a few rounds.

How do I prepare my collected paper and cardboard?
Start by only collecting what is GOOD.
Nothing laminated or glossy for example.
For boxes make sure stickers and tape are peeled off.
If you use boxes make sure to remove this stupid glue!!
Not only is the glue a problem in your slurry - it is also a pain in the behind if you end up with chunks in your press.
Paper should be run through a little office shredder first, tiny pieces are much easier to store and break down than whole pages....
Carboard should at least be cut into strips you can rip apart as otherwise you end up with huge slices that wrap around your mixer all the time.
Once you have the base material sorted and shredded it is time to think about the right size vessel.
To try it out you still want at least a decent sized tub or drum cut in half.
I helps to start with boiling hot water - fill your container about1/3 with it and then start adding the paper and cardboard.
Don't overfill!
Give it a bit of time to soak up the water and to sink down - not everything will sink though.
Use a stick or whatever to stir and push the stuff around.
Keep adding paper until the mix starts to feels hard to mix.
Let this sit for a few hours or if time is no problem till the next day.
Drain off the excess water and scoop out the paper and carboard.
I have a simple piece of chicken wire in a wooden frame over a plastic tub....
Press out the water by hand but don't stress it too much.
That mushy ugly stuff you are left with can go in a bucket or such.
Repeat this process with new batches until you have the required amount of soaked paper for what you want to make bricks out.
On a larger scale you would do this in a quick fashoing by soaking, mixing, pressing right after the paper is mushy enough.
All that collected soaked paper and cardboard stuff now goes back into your mixing tub and you again add water.
This time you can fill it a bit more as we will use a proper paint stirrer on a drill ;)
You have to violently agitate the mix to promote the breakdown.
Hence starting out with already shredded and ripped apart paper and cardboard ;)
In the beginning you will still find a lot of goo and gunk collecting on the mixer.
You can ignore that while mixing as long as it agitates the remaining stuff properly, just scrape it off once done.
Be prepared that it might a few days until all the paper is properly broken down and you end up with some rather ugly looking and sligthly slimy looking stuff.
The idea of this time consuming process it to of course break down the paper but also to be able to sepearte the good stuff from the bad.
Let the mix rest once done - if you can then heat the mix up to close to bloint point first.
Speeds up the seperation and settling down but is fully optional.
You might not really feel much when poking a stick in there but using you hand you should feel how it starts to feel thicker the further down you go.
I prefer to run this batch through some old cloth I secure over a half plastic drum with the other half pushed over it.
Whatever drains through is to be discarded - do not use it on your garden or veggie beds, dispose of it in the toilet or similar drain.
Scoop the slurry out once you have enough to press it out like some cheese in a cloth.
Keep repeating until you collected all the paper and cardboard mush.
What you have now is ready to breassed into bricks or logs ;)
Exploring the works of the old inventors, mixng them up with a modern touch.
To tinker and create means to be alive.
Bringing the long lost back means history comes alive again.
Posts: 805
Joined: Sun Aug 16, 2020 5:32 am
Location: Australia

Re: Home made fire blocks for the wood heater

Post by Downunder35m »

I need lots of bricks, have tons of paper nad carboard and need a much faster way in larger volumes....
Lucky you, most of us struggle to get a good enough supply for free these days...

I found that using plastic drums or a cut 1000 liter plastic tank work well.
Not because of the size but the material.
Adding sodium hydroxide speeds up the breakdown quite a bit.
Problem is that the stuff is rather nasty on the human and that you need to recycle to be viable.
Good thing is the contaminations in the used water are not a big issue when you boil it all down.
Just reduce it to the volume require to start the next batch to require adding about 50% fresh water.
Per 100 liter of water I suggest to use about 400 to 500 grams of sodium hydroxide.

Since the stuff is nasty and not everyone able to properly recycle it:
Agitating 100 liters with a big stirrer on a drill is certainly still possible.
1000 liters can be not just hard but also dangerous.
Far better option is to use a paddle.
Or if you have oars from your inflatable.
It does not provide the violence but with persistence you will quickly figure out at what intervals to paddle.
If in doubt wait it out ;)

Oh, sorry you meant volumes like producing enough paper bricks to last you through 3 or 4 months of winter ???
Fear not as long as you have a steady supply!
A few years ago I create what you might need for friend of mine.
200 liter plastic drum or preferably an empty sandpit with heavy duty foil in it.
Big scoops or a shovel.
Some flexible piping.
Good set of handman tools.
A donated and still working washing machine - for once top loaders are prefered over front loaders.

