Do It Yourself Restoration Guide

There’s new life in that old stove

Antique wood-burning cook stoves and heaters—exquisitely restored to their original elegance—are making a comeback . . . both as tools to cook vittles or heat houses and as investments whose values recently have run well ahead of inflation.

[1] REMOVE THE NICKEL (OR BRASS OR COPPER) TRIM that can be detached from your stove. (That’ll usually be all the brightwork from heaters, but—again—the trim is a working part of some cookstoves. ) Bolts are apt to be rusted, so use lots of Liquid Wrench to help loosen stubborn ones. Rivets and bolts that won’t submit to logical persuasion will yield to a hammer and chisel. Replace both hex heads and rivets with brass bolts because they’re easier to install than rivets and look nice with nickel.

[2] REJUVENATE THE DETACHED TRIM. Polish the trim with Brasso and 0-gauge steel wool until all the crud is gone. Then give the metal a second shining with another shot of polishing juice and a soft cloth.

If the trim is beyond reconditioning, you’ll have to have it replated. Find a metal plater in the Yellow Pages and ar range for the work to be done. (Most platers prefer that you not remove the rust before bringing in your to-be-refurbished piece.) By the way, if the decorative metal is copper or brass—and you plan to use the stove for more than just eyeballing—consider replating the pieces with nickel. The harder metal is more resistant to oxidation. And don’t settle for chrome! It’ll start turning blue with your first hot fire.


[4] REMOVE RUST FROM: [a] Stoves with trim detached. If all the ornamentation can be removed from your stove, the best way to derust is to have the surface sandblasted. But not with sand . . . it’s far too coarse. Instead, you’ll want the blasting done with carborundum crystals. Look for this service in the Yellow Pages under “monument works” .. . since carborundum is used to polish gravestones. Or find someone under “sandblasting” who uses the finer abrasive. Have only the exterior of heaters blasted . . . but if it’s a cookstove you’re rehabilitating, let the “polisher” blast the oven, too. (Poor of Curly needed a scouring, and paid a $30 visit to the monument-maker.)

Of course, if you’re dead set against spending money, you can attack rust with a coarse rotary wire brush on your electric drill (be sure to protect your eyes!) but it’ll be miserable work.

[b] Stoves with trim attached:The easiest way to remove rust—without damaging shiny alloy trim—is to have the stove dipped in a heated chemical bath by an antique-auto stripper. He’ll return it to you spotlessly clean (unless it was rusted worse than you thought . . . in which case you’ll get back something as full of holes as a politician’s 1040 form). There might be a little new corrosion where the chemical didn’t dry immediately, but you can get that off with the wire brush and electric drill. And—while you’re at it—you might as well do the oven, too.

[c] Stoves with porcelain trim:  Assuming that the ceramic parts won’t come off—and they usually won’t—you’ll have to go after rusted metal with that coarse rotary wire brush and electric drill. Porcelain won’t tolerate dipping or sandblasting, but it will spruce up nicely with a basin-tub-and-tile cleaner and a wet sponge.

[5] POLISH THE REMAINING BRIGHTWORK with Brasso and a soft cloth. If there’s any lingering crud, use another wad of 0-gauge steel wool for the first pass.

[6] PAINT THE OVEN of your cookstove with stainless steel paint.

[7] PAINT OR POLISH EXTERIOR STOVE PARTS, but protect the trim! Any cast-iron cooking surfaces should only be polished. On other areas you may interchange paint and polish as you choose.


[9] REPLACE ISINGLASS WINDOWS. Isinglass—which is made from the soft mineral, mica—is easy to work with. Just cut it to size with a pair of scissors.

[10] GIVE THE WOOD-BURNER A FINAL TOUCH UP with a soft cloth before standing back for a look-see. If the sun’s shining . . . watch your eyes!