Pellet stoves are not usually considered members of that select assemblage of heating appliances that can be moved from place to place with relative ease. As a general rule, they are heavy and bulky and unable to perform their assigned function without a ready source of electricity to run the auger that drops the pellets into the primary burn chamber.
For the most part then, a pellet stove becomes a permanent fixture set upon a hearth with an electrical outlet nearby, emitting a highly predictable number of BTUs per hour, so long as the hopper is full and the auger is running. It’s an arrangement many folks are happy with. An estimated 60,000-plus new pellet stoves were shipped in the U.S. in 2014, with sales expected to do nothing but rise in the coming years.
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This is not really surprising. At 75- to 90-percent efficiency, pellet stoves are remarkably clean burning, outperforming conventional wood burners by a factor of two or three in terms of emissions. Moreover, the fuel to run them is mostly made from forest residues that would otherwise have been burned in slash piles, dumped in landfills or simply been allowed to accumulate on the forest floor in areas where wildfires are a constant danger.
There are drawbacks, of course. Consuming over 100 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per month, a conventional pellet stove uses as much electricity as three or more refrigerators, making them positively off-limits for off-gridders like myself. And then there’s the fuel. Unlike firewood, which is almost always a locally obtained heating fuel, compressed hardwood pellets are a worldwide commodity that’s subject to the ups and downs of a volatile marketplace.
But while there is little that can be done about the price or availability of wood pellets—which in any case can be stockpiled when the market is down and availability is high—you really don’t have to keep your clean-burning pellet stove tethered to an electrical grid that often fails just when you need it the most.
Living entirely off the power grid with no sources of electricity beyond the sun and wind (and, from time to time, a Honda gas generator), I am keenly interested whenever someone comes up with a truly useful apparatus that requires little or no electrical input. The Clarry electricity-free pellet stove fits that requirement nicely. In place of an auger to ferry fuel pellets from the hopper to the burn chamber, the Clarry stove’s hopper sits just above the burn chamber, where the pellets drop in as needed, via the force of gravity. The hopper is designed to hold one 40-pound bag of premium hardwood pellets, which, depending on the model and burn-rate setting, will keep the stove going comfortably for eight to 12 hours. And all without a single watt of electricity.
The stove’s no-electricity requirement was not born out of a desire to lessen the demands on an often overworked electrical grid, however, nor was it to placate people like me who are necessarily selective about what constitutes a valid expenditure of wattage. Rather, the stove’s designer, Larry Hepper, wanted a stove that would go places no electric power lines can: the backwoods tents of deer, elk and sheep hunters, with the hearty souls who brave the freezing temps of late fall for days on end in hopes of filling their freezers with steroid-free meat and their trophy walls with awe-inspiring racks.
As someone who has spent many months living in a wall tent while mining gold in California and Alaska, I can verify that they are hard shelters to keep warm. My heat source back then was a sheet-metal sheepherder’s stove that would hold a fire for a couple of hours, at best.
Though not the kind of stoves that lend themselves well to pack trips, Clarry stoves are nonetheless light and portable. The two models designed for use in tents and ice-fishing shacks, the RE and RME, weigh in at 100 and 65 pounds, respectively, and break down into a compact collection of components for easy transport. Handles on the stove’s sides make it easy to carry, and the removable (and adjustable) legs store out of the way between the carrying handles on the stove body.
Home & Hearth
Because of its simple yet ingenious design, a Clarry stove will heat up quickly—within 10 minutes—and the stove body will reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This is due in large part to the patented air-induction system. As Larry Hepper’s partner, Frank Vandeventer, explained, “Unlike most similar stoves on the market, we bring in the air beneath the fire grate. We do this by putting a notch in the ash drawer sides for the grate-access door to drop into and hold the proper opening for air passage. This keeps the flame well away from the front of the pile of pellets that are burning, thereby not preheating the pellets in the feed chute coming from the hopper.”
It’s a safer way to burn pellets, and it allowed the designers to install a manual heat control in the grate-access door, which cools the stove and extends the burn time on a bag of pellets by about 30 percent.
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Because of its success in the outdoors market, it was just a matter of time before people wanted a Clarry stove they could use to heat permanent structures. So, after a bit of tweaking, followed by a series of tests performed by Omni-Test Laboratory in Portland, Oregon, the new 110-pound CST and the smaller 75-pound CSS units were first certified as safe for weekend cabins, and later for use in full-time residences. As an added bonus, they were also found to be remarkably clean-burning.
While the newly certified models were being installed in permanent homes and cabins, new markets for these eminently portable stoves quickly presented themselves, including shop buildings, line shacks, greenhouses, ice-fishing houses and yurts. The list continues to grow. In areas such as the Northeast where pellet fuel is widely used but power outages are frequent, the Clarry pellet stove’s portability will make it a perfect backup source for warmth and cooking.
Small But Powerful
The Clarry’s small size and peculiar lazy-U design belie its remarkable heating capabilities. The larger CST pellet stove can crank out 65,000 BTUs per hour when running full tilt, while the smaller CSS unit is capable of 55,000 BTUs. These are numbers you see advertised for much larger (and more expensive) watt-hungry pellet stoves routinely used to heat 1,500- and 2,000-square-foot homes.
What I like most about the Clarry is the motivation behind it. Larry’s original intent was not to start a business that would make him lots of money; he just wanted to keep his tent warm. The rest of it grew of its own volition, like an idea that had come to life. He has received dozens of endorsements from people who have used his stoves, but the one he chose to share with TNP came from a sheep hunter from Nevada who told him, “It’s the first time I’ve ever woken up in a hunting tent comfortable in my skivvies.” That’s music to Larry’s ears.
Field To Homestead
You could say that Larry Hepper was destined to develop the Clarry pellet stove; certainly his life pointed him in that direction from a young age. Growing up in South Dakota on his grandparents’ farms, he got a strong dose of the outdoor life he still loves today. He took up game hunting while in his teens, and honed his mechanical skills on every manner of farm machinery.
Then, in 1973, while in his early 20s, Larry met Frank Vandeventer. It was a fateful meeting. The two hiked, hunted and fished together, and later worked for the same heavy-construction outfit, where Larry maintained the equipment and did some over-the-road driving.
ONE HOT ITEM: Fast-forward now to 2007. Larry had by then spent several years nurturing an idea for a lightweight, portable stove to take on hunting trips, and by the time he naively asked Frank how to go about starting a business, his brainchild had endured a number of painful transformations from a sheet-metal affair with a straight burn chamber to pretty much what it is today.
When Frank saw what Larry had been working on, he wanted in. A new business was born. Frank, the more business savvy of the two, set out to develop the new company. Larry, with the help of hunting partner Carl Williamson, continued to test and improve the stove, spreading the word verbally through his network of hunting and fishing friends, and by attending trade shows catering to potential customers.
In 2008 the first stoves hit the market, and the rest, as they say, is history. The Clarry stove continues to expand its niche in the marketplace, and Larry and Frank couldn’t be happier just doing what they love to do.
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This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Spring 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.