Dozens of discarded water heaters caught Blaine Porter’s eye at the Kootenai County Transfer Station.
The grandson of a blacksmith, Porter founded himself sizing up the high quality of the steel in the tanks. It was the beginning of Second Round Wood Stoves, a line of custom-made stoves for camping and shops.
Porter recycles water heaters, 55-gallon drums, old propane tanks and even military ammunition cans, transforming them into stove bodies. It’s a side business for the Coeur d’Alene firefighter, who enjoys welding.
“I like repurposing something that would be thrown out and turning it into something useful,” said Porter, 44. “I’m not a big tree-hugger and I wear work boots instead of Birkenstocks. … But I think we should all do our part to leave the world a little better than we found it.”
And, “I like that my product is keeping people warm,” he said.
The smallest camping stove, the “Ice Fisherman,” is made from ammo cans and sells for $70. The largest, “Big Alaska,” retails for $450 and has a side oven that can roast a medium-size turkey, or two chickens side by side. Porter also sells six models of wood stoves designed for unheated shops.
The stoves are 70 to 80 percent recycled materials. Porter relies on plumbers and friends for the water heater tanks and other materials. (Old water heaters and other metal containers dropped off at Kootenai County’s transfer station are sent to a metals recycler, said Doug Goodwin, the transfer station’s manager.)
Each stove takes about five to six hours to make. Porter spends 30 to 50 hours on the business during his four-day breaks from firefighting.
His wife, Jo Ann, is an integral part of Second Round Wood Stoves.
“She keeps the books straight,” Porter said. “She makes running a business considerably easier because she handles the behind the scenes stuff.”
Porter’s firefighting colleagues also had a hand in the development of the business, trying out the stoves and offering critiques.
Matt Sowa, who works with Porter, took the “Pronghorn” model along on an archery hunt in the Selkirk Mountains last month. He used it to heat his 10-by-12-foot wall tent.
“It puts out a lot of heat and drafts really well,” Sowa said. “You can tell it wasn’t … assembly line. There’s a lot of effort put into each piece.”
Porter’s background as a firefighter inspires him to send fire safety tips home with each customer. Clients who purchase shop stoves also leave with the rules for stove pipe installation.
“I’m big on being fire-safe,” he said.
Second Round Wood Stoves is coming up on its one-year anniversary. Porter expects to be busy through mid-March, with sales dropping off as the heating season wanes.
But he’s already pondering ideas for the offseason: a line of smokers and barbecues.