Q: We have an old cast-iron, wood-burning cookstove purchased in the early 1970s. We were told at the time it was around 50 years old. Unfortunately, we don't have any place for it now. Our goal is to get it out of our garage and keep it out of the waste stream. It needs work to refurbish it to a safe, functioning condition, which is something we have no expertise in. There don't appear to be any markings for the manufacturer. Can you suggest someone who might like a free cookstove?
Falls Church, Va.
A: You might be able to sell the stove via Craigslist, eBay or another online venue, such as a Buy Nothing Facebook group (see buynothingproject.org). Or you could contact companies that restore vintage wood-burning cookstoves and ask if they have had any inquiries from people in the Washington area who want a vintage stove. And restoration companies sometimes buy stoves to fix up and sell.
But from the pictures you sent, your stove doesn’t appear to be a sought-after model, and it’s missing some of its handles. “It doesn’t have much value,” said Richard Richardson, owner of Good Time Stove Co. in Goshen, Mass. (413-268-3677; goodtimestove.com). He said it probably was made in the 1930s, about the vintage cited by the people who sold it to you. Based on the pictures you sent, he estimated you might be able to get $200 to $400 for it. Similar stoves are sometimes listed for $700 to $1,800 on sites such as eBay, but Richardson is skeptical about these asking prices. “Has it sold?” he asks. “You can ask whatever you want for it. It’s not that easy of a product to sell.”
There is a surefire way to get the stove out of your garage and into the hands of someone who wants it, however. “Put it in front of the garage with a free sign on it,” Richardson said. “I guarantee that it will be gone by the end of the day.”
To boost the appeal, he suggested a little staging. “Set it up with the bun warmers on it,” he said, referring to the top section, which has two food- or plate-warming compartments. A few nuts and bolts are probably all you need to connect this section to the base, which has the cooktop, burn chamber and oven. Installing the bun warmers would give people a good idea of the potential of the stove. Then you could clean and polish the stove — or leave those steps for the new owners. After all, they’d be getting it free.
Good Time Stove restores old wood cookstoves, but the stoves first need to get to the company’s shop. Cast-iron cookstoves weigh around 400 to 600 pounds, Richardson said, so three strong people with a truck could do it. If you hired a trucking company, you would probably first need to find someone to build a crate to protect the stove during shipment.
A professional restoration could easily cost $1,800 to $2,800, Richardson said, adding that he doesn’t think that cost would be worth the investment for a stove such as yours. Also, you would need to define exactly what you mean by “restoration.” “Every situation is different,” said Carlita Belgrove, who runs stovelady.com and restores vintage ranges, but not cast-iron wood burners. “Ten people can have the same stove. One wants it brand new, without a chip or scratch. Another says, ‘New, but I don’t care about a chip or a scratch.’ Or ‘I want it to be safe.’ Or ‘Safe and clean, but not new.’ ”
Richardson said that, based on your pictures, your stove appears to be mostly in need of cosmetic work. He sees no sign of a warped cook surface or other structural problem. Sanding or scrubbing would remove rust on the cooktop, and then rubbing on stove black, such as William’s Stove Polish ($7.99 for a 2.7-ounce tube at lehmans.com), would make it an attractive matte black. Cleaning up the enamel would be “no different than waxing a car,” Richardson said. The main thing would be to wash off the dirt and grease.
The toughest step would probably be determining what to do about the missing handles. “Those are hard,” Richardson said. “Somebody who’s handy can go to Home Depot and study the section on knobs for kitchen cabinets and figure out how to adapt something.” Etsy (etsy.com) and eBay (ebay.com) also sell wood cookstove handles, but these are mostly lid-lifters, which have a tab that fits into the cutouts on a cast-iron cooktop.
A new owner might decide to use the stove for cooking or heating — or as a plant stand or mail-sorting station. “It will get repurposed,” Richardson said. “It’s one of those things that you have a hard time selling but no problem giving away.”
And what if you don’t want to leave something with a “free” sign in front of your house? Craigslist also has a “free” section. And stores that sell used building materials, such as Community Forklift in Hyattsville, Md. (301-985-5180; communityforklift.org), may accept the stove as a donation.
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