DIY

Wood Stove Restoration

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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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A sow's ear? Certainly. But a wood stove restoration has to start somewhere. 

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.