What to Look for in a Used Cookstove

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Photo courtesy Cordelia Kaylegian
Cordelia Kaylegian bought this antique 'Glorious' stove at a fraction of the price of a new wood cookstove.

What to Look for in a Used Cookstove

New wood cookstoves can cost as much as $5,000, so buying a used stove at a reasonable price is an appealing alternative. If you are lucky enough to find a used wood cookstove, the next challenge is to see if it is worth the asking price and suitable for use.

To inspect an old cookstove you’ll need: work clothes, leather gloves, a flashlight and a screwdriver. Make sure the cookstove has enough clear space around it so that you can get a good look at the back of the stove.

The first thing to establish is that all the parts are in place and functional. Finding replacement parts for old cookers is always difficult and often impossible, so starting with a complete stove is essential. Firebox parts are often the first to go, but luckily they are the simplest parts to replace. Sometimes a burned-out grate can be replaced with a facsimile grate from another stove. The casting on the oven side is another common failure point. With some care, a replacement can be formed using castable refractory, a high-temperature concretelike material.

Once you have determined the status of the parts, check that the cooking surface is level. Any sagging is evidence that the stove has been used hard for heating and may not have been maintained well. A sag in the top means that the supports for the cook plates are warped and in need of replacement, a bad sign that may condemn the stove to the scrap yard. On the other hand, a flat surface means the stove has been well used and maintained.

The structure of most cookstoves is sheet steel, to which cast-iron parts are bolted. This sheet-steel body can rust, which is how many stoves are ruined. Key areas to check for rust are the corners of the oven liner, oven-door hinge mounts and around the back where the cast iron firebox extension and flue boot (flue pipe attachment fitting) are mounted. Use your screwdriver to poke these areas. Poke hard, and if the metal gives way, the stove body is shot and so is the stove. You might be able to patch holes with furnace cement, temporarily putting off the inevitable, but chances are the stove would not be pleasant to live with or cook on.

Refurbishing antique cookstoves is an expensive proposition. Years ago, when I owned a woodstove store, we had a cookstove specialist on staff. We agreed to rebuild a stove that had been in the same family for generations. We took it completely apart and fabricated a new sheet-steel body to replace the original rusted-out one, fixed some parts and had others nickel plated. The result was eye-popping, but the invoice was a cool $5,500.

How much should you be prepared to pay? The value can only be determined by the seller and buyer at the time of the sale, but the spectrum ranges from cookstoves that are beyond repair and have no practical value to fully restored, like-new antiques that can be worth several thousand dollars.