The first thing you want to do it to build a proper stand for thewashing machine - outside or in the shed, not in your home....
Then you want to modify the machine itself to be able to get easy access to everything at all times.
I recomment to leave all safety features in place!
Ideally you want the machine standing about 40 to 50cm above ground.
The covers around the machine removed if there is a full frame, otherwise cut suitable sized holes in them (after taking them out) so you can really work on all internals later on if required.
Why? Because you will put the machine through a lot of abuse....

Next thing is to prepare the drain and filter system.
Every machine is a bit different so I can only be general here!
Hot woter still works best but I leave it up to you to consider things like running hoses from insde the house or using some 30 liter shrimp pot above the machine to provide hot water.
If in doubt it works with cold water as long as it does not freeze of course.
But no one should make bricks in the winter - the dry much better during the summer time ;)
Check where that water drains out the actual drum - usually the connection is the lowest and runs straigt to the pump.
Do NOT cut this hose, do NOT use brute force removing it!
If possible mount it so the hose face in some other direction than the pump.
You want to add a pipe insert so you extend the hose to go to your filter screen!
No pump to get the water in the drain...
Most of these washing machines have a lint filter somewhere - some have it sitting the the center spindle for unknown reasons - remove those filters please!
To prevent the water rushing out you do need to add a simple plug fro the end of the drain hose or use a good sized, plastic ball valve from the plumbing department.
By default no valve or such is required as the drain hose for a washing machine has the outlet always above the max fill level - water only comes out when the pump runs.
Depending on the desing of your machine you might want to use a different approch.
Like in case the drain goes through a filter that is accessible.
You know those weird screw thingsies behind that flap ? ;)
If you find a machine with this "coin filter" on the front then grab it as the prefered option over those without.
You can just let it drain out there instead of messing with the drain hose ;)
Just block the outlet going to the pump to keep this area dry.
As said, be creative and use what is available.

The filter screen....
Consider how much you fill into the washing machine!
Those with a front filter might want to consider adding a flap to prevent the water rushing out without hitting the screen....
Ideally the screen should be big enough to hold the entire load.
Otherwise be ready to push and scoop the build up down while the machine drains.
Really consider a splash wall at the end that extend around the sides a bit!
Why? Because you don't want to drain off too slow as then the hose might block up ....
Those with enough head room to spare might just add a valve right under the drum drain while the machine is place high enough and with a suitable staircase to load it up ;)

The dreaded "controller"....
Most of these donated machines won't come with the option to stop the cycle right before the machine drains.
You can use a trusted alarm clock, wire in a timer or whatever if the machine would just keep going through the cycle.
So prefer one that has a stop option ;)
If you know a bit more about electrics you can of course check those mechanical controller for what is connected for do the agitation.
Add a switch to let the water run it if you want the build in valve or just use a hose ;)
To get the agitation working with a bypassed controller you might have to disconnect to motor for the controller and keep in the wash cycle position.
This way you just fill the machine and flick the switch to let it "wash" for however it might take.
Adding a timer to provide some down time to let the motor cool off is recommended!
Like 15 minutes on 30 minutes off...

What about the pump?
Of course we can put it to a new use.
Connect the outlet side to hose that goes to your drain or a suitable drum to carry it to suitable drain later.
The inlet side of the pump is connected to a hose with a good sized filter basket at the end.
You can also use a big funnel with some flyscreen over the big opening and the hose on the other end.
Be aware that the pump won't work dry!
Means the outlet has to go up and above the water level before going into a drain.
The inlet basket needs a mount or holder to keep above water level when washing as wll.
Otherwise you have to prime the pump every time.
The beauty of keeping the pump in use is that you can discard the wasted water by draining it off with the pump.
Wipe over the screen while pumping to prevent it from blocking up.
Remove water until the blocking becomes a problem.
It does help to let the mix rest over night and to drain from the top with the screen just below the surface.
Repeating this water exchange two or three times removes a lot of ink, chemicals and such.
If you want to do it really properly:
Take a small water sample - like a can of cat food worth.
Run it through a coffee filter.
Boil it down in some small pot you never again use for food.
Once the stuff turns thick you know there is lots of crap in it.
That is glue and binder material plus chemicals to help the ink stick to the paper.
You will end up with a clean result.
But you will see how after each water eaxchange the amount of goo goes down.
I leave it up to you to decide when enough is enough here but would like to state that having those chemicals out is good for your chimney....
Exploring the works of the old inventors, mixng them up with a modern touch.
To tinker and create means to be alive.
Bringing the long lost back means history comes alive again.
Posts: 805
Joined: Sun Aug 16, 2020 5:32 am
Location: Australia

