Posts tagged ‘cleaning’


Little Ruminations on Homekeeping – Cleaning a wood burning stove.

I may have mentioned that I have a wood burning stove. Oh look at that, I did. Well as it turns out sometimes you have to clean those buggers out. I don’t just mean emptying the ashes from under the grate here either. I mean dismantle that sucker, clean off all the built up crap, and then somehow put it all back together.

Sounds kind of intimidating doesn’t it? Well worry not dearest reader, I’m here with a step-by-step guide based on my own experiences. Enjoy.

 1: Wake up, stare bleary eyed at the ceiling for twenty minutes wondering if you are really awake, or if this is in fact another one of those weird dreams where you’re waking up, only to wake up with a start a few minutes into it wondering what the hell is up with your subconscious.

 2: Realise that, yes, you are in fact awake. Get up, pee, miss the toilet bowl, get dressed, mop the bathroom floor. Go downstairs.

 3: Walk into the living room intent on going through to the kitchen for some yummy fake Cocoa Pops. Five minutes later realise that you’ve been staring at the stove which only yesterday simply refused to light.

 4: Get very, very pissed off.

 5: Get your toolkit, and stand in front of the stove.

 6: Pick up a flashlight and rap it sharply on the metal part of the door.

 7: Quote Liam Neeson in Taken to make sure that the soot is truly aware of what’s about to happen. Of course it’s going to be a little confused by why you’re coming after it to get your daughter back, when the soot had her shipped off to a petting zoo for rich anthropomorphic panda’s the previous week. But it’ll still set the tone nicely.

 8: Open it’s door.

 9: Stick your flashlight, and head in to find the various nuts you’ll need to remove.

10: Sneeze. Remember to cover your nose, and mouth with your hands when your sneeze. No need to cover the dogs in snot after all.

11: Spend 10 minutes cleaning last nights ashes out of your eyes.

12: Clean out the remains of last nights ashes.

13: Try again.

14: Remove the side plates.

15: Using a vice-grips, because you don’t own even a single spanner, removed the nuts holding on the back plate.

16: Remove the back plate.

17: Swear loudly as the top plate lands hard on your fingers,

18: Gag when you get a mouthful of foul-tasting ash, and soot after trying to suck on your aching fingers.

19: Take out the top, and back plates.

20: Unbolt the plate covering the upper air vent.

21: Look proudly at the pile of parts.

22: Swear loudly when you see the huge pile of soot, and ash that is now covering every inch of your sitting room floor.

23: Use a stiff brush to removed most of the soot clinging to inner walls of the stove.

24: Deal with the disappointment of realising you’ll never get it all. I recommend a six week course of intensive therapy with a qualified psychologist at exorbitant hourly rates. OCD is a cruel Mistress.

25: See what’s inside the opening to the flue for the first time. Nearly die of fright.

26: Have a stiff double whiskey.

27: Use your brand new vacuum cleaner to clean up all the soot which has already made its way into the room, as well that which has filled up the space created by your having earlier cleaned out the ashes. After all it’s all going to be downhill from here, the worst is behind us.

28: Stick the vacuum cleaner nozzle into the flue, and get as much of the loose soot build up as you can.

29: Stick you hand up the flue.

30: Panic when you can’t get it back out.

31: Wonder how that guy who cut his hand off with a blunt swiss army knife felt.

32: Let go of the the handful of soot you were holding, and sigh with relief as your hand easily slides back out.

33: Realise you’ve let yourself in for a bigger job than you thought, one which you do not own the right tools for.

34: Go to the DIY store to buy a flue brush. Yes, they do exist.

35: Wonder why everyone is looking at you weirdly.

36: Get home, and using the newly acquired brush vigorously clean out the flue.

37: Sneeze, and swear as the living room gets covered once more in a not so fine layer of soot. Remember to cover your nose, and mouth with your hands when your sneeze. There’s still no need to be covering the dogs in snot after all.

38: Wrap the brush head in a plastic bag, and put in the shed.

39: Leave a thick trail of soot, and ash between the living room, and the backyard on both the way out, and back in.

40: Using the vacuum cleaner, clean up the living room.

