WisdomStoves.org : Trick Tools Interview with the Founder

At trick tools we pride ourselves on providing quality tools for anyone that needs them. It is always a pleasure to provide the tools but in certain instances it makes us just a bit more proud to know our tools are being used to improve the quality of lives for those that need it most.

wisdom stoves improving the lives of kenyans

Nathan Puffer founded WisdomStoves.org as a Vermont based non-profit committed to providing the people of Kenya with improved indoor air quality, financial stability and an improved quality of life through the distribution of wood gasification cook stoves. Gasification is the process of extracting and burning gases from wood, eliminating smoke and providing the user with a very safe and improved fire, versus the traditional three stone fire.

Traditionally, Kenyan women cook on an open three stone fire located on the dirt floor of their homes, which range from mud huts to less common homes built of hand split stones. These fires are built when there is a need to cook, typically twice a day and then extinguished when the cooking is complete. The women must endure the continuous smoke within the interior of the home, often affecting the young children in the home as well. Another option for cooking is the traditional jiko, which is a small charcoal burning stove made of steel with a clay insert. The Kenyan families purchase this fuel at 50 cents per day which is roughly 25% of the average daily income. Wisdom Stoves offers an economical alternative that is much safer and burns cleaner.

Trick Tools in use in Kenya

Trick Tools in use in Kenya

We recently had the opportunity to interview Nathan Puffer and this is what he had to say.

Where did the idea for WisdomStoves.org come from?

     I first started thinking about making stoves when I tried making my own charcoal since I am in the wood business and we have wood scraps that don’t have a purpose.  I made the charcoal in a retort using an external heat source to extract the pyrolydic gases from the wood.  The production of the gasses made me think about the energy wasted in the charcoal making process in Kenya [more than half of the energy is wasted in the traditional charcoal making process].  I also thought about the plight of rural Kenyans (and many others around the world) that cook over open fires inside their kitchen huts.  I wondered how things could be different so I started researching and experimenting with gasification stoves.  In 2009, I took my first stoves to Kenya to “field test” them from a practical standpoint from people who would use them. I made adjustments and began to investigate the materials that are easily available locally.  I made a few stoves in Kenya and continued to do research and development in the US.  Today, I continue to do research and design stoves for burning specific bio mass found in specific regions.

How did your background help you move this project forward?

     By trade, I am a timber framer.  I understand the physics of building, not only the dependence on the strength of fasteners and materials but how all the pieces work together.  I am interested in how and why things work.  That is my job and my passion.  Several ideas from timber framing translate to gasification stove creation.  The design process is important, flushing out ideas and problem solving.  There is also great value in designing before building and working out problems before you handle materials.  The functional aspects are most important but the ascetics are what catch the eye and draw the attention.  These ideas are as important in stove design as they are in timber framing.

What problem  did the tool solve that you purchased from Trick-Tools.com?

     We are using two hand punches from Trick-Tools.  We make holes in 18 gauge metal for rivets.  Since the workshop in Kenya has no electricity (nor running water), we did use a drill attached to a solar battery but that often left burrs in the metal. We also make 1/2″ primary air holes in 28 gauge metal the hand punches work really great!  Our craftsmen are really talented and they do great work!  There is a short video on our website ( www.wisdomstoves.org) that shows what they can do with a railroad rail and a piece of leaf spring!

What made you choose us?

     I found Trick-Tools when I searched on line for a hand punch.  I returned to the Trick-Tools site because of the advice from the service department.  They patiently and thoroughly answered all my questions about different punch shapes and sizes.  They were very knowledgeable and informative so I was able to make an accurate purchase with which I am very happy!

When a Kenyan acquires a stove from you, how does it change their life on a day to day basis?

     One of the favorite aspects of the Malaika Jiko among the users is that it lights easily and is ready for use (cooking) immediately!  I thought that with the pace of life being slower than what we are used to in the US, this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but they love spending less time cooking!  They also immediately recognize the benefits of not breathing in the heavy wood smoke on the open fire or breathing the carbon monoxide emitted by the charcoal stoves.  They also can burn small sticks or corn cobs or cow dung, many items that are readily available.  This is a huge cost savings!

How long before they make their investment back?

     It would take no more that 2 months to save enough to cover the cost of the stove.  Of course, this depends on the fuel being used.  The purchase of charcoal is approximately $14 per month.  The Malaika Jiko produces charcoal.  The payback would be even quicker if a by product ( corn cobs, coffee husks, cow dung) is used in the stove or if burning wood the charcoal is sold!  The charcoal [bio-char] can also be used to augment the soil and increase crop yields!

What long term effect do you hope to see from your contribution of this innovative stove system?

     We are producing these stoves by employing local craftsmen so we hope to increase employment.  We hope that alternative fuels are used so that the forests will not continue to be diminished by the cutting of trees for fuel or the making of charcoal.  We hope for improved health because of clean indoor air.  We hope that families will feel the economic benefits of the cost savings.  We would love to see this initiative spread to other countries and regions!

How can those in the States help Wisdom Stoves, Inc. better fulfill their mission? 

     We would like people in the US to take an interest in the project, find out the current specific needs and contribute funds to help build capacity and distribution.  We are concerned about the citizens of Kenya that cannot afford a stove.  For them, we have partnered with a Kenyan organization called Broadvision.  The toll of HIV/AIDS and poverty has been devastating. There are many families with health issues and no reliable source of income.  Broadvision supports one such group called “Hope to Live“.  A donation of $42 will provide a family with a stove.  There is more information about this on our website.

What can we do at Trick-Tools to help you along with this project?

     Trick-Tools will be a great resource for technical insight and expertise for selecting the best tools for stove fabrication.  One of the problems we have in Kenya is the availability of tools.  Shipping tools to Kenya is cost prohibitive and the tariffs required add a high percentage of the purchase price.  Many of the tools we need are being made by local business in Kenya.  (You can see the “slip roll” we use on the video.  We are having one manufactured in Kenya with the funding of several sources in the US).  We would love to work with Trick-Tools to increase our production capacity in specific ways.

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    2 Responses to WisdomStoves.org : Trick Tools Interview with the Founder

    1. Roxie says:

      There is certainly a lot too know about this topic.
      I really like all of the points you have made.

    2. This is so helpful, thank you

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