How It’s Made – Clay Stoves

While working and living in Malawi, you hear a lot about the deforestation. The fact is, in Malawi, soil erosion and other consequences of deforestation have significant effects on people’s livelihoods. As a result, many development projects, at least in part, focus on tackling the problem of deforestation.

One way to decrease the demand for firewood is to increase the efficiency of the stoves that villagers use. Clay stoves are meant to reduce the amount of firewood or charcoal required to cook as the clay absorbs and retains heat more efficiently than the traditional metal pots.

Here is a brief ‘How it’s made’ all the way from Malawi on clay stoves:1. Dig a pit about 1 m by 1.5 m by 1 m deep and fill it with locally sourced clay wrapped in plastic. Let the clay, covered and wrapped in plastic moisten in the pit for 14 days.

Before beginning to mold the clay into pots, it is first stored in these pits wrapped in plastic to moisten for 14 days.

2. Using a mold, form the clay into the shape of the clay pot.

The width of the sides is ensured using a clay rod that has the correct width notched out of the middle. The depth of the pot should be 20 cm to optimize the heat of the flame for cooking; this is ensured using a 20 cm long clay rod.

Molded stoves drying for 14 days in a shelter before being fired. The three 'prongs' on the top and the handles are added after the first day of drying.

3.  Let the pot dry overnight and then add the handles and the three prongs that cooking pots will rest on.

4.  Let dry in a cool, dry place for 14 days.

5. Move into the sun and sundry the pots for 1 day.

6. Place sundried pots into a hand crafted kiln (also made from clay) and fire for 24 hours. The firing process requires about two bundles of firewood and can hold up to 85 clay pots at a time.

The Group Village Headman's wife who makes the clay stoves. She is standing in front of the kiln used to fire the stoves.

7. The pots are finished. Pots with uneven colouring indicate uneven heating during firing and have slightly lower strength than the evenly coloured pots.

8. Sell the pots; currently pots are sold for a price of 250 MK or $1.82 Can.

Completed and fired stoves ready for sale. Notice that the uneven colouring is indicative of uneven temperature when firing and an even colouring is more desirable for strength.

A finished clay stove in use. The stoves can be used either with charcoal or firewood which is another advantage over the traditional metal stove which only works with charcoal.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Helen Brennek on July 8, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Darling!

    Interesting, I never saw these overseas but people were very concerned with deforestation. When Marika was overseas she worked with an NGO educating people on another type of small stove, but they were a bit different than these. They even went so far as to teach the villagers basics of thermodynamics so they understood the advantages of the stoves and why certain steps in the process were important. Very interesting stuff.

    Glad you uploaded pics to accompany! They are great.

    love, hb


  2. Posted by Mike K on July 8, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Hey Lauren!

    Really interesting post. I was looking at different aspects of energy in rural Africa for my thesis (ended up settling on rural electrification), and I was curious what kind of perceptions people have of the pots – what do they see as the main benefit? Is it the money saved on charcoal, or the time saved on gathering firewood, or is it a social status thing?

    Hope you’re doing well!



  3. Hi Mike,

    I actually have not seen the stoves anywhere but at the group village headman’s home so I am not sure of common perceptions. I will do some investigation in my village to see if people have heard of them and their thoughts and then report back.

    From what I have been told, the money is saved on either firewood or charcoal as the stoves are outfitted to use either although I am not sure of what actually motivates individuals to purchase them.

    I’ll let you know what I find out, thanks for the question!


  4. These remind me of the rocket stoves some folks I know in London have been making. Cool to read about this type!


  5. Hi Mike,

    I spoke with a couple of people throughout the community and I learned that by and large clay stoves are not prevalent within the villages largely it seems due to the fact that villagers do not know that they exist, why they are used or where to buy them.

    As a result, the people I spoke with who had purchased and are using a clay stove are the relatively affluent in the area. This means that although reduced cost of raw materials (firewood or charcoal) are of course an advantage but the real impettus to use them seems to be that you can cook for longer using the same amount of firewood and thus the convenience of using less firewood in terms of cooking set up time and firewood collection (for the market for these individuals) is the real advantage.

    Sorry for the delay,


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