41: In what you think is the reverse order you used to dismantle the burner, remantle it. (I know it’s not a real word, but I like it, so there!)

42: Try this three times.

43: Realise you’re doing it wrong.

44: Do it right.

45: Cross-thread two out of 4 nuts.

46: Replace these nuts with another trip to the DIY store. Again wonder why everyone is looking at your funny.

47: Clean up. This should include, but not be limited to, the sooty paw prints both dogs have left on the television, the walls, the curtains, the staircase carpet, the sofa, each other, AND somehow the inside of the fridge.

48: Light a fire.

49: Bask in its warming glow.

50: Look up at the mirror above the fireplace for the first time all day, and realise that you’ve somehow managed to cover your face with a mixture of mucus, soot, and ash.

51: Try to decide whether it’s awesome, or awful that you look like this…

52: Be told by your Miss that you look really cute when you’re all tomboyish, and mucky.

53: Strut!

And there you have it. 53 steps to a clean wood burning stove.


It’s cold outside, lighting a log burner.

Just recently I had a log burner installed in my house, and I have to say it was one of the best decisions ever made by myself or my Partner in Crime. Our living room is positively toasty when it’s burning well, and the heat is intense enough that it even penetrates to other areas of the house, making them if not hot, then at the very least, not cold. But that said the first two weeks of owning it were occupied by a pretty steep learning curve.

You’d think that running one would be much like lighting any fire, and to a certain extent that is true. You still start off your fire with paper or firelighters, kindling, and all the rest. But there are a few differences from just throwing down a fire in an open fireplace.

– If you have a cheaper burner, and we do, the two vents built into it are essentially ornamentation.

The first week we had ours was mostly spent in frustration trying to keep the damned thing burning. It quenched itself constantly, in no small part because those two vents. The vents, one beneath the fire-grate and one well above the fire itself, are meant to allow you to keep up a draft inside the burner, allowing more or less oxygen to get to the flames and thus getting you more heat, but a shorter burn time, or the reverse. Well on ours they do nothing much. So when we need some extra air in there we just open up the little door that’s meant for cleaning out ashes.

– Log burners are made up of a LOT of cold metal.

This is sort of an important consideration when you’re impatiently waiting for your fire to really take off, because frankly until that metal has gotten hot enough it’s just not going to. Think of it this way, when you preheat an oven before putting in a roast it takes times, then you put in a big hunk of very cold meat, on a very cold metal tray, and the oven temperature drops like a stone until at least some of that material has heated up as well. And it turns out that’s kind of how log burners behave as well. So that being the case, we’ve taken to using scrap material for the first while until the burner itself is far too hot to touch. Then when you put in heavier logs, and more solid fuel it takes a flame very quickly, meaning you don’t have to keep a draft going through it for very long, and you get more burn time for your fuel.

– If you open the bottom door even a tiny bit for the first minute or two of a new fire, you won’t spend ages on your knees blowing on embers later.

Kind of self-explanatory really. But we have found that if you make sure that for those first couple of minutes there’s a good strong draft in the burner, the fuel really takes off well. And it’s so much easier to make sure the fire is burning well at the beginning than trying to dismantle it later, and relight it.

– Log burners are dangerous for your skin.

Log burners, once they’re up to temperature, are monstrously hot. To the point that it can actually be very uncomfortable, even with tongs and heavy gloves, when you have to lay a new log into them. That heat is a godsend in cold weather, but it’s definitely contraindicated to make direct physical contact with one. I am typing this piece with more burns on my hands than I’ve had at anytime in my life, including when I was in the scouts and pretty much permanently had cuts and burns on them. All it takes is one moment when your concentration is lacking, or instant of distraction (like a puppy deciding your ears need a good cleaning) and, SIZZLE! And you better believe it makes that noise. So wear those bloody gloves, and use the tongs, your skin will thank you for it.

Oh, and unless you like serious pain don’t forget yourself and grab the handle of the main door with your bare hand. It hurts, a lot.

– “Log Burner’s” burn pretty much anything.

