Old Wood Stoves: Making a Comeback

Do you have an interest in old wood stoves? Learn how to restore and keep them going.

| December/January 1993

If you've been heating with a wood stove for as long as I have, your faithful Blaze King or Upland Elk may be getting long enough in the tooth that it needs refurbishing or maybe even a replacement. Since some of the best designed stoves ever made were operating before I was, it would be a crime to consign them to the rubbish heap in the backyard just because they lack a little polish and care. Here's how to restore and operate those free-breathing good old wood stoves yourself.

Solid Fuels

While driving through central Vermont this fall, I was hit with déjà vu. I had glanced over at a country hardware store and was suddenly transported back to 1973. Not only was there a sign in the window reading CANNING JAR RUBBERS, but flanking it were two wood-burning stoves we used to see in the oil-crisis days: a long, low log burner and a "Fatso" (a narrow-waisted wood-and-coal-burning laundry stove). Both were designs that date from the mid-1800s, but they had the dusty gray look of new cast iron!

In last year's "Guide to Wood and Coal Stoves," though, didn't we tell MOTHER EARTH NEWS' readers that the Federal Clean Air Act and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlawed any serious new wood heater not equipped with a catalytic smoke combuster or designed with a high-tech firebox and draft system?

I nearly got rear-ended by a logging truck as I braked and pulled into the storefront parking lot. Inside, they did indeed have rubber sealing rings for old-style canning jars. And the design of both stoves proved to be good old-time lowtech — no smoke burners or fancy draft channels. There was just the same straightforward, low-tech designs that have heated laundry boilers, soap pots, and hog scalders, as well as warmed country kitchens, workshops, and woodland camps since the mid-19th century. Quality was good; castings were thick enough and smooth on the outside with crisply molded ornamentation; doors and cook lids in the tops of both fit snugly. The log burner was from Taiwan, but molded in back of the Fatso was "Made in USA." Tags on both read "Price: $250" — same as 20 years ago.

The folks behind the counter assured me that it was indeed 1993, not '73. They'd been selling old-style stoves (again) for almost a year now; the Feds hadn't raided them yet.

I recalled that a few el-cheapo box stoves (more suitable for planting geraniums than serious wood heat) had appeared in hardware stores last fall. But these new stoves looked as though they were meant to be used. My feeling of déjà vu was gone. Now I was just puzzled.

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