Searching for the perfect wood cook-stove to meet your family’s needs? Listen to these 10 tips from someone who cooks on one every day.
I love my wood cook-stove. It keeps me warm, makes exceptional pizza and bread, and offers me on-demand hot water. It is a conversation piece and lowers my carbon footprint while reducing my energy costs.
When I was shopping for my stove there were a few qualities I was looking for. There were some things I should have considered but didn’t. So here’s a list to help you make the best decision, in your quest for the perfect wood cook-stove.
1. Is beauty important to you?
Some stoves are beautiful but not functional. Some stoves are functional but not really beautiful, and some wood cook-stoves have both beauty and functionality. Which is most important to you? Are you willing to make compromises beauty for function?
2. Will the stove fit in the area that you have planned for it?
When I bought my stove I didn’t check out the clearance necessary to install that particular model into our kitchen and I didn’t look at its overall footprint. I was going for functionality with the mindset that bigger must be better.
Because I didn’t plan ahead, installing my stove required some changes in the house. We needed to add a fireproof base and fireboard on the nearby combustible surfaces. Since I wasn’t prepared for this it took a few years before the stove that we bought was actually installed. Don’t repeat my mistake! Measure first before you buy.
3. Does the stove have a large enough oven for your family cooking needs?
My stove, A Pioneer Maid, will hold 8 loaves of bread at a time. The bread does need to be rotated during baking for even cooking. My model will hold a turkey pan or two large pizzas and I can even cook pita bread on a baker’s sheet on the floor of the oven. It’s the perfect size if you do a lot of baking, as I do. The top is also large and really good for canning pots, jam pots, and even melting large pots of oils for soap making or beeswax for candle making, while still giving us plenty of space for cooking lunch. That was important to me. It’s a luxury to have so much cooking space available every day.
If you have smaller cooking needs, consider this when deciding how big the oven needs to be and how large the cooking surface should be. Is your family still expanding or are the kids out of the house? The wood cook-stoves from the 1930s, with reproductions available now, have a much smaller oven and cooking top, measuring about the same size as a modern stove. With this smaller surface, you also have a smaller footprint.
4. Are you looking for readily available hot water? Does your stove come with a reservoir or water coil option?
Our stove has both options available. Because our water tank is in the basement and the wood stove is installed upstairs, near the kitchen, I chose the water reservoir option. It is a luxury to be able to dip in for near-boiling water for tea at any time. The water reservoir also keeps the humidity at a comfortable level in the room.
5. How big is the firebox?
The firebox on most wood cookstoves is to the left of the oven. Wood is fed in either from a door that opens on the front of the stove, which requires you to bend down to put the wood in, or from a hole in the top of the stove’s cooking surface. It’s easy to burn your wrist while you’re shoving wood in the top, but with practice, you can minimize it.
The firebox size determines how often you have to put in additional wood. Some stoves advertise that they have an “overnight” burn. This means that under ideal conditions (dry hardwood, dampers shut down) the wood will remain burning all night, giving you the benefit of heating your home. Some wood stoves, that have small fireboxes or inefficient catalytic converters, will only burn long enough to cook your food. You’ll need to start a fire in the morning before you can boil your coffee. I prefer to have the overnight burn and have warm water in the morning.
The size of the firebox also determines the size of the wood that will fit in your stove. Some of the older cook-stoves, especially those that were made for pellets, corn or coal have a very small firebox. Are you able to custom cut wood to fit or do you rely on wood delivery? If you are purchasing wood, know the size of wood that is available to you. Our Regency close-clearance stove requires 16-inch wood and our wood delivery was inevitably 17 to 19 inches long.
Be sure to check first, so that you don’t have to re-cut every single piece of wood before you can have a fire. We now cut our own wood to fit the Regency and my cook-stove takes 19-inch wood easily.
6. How easy is it to care for your perfect wood cook-stove?
Some woodstoves have cast iron stovetop surfaces and some have steel. The steel tends to discolor when food or water is spilled on the surface, it evaporates or carbonizes. Cast iron, on the other hand, needs to be oiled regularly to keep rust at bay. Ultimately, steel is easier to keep undamaged.
The other surfaces of the stove can be porcelain, enamel, cast iron or steel.
- Enamel is the easiest surface to keep clean.