If it’ll take a flame, it will burn in a log burner. Which is good news if you have access to things like old pallets, or other scrap wood, as it makes it those first two fires each day a lot cheaper. How so? Well instead of chopping perfectly good logs down small, you get to use scrap wood, and keep the good stuff for when it’ll burn properly.

– Cigarette lighters really shouldn’t be  left on top of the log burner.

I did. My right ear was still ringing three days later. And I had to change my underwear. I got lucky, it also flung shrapnel in every direction and I could have been hit by molten plastic, or sharp pieces. Don’t do that. Also don’t leave anything small and flammable on there either. It’s a little scary when the spare piece of kindling you forgot was up there, decides to burst into flames.

– Pay attention to how you stack the wood inside.

If burners have one draw back, it’s that door in the front. Yeah it’s great in many ways, but when the wood burns down and the embers come to rest against the glass…that can be trouble. A lap full of red-hot embers type trouble. You can mostly avoid this by thinking for a few moments as you lay the next fire, and placing the fuel in the right way so that it burns down evenly.

– Does you log have spiky bits.?

If it does chop them off. Seriously, take a hatchet and cut those buggers off. They can punch through the fire-glass in the front of your burners door, leaving you with an often unusable burner, and a hefty bill from glazier’s.

– Clean the ashes out every day.

This one is sort of debated, some people think that it makes the fuel last longer if you don’t clean it out too often. But personally I haven’t noticed any real difference, except that when you don’t clean it out, you spend a lot more time trying to relight it.

– Clean the glass with vinegar.

Yes it does sound like a tip from a really bad reality television show, but it really does work, and nothing beats looking in and watching those flames dance. Especially when it gets so hot inside the firebox that those flames are almost, but not quite, invisible. Gorgeous.

And that’s pretty much it. They are a great way to heat your house. Efficient, actually quite easily managed, economical to run. But to get to the point where they really star to pay off, you have to take a little time, a little care, and get to know your burner. Then it’ll give you sterling service, and keep you warm all Winter long.


For crying out loud clean your damn computer.

I am essentially tech-support for my partners family and friends.  When one of their PC’s dies it usually winds up on my table where it will be lovingly coaxed back to life.  In fairness that is a specialty of mine, bringing lifeless PC’s back from the abyss.  My last PC for example died so many times I started to call it Daniel Jackson, it was brought back from beyond the river Styx that often.  Now I have no problem repairing any PC.  It’s a fun thing to do.  Almost nothing beats stripping off the casing and spending an afternoon tinkering with the poor things innards.  It gets even better when after all the tinkering I flick the power switch and I get to hear that sweetest of sounds, the happy whirring of properly functioning case fans.  Actually I’m just as happy to spend an evening digging through the registry to fix all the little screw ups any well used PC gathers over time.  I actually enjoy watching a defragmentation program work.  It’s almost hypnotic watching the little boxes flicker as the pieces of data they represent are moved around on the hard drive.

Anyway the point is that I actually enjoy maintaining and fixing computers.  But one thing drives me up the wall.  Please allow me to share with you a short tale of woe to illustrate.

A few years ago one of my partners exe’s gave her his PC so I could have a crack at getting it to run properly.  It was taking eleven minutes to boot up.  Let me repeat that at a loud shout.  ELEVEN MINUTES TO BOOT UP!  Now needless to say the fact the it did boot up at all meant that it was probably recoverable so I went into my patented Amanda Harper MD to PC’s mode.  I spent a few hours working on the software side of things and with a lot of effort I managed to knock about four minutes off of the boot up.  But now it randomly shut itself down.  After about ten reboots I realised that it wasn’t random at all, it shut down after about 6-7 minutes of runtime.  Weird.  Must be a cooling issue.  Maybe the extraction fan isn’t running so the hot air isn’t moving through fast enough.

This is very much like the inside of your vacuum cleaner. Only it's your PC!