Re: Home made fire blocks for the wood heater

Post by Downunder35m »

Washing powder does a reall great job in breaking down paper!!!
It certainly does but it also adds a lot of chemicals we really don't want in our bricks.
What you on Youtube or such places suggesting to use washing powder for unbelievably fast break down times is a hoax.
Sure there might be some "organic" washing powder that is half decent but still it won't be any good for making bricks and logs.
The problem is that most of what makes a washing powder so good also is rather bad to promote fire.
Crystal water is one problem here the actual chemical reaction when the reamins brake down another.
With a modified washing machine as above you might say that more water exchanges will fix that but why bother if you have a machine ???
Exploring the works of the old inventors, mixng them up with a modern touch.
To tinker and create means to be alive.
Bringing the long lost back means history comes alive again.
Posts: 805
Joined: Sun Aug 16, 2020 5:32 am
Location: Australia

Re: Home made fire blocks for the wood heater

Post by Downunder35m »

Troubleshooting - random order as it comes to mind ;)

My bricks won't really burn at all !!
Consider adding holes in the pressing process.
If you already did that check your paper source - newbies should start with newspaper material, phone books or such as there is no problems with glue like in cardboard.
If the source burns great and with not too much smoke it is probably good material.
If it already struggles to keep burning like some carboard you need to wash the slurry several times to flush out those chemicals.

My bricks keep crumbling apart while drying.
A common problem as the thing shrinks when drying.
The crumbling is often caused by not giving enough time and agitation to break down the material properly.
Some small slices or "leaves" do help but too many means layers can form that tend to seperate when shrinking.
It really helps to have a press system that is able to provide enough pressure.
Filled by hand to the top it should be able to compress down to around 50% at the first round - preferably even less.
Do several light presses while filling up and find the right amount to create the right thickness - then press that as hard as possible to remove most of the water already.

My bricks keep cracking when drying.
Should not be a problem unless they crack all the way through.
In fact, a few cracks here and there are abit like the holes we add to help the burning.

My bricks go mouldy before the dry.
That IS a big problem!
Sometimes the weather just isn't on your side....
Sometimes there was too much crap in the mix and it took a few days to get tit to the press....
Either way, once bacteria and funi are growing the bricks can be ruind quickly.
Burning mouldy bricks is not recommended as through the handling alone you get those spores airborne.
Egg carton are notorious here for being bad if in the mix - if you have lots process them as egg batches alone and as fast as you can - there isn't much in them so they can be processed fast.
For all other cases you can mess with the acidity of the water.
A good shot of white vinegar can do wonders in the slurry ;)
If the mould is more a problem later on during the dry storage for winter consider using some benzalkonium chloride.
Available in the pool section of your hardware store for cheap.
Use the amount recommended for pool use as stated on the pack and based on the amount of water used during the breaking down.
If you can process and dry reasonably fast about half what is stated on the pack will do.
While benzalkonium chloride also helps with breaking down the paper you need to be aware that when it is burnt off the resulting chlorine products are no good for your heater and chimney.
Means you really need to press out what you and experiment with the prefect amounts based on how you process the material and what the source of the paper is.
Like by making a small batch in a bucket and starting with very little benzalkonium chloride once all is broken down.
Sieve out a sample and press it out with a cloth to get a create a few hand rolled balls.
Add benzalkonium chloride and repeat.
Dry half of the created balls in your oven at low temp, the other half let air dry like you would your bricks.
Compare the weight of the outside balls to the inside ones to know when they are all evenly dried.
Oops: Please note the amounts of benzalkonium chloride used so you can upsacle leter and also mark your balls to know to what amount they relate ;)
Place those balls in some outside location free from rain but exposed to the morning dew and wind.
Should only take a few weeks to see that those with lowest concentration might develop some unwanted growth.
Especially in more humid regions.
Decide based on they progress what amount is required to preserve them during storage for winter.
DO NOT just use lots of benzalkonium chloride !!!
A little goes along way, escpecially if you have a steel heater and copper chimney attached that both dislike chlorines acting on them....
Exploring the works of the old inventors, mixng them up with a modern touch.
To tinker and create means to be alive.
Bringing the long lost back means history comes alive again.
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