Restored wood cook stoves have become increasingly popular with homeowners who love the vintage look. Homesteaders, people living off the grid, and those who depend on wood to heat their homes snap up these antique wood burning cook stoves at auctions, antique stores, and through online classifieds.
Yet as I learned a few years ago when we bought a cabin that came restored 1911 Renfrew Acorn wood cook stove, there are a few important points to know about them.
Pros of a Wood Cook Stove
Cooking and baking with a wood burning cook stove takes some practice. However, in addition to the charm and character these appliances bring to homes, they offer many benefits.
#1. You Can Cook Food Without Electricity
When our generator shed burned to the ground on Christmas Eve Day, we were left without power.
And with just four short hours of daylight in our winter months and limited solar power we were very thankful to cook our Christmas breakfast and dinner on our wood stove. (For an easy stovetop recipe try rice and beans.)
If you choose to live without off grid electricity, a wood burning stove gives you a way to cook and bake. At least in the winter. In the summer, consider using a charcoal smoker for smoking fish or wild game.
Oh, and if you're wondering about washing your clothes without electricity, look into your off grid washing machines options.
#2. Heat Your Home Without Electricity
A wood cooking stove not only lets you cook and bake food, but it also heats your home. In fact, even in the -40 degree winters where we live (250 miles south of the Arctic Circle), this works.
As long as you have access to firewood, you won't freeze. And yes, in case you were wondering, living off the grid in winter here does have challenges.
#3. Heat Water and Melt Snow
If you plan to heat water and melt snow on your antique wood cooker stove, look for one with a water reservoir. And if your stove doesn't come with one, you can always do what we do - keep a massive stockpot of water (or snow) warming on the back of the stove.
#4. Dry Your Clothes
Your antique wood cook stove will generate a ton of heat. Set up a drying rack nearby and you'll find your wet clothes will dry in no time.
#5. Cut Your Electricity Costs With a Wood Cooker Stove
Cut your electricity bill (or eliminate it entirely) when you use a wood burning cooking stove. And if you cut your own firewood instead of buying it, you'll save even more money.
Note: on average, we use 10 cords of firewood each year to keep our wood stove going 24/7 from October through April. However, firewood is hard to come by up here.
We're so far north that the trees are, well, spindly. Firewood was one off grid expense that surprised us.
Cons of a Wood Burning Stove for Cooking
#1. Installing a Wood Cook Stove May Impact Your Homeowner Insurance
Do you have homeowner insurance? It's true that some off grid homeowners and homesteaders forego it because they don't want it or can't qualify for it.
But maybe you do want it, or your lender requires homeowner insurance as part of your financing qualifications. In that case, pay special attention to installing a restored wood cook stove.
A couple of years ago I wrote an article on wood stove safety and maintenance for The Hartford insurance company. I learned some interesting facts about insurance and wood burning stoves.
Although most home insurance companies in the United States and Canada will insure a home with wood burning appliances or fireplaces, you will likely get a whole lot of questions about it.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, restored wood cook stoves must be installed to meet current local safety codes for a home to be insurable.
In addition, your insurance provider may stipulate that a restored wood burning cook stove must meet current National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards.
These standards requirements currently include
- specific stove pipe sheet metal material and diameter measurements
- 36-inch clearance between wood cook stoves and combustible walls
- Two to 6 inches of ventilated space beneath the fire chamber or base
Check out the requirements in your area before investing in an antique wood cook stove that catches your eye. And read up on the latest wood stove safety tips.
#2. Few Knowledgeable Wood Cooker Stove Experts
One problem we didn't even think about when I fell in love with our Renfrew Acorn wood cook stove is that there aren't too many people left who know how to fix them.
And the sad truth is that in today's world, too many people are just too busy to figure out what to do with their old appliance. So they end up in the dump.
When we were trying to figure out whether it was safe to use the wood stove (it was in a log cabin that hadn't been lived in over 10 years), I tried to find someone who could come out and look at it for us.
I asked the locals, and even some friends across the border in Minnesota, with no luck. Apparently, there was an old-timer who had kept it in good repair until he passed away about twenty years ago.
If you live near a major center in a farming area or near an Amish, Mennonite or Hutterite community, you may have better luck.
Some farms that have been handed down through generations still depend on wood cook stoves. And some of the Old Order religious groups do too. So ask around.
If not, do what I did and look online.
#3. Few Replacement Parts for an Old Wood Cook Stove
Many of the restored wood cook stoves we see today have been restored, refurbished, or repurposed. They're being used as a decorative piece in homes or restaurants.
The market for replacement parts for these antique cook stoves is pretty small because many aren't functional. Yet wear from their previous use as well as time means they need replacement parts to operate as efficiently and safely as possible.
Depending on the make, model, and dimensions of your antique wood cook stove, you may be able to use a modern part. For example, Dan replaced a rusted out piece of stovepipe with a brand new section he bought new at Menards (Best.Store.Ever).
If you need an original piece, however, it's a lot tougher. Prepare to search online for this too. And don't be surprised if you can't find anything local.
Also, try eBay. Look for another old wood cook stove that is identical to yours but NOT refurbished. If you can get it for a deal, buy it for parts. But only if you can drive to pick it up. Cast iron stoves are really, really heavy. The shipping costs could be a deal-breaker.
Another alternative? Check out new wood burning cook stoves on the Lehmans website.
Be warned though. Once you start looking around the site, you could find yourself online for HOURS looking at all the off grid homestead goodies. (Ask me how I know)
#4. Few Wood Burning Cook Stove Owners Manuals
In the past 100+ years, most households in North America have stopped using wood cook stoves. And so there just aren't that many old owners manuals around. And despite my best efforts, I never did find an owner's manual for our Renfrew Acorn beauty.
Although it was easy enough to find the Acorn Stove Company and PDFs of manuals for their antique wood stoves circa 1900, that only helped a little.
As it turns out, our stove didn't come from that Michigan-based company, but from the tiny town of Renfrew, Ontario. And the stove company went out of business many years ago.
What I ended up doing was referring to a PDF of a scanned old print manual for a similar stove from the Michigan-based Acorn company. (Check out Living History Farm and their post on their own antique Acorn woodburning cooking stove.)
A restored wood cook stove can be a functional addition to your off grid home or cabin. It provides heat and gives you something to cook. However before you invest in one, do some research to make sure it's the right choice for your home and needs.
Do you have an old wood burning cook stove? We'd love to hear about it. Share your story in the comments.