Wood Stove Restoration

You might have to make some parts yourself, but a wod stove restoration project can pretty up that old iron firebox and extend its useful life.
By John Vivian
October/November 1994
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With a little jazzing up a sow's ear of a stove can become a silk purse like this.
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Several readers interested in wood stove restoration have asked where they can find literature on and parts for old stoves and newly made stoves that follow old-style design. Cheap imports and low-tech, moderately priced iron stoves aren't being sold direct by mail as they were back in the 70s. The more elegant and more expensive modem parlor stoves of soapstone, enameled iron, and steel are available. However, swinging-door Franklin fireplaces, little columnar railroad stoves, rotund laundry stoves, and even newly made ranges can be found in the back rooms of most country hardware stores and in the mail-order catalogs of Lehmans, Cumberland General Store, and other country living supply merchandisers that advertise in MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

But model-specific cast-iron parts for really old stoves and steel parts for the hundreds of 70s fly-by-night brands are hard to find. Except for stove bolts, parts weren't standardized; each stove and its parts were unique. Your best bet is to take a broken part to an iron or aluminum foundry or to make up your own wooden pattern for a missing part and see if a two-part sand mold can be made and a new part cast. I've known of whole doors, major body plates, and fire grates to be so reconstructed. Metal-working job shops can fabricate practically any part for a tin or steel stove, and can often make up a door, leg, lid, or even a whole fire grate for an iron stove.

An unornamented low-tech iron stove costs the same dollar per pound that it did years ago. The three-digit number you'll find cast into the top or rear of stoves made from original castings gives the weight (and price) for the base-model stove; that is, without nickel plate, isinglass in the door, or really fancy bas-relief in the castings. An unadorned one-room-heating potbelly, laundry stove, or log burner will cost about $200. Prices go up with size and ornamentation to a newly made kitchen range that costs about $2,500. A prime example of "artistry in iron" — a full-featured range or ornate parlor heater with crisp, smooth castings and nickel plate on footrests, aprons, finials, and feet — can cost $1,500 to $5,000.

Many people would like to gussy up stoves that lack ornamentation. Most old parlor stoves and cooking ranges came in several levels of dress. The "Standard" might be all black iron. The "Princess" might be made from the same base castings but might have extra ornamentation on the face of castings plus nickel plate on a skirt or footrests, or covering the finials on top, feet, or draft controls, or on the lacy little castings that are bolted to doors and bodies to hold on isinglass sheets. The "Magnificent Andes Parlor Brilliant" could be the same basic stove — but with ornamentation such as extra smoke-buming or draft-control inlets and isinglass portals in sides and doors, nickel plate over bas-relief all around, and also on filigreed doors, controls, skirts, pants, boots, and other items of stove fine dress.

You can dress up your old standard by judicious application of ornamentation. This is limited to nickel-plating parts that can be removed and sent to a plating shop. Normally the whole part is covered, though you can ask a plater if they can grease all of a door except for the bas-relief eagle on the front and apply the plate just to that. Or you might be able to clean the casting to bare iron, enamel-paint areas you don't want plated, and remove the paint after — ask the plating boss. Originally, if bas-relief areas of the stove body were plated, the shiny stuff was usually applied to a sheet metal appliqué that attached with small bolts or spring clips. You can make new appliques by fixing a sheet of lead- or copper-roof flashing over the relief and forming it by tapping with a small hammer and blunt metal stylus. To attach, drill small holes through the sheet and casting with a diamond bit and attach with small bolts (you may want to have bolt heads plated).

If your local silver and gold platers don't do nickel, they may know someone who does. For service by mail, look for platers' ads in the old car magazines. I can vouch for the work done by Vermont Plating. Joe Shugrue and associates have done hundreds of old stoves and you can trust them to treat your pride and joy with care. They'll grind off rust if there is any, burnish, and plate any size piece in any stove metal you can get to them. Write or call first.

Please do not plate an old stove with silver or chrome; the former will tarnish and may melt, and the latter is too shiny — reminiscent of 50s autos. Nickel-plating will cost $20 and up per piece, $50 or more minimum per job. If that is too steep, fireproof silver paint made for charcoal grills does a fair job of approximating the soft burnish of nickel.


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