So out comes my little tool kit of PC specific tools.  Now like any dyke I’m proud of my tools.  I have woodworking tools, metalworking tools (lots of these since I make armor as a hobby) and I even have some tools for making tools.  But I was proudest of my PC repair kit (that “was” is another story which I will share at a later date when I am internally accompanied by half a bottle of vodka).  It had everything you would expect.  A set of screwdrivers to handle any size of screw I could ever encounter in a PC.  Tiny files and brill bits for modifying casings when needed.  Pliers both metal and plastic for when your fingers are just too big and metal would lead to a hair styling by 220 volts.  It had everything I could possibly need or so I thought.  You see I had foolishly forgotten to include an industrial sandblaster with the screwdrivers and what have you.

So back to the tale of woe.  I took out my tool kit and removed the casing.  When I take off a casing I’m kind of focused and blind to everything else.  I hate damaging the heads or treads of case screws.  I also hate it when I drop the sides of the case and end up with cuts on my toes from sheet metal hitting them from a height.  I’m also a little OCD so I always do these things the same way every time.  That means I take the side underneath the motherboard off first.  It also means that for a few blissful moments I was shielded from the horror that waited within.  Off went the first side.  Nothing too untoward, a little dust but nothing excessive, no loose wires shorting on anything and more importantly no smell of the smoke which all electronic devices run on.  So far so good and best of all I haven’t lost any of the screws, look at them all sitting there safe and sound in the green lidded plastic jar on the table.

Right then off comes the other side.  The screws are removed and carefully put into the green lidded plastic jar.  I put the screwdriver to one side so it won’t damage or be damaged by anything.  Finally I slide the side panel back a centimetre and lift it off.


Is the first thought to hit me immediately after the huge cloud of dust settles on my clothes, my face and in my lungs.  Nothing could have prepared me for the horror represented by this degree of abusive PC ownership.  Everything is covered in a one centimetre thick layer of dust, skin flakes, hair and I dread to think what else.  There might even be things moving in there though I dared not look.  It is a PC fans Lovecraftian nightmare made flesh complete with a dust wrought eldritch horror.  I bet the dimensions of the PC innards could only have been defined using non-euclidean geometry and that outside even the moon was waxing gibbous.  No wonder that poor thing had been running slow and randomly shutting down.  But believe it or not this was not the worst of it.

See? I told you so only definable with Non-Euclidean geometry.

No dear reader I must now give unto you knowledge so disturbing that you may well end up living out the rest of your days in a Victorian asylum.  For you see the CPU heat sink was completely filled with…MOSS!

I am not joking there was a solid mass of moss in the heat sink.  The PC had obviously been left somewhere damp for quite a while and with the large number of cooling vents there had been just enough indirect light to allow a small enterprising colony to start-up.  It had undoubtedly reached the point where it’s population density would force it to make an aggressive land acquisition in other parts of the PC.  But unfortunately around then someone dried out the computer and switched the thing on.  Thus ending what may well have turned out to have been an epic tale of conquest and imperialism to rival that of the Greeks and the Persians.

It took me an hour to get all the dust out of the casing.  I had to dismantle the power supply unit and managed to give myself several nasty cuts trying to get the last of the dust out of some of the tighter spots.  But it took me almost that long again to clean the bloody moss out of the bloody heat sink.  A lot of time and my spare toothbrush.

Afterwards that PC ran like a dream.  A very slow dream it must be said seeing as it was I believe the same model of PC used by Hammurabi to record his laws some time in the 1700’s BC.  But it was still a dream.

So dearest reader what is it I wish you to take from this recounting of horror when you leave my webpage and continue with your day?  Only this.  It is somewhat difficult to kill a PC by accident.  Of course liquids spilled on its innards will bring its lamentable suffering to a quick and smokey end.  A large power spike might just give it a massive stroke thus bringing it to a quick and smokey end.  A large sledgehammer brought heavily down upon it with the force of an enraged midget titan will probably bring it to a quick and smokey end.

Makes me wonder what sort of filth was being downloaded.

These are all sad ends to noble machines.  But nothing is more pathetic than a PC that once downloaded vast amounts of porn when it wasn’t filling the internet with equally vast numbers of  lolcats dying of electronic consumption or tuberculosis.  It’s a needless agony suffered by too many of these wonderous thinking engines.

So for the love of them and out of fear of my right boot for crying out loud clean your damn computer once in a while!

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