Before you Buy an Unrestored Stove...
Before you fork over your hard-earned dollars for a particular stove, take a few minutes to inspect it. Be sure that antique really can be salvaged.
First off, IS THE BODY SOUND? Most any abandoned wood-burner will be g rusty, and that's OK . . . as long as the metal under that rust is still healthy. Potbellied heaters usually were built of m cast iron heavy enough to shrug off decades of oxidation. But base-burners-self-feeding heaters built of cast iron and sheet metal—might have weak points. Tap a few suspicious-looking spots with a screwdriver, if you're not totally confident. Since old kitchen ranges were generally made of lighter material, check their rusty parts with particular care . . . to be sure you have something to restore. Inspect the top, bottom, sides, and insides.
Also, when buying a used range, make certain that the oven control (most often a slide or flipflop damper that directs exhaust heat to the oven) is alive and working. If you don't know what you're looking for, find a stove that is operating properly and see how it works.
Next, LOOK FOR CRACKS. Cast-iron parts are the most likely to be damaged, so scrutinize all cast sections . . . such as the bodies of potbellies and the tops and fireboxes of cookstoves. Hairline fractures may be OK, but anything bigger presents a problem, especially when the "split" is in the firebox itself. "I wouldn't try to redo a stove for actual use if it had even a tiny crack in the fire chamber," says Eckert. (Though iron can be welded, not many welders do it right, and the first blaze might fracture an improperly repaired stove all over again.)
After a prospect has passed the soundness and crack tests, EXAMINE THE TRIM. (On ranges, this decoration may be an integral part . . . like the frame.) Brightwork should be nickel-plated (occasionally copper or brass), but if the critter's been sitting outside for a long while, you might see nothing but corrosion. You can test to see if the trim's salvageable by polishing the worst spot with Brasso—available from your hardware store—and 0-gauge steel wool.
Should the trim on a heater be suffering from terminal oxidation, you can have it replated . . . probably for under $100. The bric-a-brac from a range can also be touched up in this manner, but only if you can get it off. In the event that the ruined trim on that cookstove is welded on—or if the stove obviously won't hold together without it—better look elsewhere.
In addition, damage to the porcelain trim—which you'll find on some woodburners—is often sufficient cause for rejecting the stove. Though the ceramic surface is easy enough to clean, the process for repairing chips is prohibitively expensive. So if you can't live with the condition of the porcelain on a cooker or heater . . . don't buy it!
Some old wood-burners have "windows" (or, by the time you get to them, open holes). These viewing ports are usually covered with isinglass, and—if the frames are still intact—small "panes" can be easily and inexpensively replaced.
Once more then: Before you commit yourself, be sure the necessary repairs aren't more extensive than you want to tackle. "I still turn down 10 stoves for every one I buy," says Bill. You should be at least as critical.