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 stoves have both beauty and functionality. Which is most important to you? Are you willing to make compromises?
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 stove and I didn’t look at its footprint. I was going for functionality with the mind set that bigger must be better.
Installing my stove required some changes in the house — adding a fireproof base and fire board on 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 to cook it evenly. It will hold a turkey pan or two large pizzas. You can even cook pita bread on a baker’s sheet on the floor of the oven. Its 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 you space for cooking lunch. That was important to me. Its 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. The wood cook stoves from the 1930s — with reproductions available now — have a much smaller oven and cooking top — about the size of a modern stove. With a smaller surface, you also have a smaller footprint.
4. Are you looking for hot water? Does your stove come with a reservoir or water coil option?
Our stove had both options available. Since our water tank is in the basement and the wood stove was being placed upstairs, near the kitchen, I chose the water reservoir option. Its a luxury to be able to dip in for near boiling water for tea. It also keeps the humidity at a comfortable level in the room.
5. How big is the firebox?
The fire box on most wood cookstoves is to the left of the oven. The wood is fed in either from a door that opens on the front of the stove, requiring you to bend down to put the wood in, or from a hole in top of the stove’s cooking surface. (Be careful that you don’t burn your wrist while you’re shoving wood in the top.)
The firebox size determines how often you have to put in more wood. Some stoves advertise that they have an “overnight” burn. That means that under ideal conditions — dry hardwood, dampers shut down — the wood will remain burning all night, heating your home. Some wood stoves — those with small fireboxes or inefficient catalytic converters — will burn long enough to cook your food — but you’ll need to start the fire in the morning before you can boil your coffee. I prefer to have the overnight burn.
The size of the fire box also determines the size of the wood that will fit in. Some of the older cook-stoves — especially those that were made for pellets, corn or coal — have a very small fire box. What size is the wood available to you? Are you able to custom cut wood to fit or do you rely on wood delivery? Our Regency close-clearance stove required 16 inch wood and our wood delivery was inevitably 17 – 19 inches. Check first, so that you don’t have to re-cut every single piece of wood before you can have a fire. Now we cut our own and cut it all to fit the Regency — my cook-stove takes 19 inch wood easily.
6. Ease of care
Some woodstove’s have cast iron stove surfaces and some have steel. The steel discolours when food or water is spilled on the surface and evaporates or carbonizes. The cast iron needs to be oiled regularly to keep rust at bay. Steel is easier to keep undamaged.
The other surfaces of the stove can be porcelain , enamel, cast iron or steel. The enamel is the easiest surface to keep clean. Cast iron needs to be preserved and oiled regularly to keep from rusting. Steel can discolour from high heat and cooking temperatures and needs to be regularly burnished with steel wool. Consider how much time you have to fuss with cleaning before you chose.
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. Mealtime stoves contacted the manufacturer, Suppertime Stoves — an Old Order Mennonite company — and we had a new handle within a week. Great customer service.
About 9 months later the stove was in-situ and almost installed with double insulated chimney. But we found a problem. The stove coupling — the piece that attaches the chimney to the stove didn’t fit our double insulated chimney. Now its 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 neighbours 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. 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 — check first to see if there are skilled metal workers in your area, before you buy.
7. Does your chosen wood cook-stove fit your budget?
Wood cook-stoves run between $1500 and $6,000 plus depending on the options you chose. Wood cook-stoves are an investment and will repay you over time in energy savings for cooking, heating and water heating. They are more costly than a wood burning heater — more than double. Added costs 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?
8. Is your chosen wood stove legal where you live? Does it have a UCL rating?
Any new stove should have an ULC rating — 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. Check before you buy.
Also 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. But some insurance companies base your rates on the number of wood burning appliances. Check before you buy — especially if your fire insurance is mandated by the bank that holds your mortgage.
Did I miss anything? What’s important to you in choosing your wood cook-stove? Leave a comment.
This is the 3rd in a 6 part series on cooking with wood.
Part 1, “12 Practical Reasons Why Cooking with Wood Makes Sense”
Part 2 , “Wood Heaters vs. Wood Cook-Stoves: How to Choose”
Part 3, “Wanted: The perfect wood cook-stove”
Part 4, “Burning Desire: Wood fuels for cooking and heating”
Part 5, “Maintenance tips for your wood cook-stove”
Part 6, “Objection! Heating and Cooking with Wood is objectionable”
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