What do values have to do with innovation anyway?

'The daily grind' - Andrew Moore of Navigator Stove Works. 


I recently reached out to Andrew Moore, founder of Navigator Stove Works in Orcas Island, Washington State, and maker of a line of small amphibious stoves for sailors and ‘tiny homesteaders’.  Andrew’s principled approach to his craft is inspiring – it made me realize that innovation is really a process, not a singular event, and that taking the time to reflect on tradition can deeply enrich the process of innovation.

“I wouldn’t be making these stoves if it didn’t allow me to make personal connections with people,” says Moore.  “I’m a real proponent of maintaining that human interaction - building something by hand and delivering it directly to the person who’s going to use it everyday.”  Moore’s old-fashioned commitment to small, build-to-order business is refreshing in a time when so much of what we consume is off-shored and mass-produced; and it echoes his dedication to preserving old-style cast iron marine stoves. “I’m keeping a tradition alive,” says Moore. “I’m just the current incarnation of this trade, upholding a good technology.”

Moore founded his company to revive discontinued ship stoves originally produced in Nova Scotia, first by the Halifax Foundry and later by the Lunenburg Foundry.  These small wood-fired heaters were once essential to the cold water fisheries of the region – they kept fishermen alive over winter waters throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Lunenburg shut down its iron foundry operations in the 90’s *, and Navigator Stove Works has been building the traditional ‘Sardine’ and ‘Little Cod’ woodstoves since.  Moore draws inspiration from these heritage patterns to innovate his own designs as well, including a new heater named the ‘Herring’ that is capable of burning biodiesel


'Herring' biodiesel stove prototype - Copyright 2010 Navigator Stove Works (NSW).  All rights reserved.


“Diesel is a convenient heating fuel for people who are sailing long distance,” says Moore.  “I wanted to make biodiesel an option for folks because of the lower environmental impact and cleaner burn.”  NSW’s small wood-burning stoves are equally aligned to principles of efficiency and low environmental impact, and Moore is quick to point out the high amount of heating energy that firewood provides for a relatively small investment of ‘stockpiling’ energy – especially for people living small.  “In an afternoon you can collect enough firewood to heat a small, well-insulated home for weeks," he notes. "It’s an example of how reducing your needs can make life simpler, and that allows you to spend more time doing what you want, or in reflection.” 

Moore says he draws inspiration for his approach from the work of William Coperthwaite, an American yurt-building pioneer and author of A Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity.  To quote Coperthwaite:

"Those who guide us, who inspire us, having gone our way before, are now partners with us in building a better world. Any success we have is theirs as well as ours. To copy or imitate them should be only the beginning - the apprentice stage of life . . . Only by standing on their shoulders can we build a better world, but we should use the wise as advisers, not masters."

I asked Moore if he had any innovative ideas for heating Community Forests International’s Nomadic Cabin, and he shared his concept for a simple DIY hydronic heating system.  The basic idea is to use an open, non-pressurized loop of water in conjunction with a wood stove to capture and store heat like a ‘thermal battery’.  The system would slowly release stored heat well after a fire has gone out, passively keeping a steady temperature inside the cabin.  Using water as a thermal battery sounds perfect for the Nomadic; it’s cheap, non-toxic, and can easily be jettisoned to shed weight while in transport or when not in use.  Water also happens to have the highest volumetric heat capacity of all comonly used thermal mass materials - who knew? 

Moore offered to help CFI design such a system when the time is right – so stay tuned if this is something that interests you!  Our ongoing discussion about heating the Nomadic Cabin can be found here:  “How does a forest-keeper turn wood into heat?

For more information about Moore’s line of traditional and innovative stoves, please visit his website here: Navigator Stove Works.

*Lunenburg Industrial Foundry & Engineering Ltd. itself is still going strong.  You might want to check out Prometheus, their solar powered furnace capable of exceeding temperatures of 3,000ºC (5,400ºF) !

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