- Cast iron needs to be preserved and oiled regularly to keep from rusting.
- Steel can discolor from high heat and cooking temperatures and needs to be regularly burnished with steel wool.
- Porcelain can chip if it is continually bumped with pots and pans.
Consider how much time you have to fuss with cleaning before you chose your perfect wood cook-stove.
7. Manufacturer’s Customer Service
Before you buy your woodstove, check with other owners of the same stove, to see their level of satisfaction. Find out from the dealer whether they will be the middle man in your interactions with the manufacturer or whether you will deal with the manufacturer directly.
We bought a Pioneer Maid through Mealtime Stoves. We brought home the crate from the trucking depot and it sat in the carport for over a year, before we moved it into the house in the spot where it was destined. Then it sat in-situ but not installed for another year. Once we uncrated it, over a year after we purchased it, we realized that one of the wooden handles, for the warming cabinet, was missing. Our vendor, Mealtime stoves contacted the manufacturer, Suppertime Stoves (an Old Order Mennonite company) and we had a new handle within a week. That’s great customer service.
About 9 months later the stove was still sitting in place and almost installed with a double insulated chimney. But we found we had another problem. The stove coupling, the piece that attaches the chimney to the stove didn’t fit our double insulated chimney. By now it’s been almost 2 years since we made the purchase.
Mealtime stoves directed us to speak to the manufacturer, Suppertime stoves. Being Old Order Mennonite, the company relies on neighbors for telephone use. This was a bit worrying as we made phone calls and had to wait for days before our call was returned, but the company was impeccable and a new stove coupling was created to our specific needs. We weren’t even charged for it. I can’t recommend them enough for exceptional customer service!
In Canada, the Pioneer Maid is made in Ontario by Old Order Mennonites, called “Amish” in the US. If your chosen stove is made offshore you might find that you need to have fixes made locally, so check this first to see if there are skilled metalworkers in your area, before you buy.
8. Does your perfect wood cook-stove fit your budget?
Wood cook-stoves run between $1500 and $6,000 plus, depending on the options you chose. The perfect wood cook-stoves is an investment that will repay you over time in energy savings for cooking, heating and water heating. But be aware, they are more costly than a wood-burning heater, expect to pay more than double. Added costs might include shipping, crating, and add-ons like a warming cabinet and a water reservoir.
Lehman’s in the US and Mealtime Stoves in Canada are good websites to check for prices and specs as you consider which stove is perfect for your own needs. The dreaming is half the fun, right?
9. Is your chosen wood stove legal where you live? Does it have a UCL rating?
Any new stove should have an Underwriters Lab of Canada (ULC) rating. In the USA the stoves must meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Standards. Your insurance company and your WETT inspector will require this to pass the inspection. Washington State has different regulations on wood cook-stoves than other US states or Canadian Provinces. Be sure to check your local rules before you buy.
10. Will having a wood burning stove affect your insurance rates?
While you’re at it, check your insurance company’s policies on wood stoves and wood cook-stoves. Our particular policy is based on the number of cords of wood we go through in a year, not on how many wood-burning appliances we have. Some insurance companies base your rates on the number of wood-burning appliances. It always best to check before you buy, especially if your fire insurance is mandated by the bank that holds your mortgage. You may find that shopping for a new insurance company that is familiar with wood burning cook-stoves it necessary.
Other articles in this Woodburning Series
This article is part of a series of articles on home heating with wood and cooking with wood. See our other posts here:
9 Ways to Use the Ashes From Your Woodstove Around the Homestead
12 Practical Reasons Why Cooking with Wood Makes Sense
Wood Heater or Wood Cookstove: How to Choose
15 Ways to Stay Warm in Winter Without Turning Up the Heat
Best Fire Starter — How to Make Char Cloth
13 Tips to Keep a Wood Cook Stove Functioning at Peak Efficiency
Best Firewood for Your Wood Stove So You Don’t Need to Keep Feeding the Fire
Is Wood Heat Eco-Friendly and Sustainable?
How to Light a Fire in a Wood-stove Without Getting Burned
Best Firewood Storage Ideas to Keep Your Firewood Dry
BTU of 25 fire wood species chart
Explore the BTU ratings of 25 different firewood species with this downloadable chart and get my best tips for Firewood storage and safety by clicking the pink Free download button below.