I swept the chimney today. We have been waiting for days for a sweep, since we developed a problem with smoke and creosote almost a week ago. I stopped using the wood stove, which meant keeping heat on in the rooms where there are water pipes, and sort of living in the kitchen, with a blanket hung over the door.
I was worried that something horrible had been stuck in the chimney – a crow, a starling or a bat. Since it was a mild day, we decided to go ahead with removing the stove-pipe and at least clearing that.
The Baker’s Choice stove has good clean-out points, one under the oven, and one in the stove top. It also has a rectangular scraper, which removed soot cake and creosote nicely. I scooped it out with a big steel cooking spoon and a paint scraper. I wore gloves but my sleeves were rolled back a bit, so I was black gunk almost to the shoulder by the time I was done.
We found a huge ball of creosote – a hardened, glassy tar-like substance – in the join between the stovepipe and the stove. Apparently we had damped down the draft too much on a night or early morning when we had an inversion along the river, a blanket of damp, heavy cool air. The gasses that would normally rise and dissipate condensed and mixed with the moisture in the air, running back down the flue and into and through the stove as a tarry liquid. I am in the process of cleaning up a thin puddle of it from behind the stove. Of course, it smells terrible.
I borrowed the sweeping brush and extension rods from my landlord, and with a little instruction from him, (he was off to clear beaver dams on his lower property today, a circumstance that is worse than creosote), I stood on the thick steel stove top and swept the chimney.
Sweeping a chimney means forcing a cylindrical brush (of plastic bristles in our Selkirk flue) up a seven-inch wide opening. The rods screw into each other as extensions and are flexible fibreglass, like fishing rods. It takes a bit of strength to do this, but my husband is just a wee bit too tall to get his arms under the rod and push from the leverage of the stove top. It can’t be done from floor level because the stove-pipe is too close to the wall, with the stove intervening.
I was reminded of a Dorothy Sayers’s book, Busman’s Honeymoon. Lord Peter Wimsey and his bride Harriet have just bought an ancient house in the country, and the sweep has come by to clear the old chimneys of “sut.” If I remember correctly, the sweep says, “It’s ta farce behoin’ ta rods.” Or some such like. And it is indeed the force behind the rods.
The mess was incredible – soot and shards of creosote, ash from the firebox as I emptied and cleaned that. Then Nicholas had to fit the stovepipe back in, and that is his strong suit, having been a mast rigger in his youth. But he was a bit worn out by all the effort, and still has one joint to align and fit with screws. Since I didn’t plan to build a fire tonight, I let him off that duty until tomorrow.
And I think I won’t challenge Mary Poppins’s friend Bert for his job as chimney sweep.