A series of notes, hints, links, tips & FAQ's for buying & owning a French antique stove
Think if you own an antique or classic car that you would probably drive and cherish it with more care and consideration than a modern one allowing for it's age and limitations. We feel the same holds true with antique and classic stoves.
Where antique stoves are streets ahead is in beauty, style and unbelievable range of shape and colours. Many antique French & Belgian stoves are pure works of art in the attention to exquisite detail or sometimes outrageous Art Deco forms, and to such an extent that sometimes on first sight they can make you gasp with amazement!
view through a wood stove window....
Stove Values - We are frequently asked by private sellers for the value of their stove. It is almost impossible to give a meaningful value without either having a great deal of detail sent to us, or us seeing the actual stove. A stove's value relies on 2 main factors, first the appearance, second and most important will it or can it function safely. The ability to function is often the area that is the most difficult to determine for non stove professionals (and sometimes for professionals too), and in reality it's the largest factor in a stove's value.
On considering the difficulty to give an acurate value for for each individual stove, we can't offer a worthwhile valuation unless we can examine the actual stove. Sorry there are no exceptions. Please don't embarras us by asking for a long distance valuation as we will only have to refuse.
Our best advice is to take a few weeks to follow ebay results, this will give you recent sales results ( = values ) for the current batch of stoves on offer. This method is probably the nearest you will get to the current value of your stove as a private seller.
A second question which sometimes follows is for our advice on how best to market the stove for the maximum return... we think this is a question too far.
Help to research your antique stove
To start you off there is a FREE online antique stove catalogue resource here with over 800 catalogues for you to browse. This amazing library put together over a lifetime of collecting by Ultimheat will allow you to find original specifications and often production years of almost any stove produced in France and Belgium over more than 100 years, and again it's free!
From there it's possible to pick up other odd pieces of information by using a search engine. This often works best by using the make and model of your stove.
And don't forget the company or person you bought your stove from as often this is a rich source of information for your particular stove. Regular competant stove sellers usually understand what they are selling, so technical or other questions relating to your stove should be answered to your satisfaction. With private sellers it can't be expected they have too much knowledge, but you never know.
Choosing a French or Belgian antique stove
Here are some of the factors that are important in choosing an antique French or Belgian stove with first and second points in the correct order, although we are all first drawn to looks rather than functionality...
- is the functional condition good and can it be used safely?
- do the dimensions and fuel loading access match with my stove's proposed location
- does it have to fit within an existing fireplace or can you use it as so many French do against a blank wall or chimney breast?
- type of fuel to be burned?
- is the stove for main or occasional heating?
Mixte stoves ~ this type of stove is not particularly rare although they are not always recognised for what they are. They are a mixed fuel stove sometimes also called hybrid stoves usually based on the traditional box shaped French wood stove but modified internally to enable coal and coke to be burnt alongside wood.
Wood will burn best on a flat (usually ceramic) base with air fed into the firebox above the fire bed. Coal and coke burn best when suspended on a base grate some distance from the base of the stove as air is fed into the stove under and through the grate. There is usually an ash can with these suspended grate designs.
Most early French multi-fuel stoves (which in reality were designed to burn coke almost exclusively) had small fireboxes and even smaller fuel loading door openings, this didn't allow the French owner who often had access to good hardwoods to top up the coke and coal burning with some wood (bulking the firebox out), so the demand for a stove that could burn all solid fuels, wood, coal and coke arose.
For a foundry looking for the most efficient way to create a new type of stove was to use the 'box' type shape of the traditional wood burner and fit a suspended grate to that. Therefore this type of stove had to have the capacity to accept decent sized logs, plus the ability to withstand the extra long duration heat of burning say anthracite, a difficult compromise.
The mixte stoves not only had a suspended grate and ash can, but it also required that the sides usually from the grate upwards had heat deflectors fitted to protect the lighter weight firebox and outer body from high long duration temperatures.
The Godin 245 is a well engineered and successful example of a mixte stove, many others were not robust enough to cope with the heat from coke and coal or were over engineered and too complex. Many mixte stoves have either been used with only wood or have had the base grate and ash can removed and used only for wood.
Here's a curious snippet. Some models came with a spare base grate, one of the usual design with bars and another which is a blank plate pierced with small holes. These small holes in the main blocked which allowed wood to burn on it's own ash. The two grates were an attempt to refine the burning process depending on fuel used.
Tip ! Stove rope seals will often bond to the door opening when left closed over an extended period of non use. When your stove is not in use leave doors slightly ajar to prevent this happening, it also has the added advantage in helping with an air change in the room.
Q - how do these antique French stoves compare to modern stoves?
A - this is a really good question. A few antique French stoves will get close to modern stoves for efficiency, the De Dietrich President, the Deville Lily when modernised and the Petit Godin are good examples, but in the main quality modern stoves will have the edge on efficiency and larger heat outputs that cannot be matched by antique stoves. But not everybody buys a stove as a functional room heater solely to heat a space, some also require a stove to look stylish or beautiful, even strange or bizarre and striking. This is where with a few exceptions antique French stoves as a whole cannot be matched. To own a stove that has a masterful design and style quality, an enamel finish of the highest order, plus will allow you to heat a room to a reasonable level too is to have nearly everything in a stove... in our opinion.
Tip ! When is a stove with a door at the front not a front loader?... when the stove is designed for the door window mica to be protected by a grill inside the firebox. There are always exceptions to every rule but in the antique French stove world not many.
As window mica will not tolerate heavy impacts it is important not to operate a stove that requires a door protection grill without the grill being in place, unless only a very small fire is laid.
The method of identifying which stove is which is complicated by the fact that many center grills were often removed and not included when a stove is sold to a new owner.
This was due to two main factors. It is often more convenient to load fuel through a front door and most center grills just unclip. When a stove moves to a new owner these grills are sometimes already lost or are not included with the stove. The second reason is they can burn out with many years of use and replacements can be hard to find.
Here is a link to a Deville Lily stove http://www.stovefinders.com/1841a.jpg It has the standard antique multi-fuel design of a lower grate (or fire basket), a central grill (for door protection), and an upper grill to direct fuel loaded through the top away from the door. As can be seen that if the center grill (which is just a slot in) were removed the door would be completely unprotected with nothing to retain the burning fuel when the door is opened... not a good idea. The same photo shows the fuel loading door under the enamel lid, it's the part with the new white rope seal. This type of stove was designed to be banked up for overnight burning which is not possible without the center grill.
To identify if your stove should have a center grill take a look inside the door opening, there should be one or two small lugs on each side of the opening to hold the grill in place. If you are still not sure you are welcome to write to us with a good photo of your stove and in most cases we can give a definitive answer.
Missing grills can be found from old donor stoves, fabricated from steel, or if there is a good original pattern also re-cast, so all is not lost if your's is missing.
Q - is it a good idea to buy an antique French stove over the internet or via eBay?
A - mostly yes, as being able to scan the whole of the internet or eBay gives you so much choice, millions do every day, just providing you keep a few common sense factors in mind.
- make sure you get a reasonable amount of detail, "a medium sized Art Deco stove" is not enough.
- antique stoves are sold in various guises... either fit for use/perfect/full working order/restored/excellent condition etc which would in our view describe the stove as ready to plumb into the flue system and use.
- alternatively, a stove described as ' as found ' needs repair/restoration/attention, or requires servicing may need some form of minor to major work to enable the stove to work safely. In a perfect world your seller will have enough knowledge to describe the problem area(s) fully so you are clearly informed on what you are taking on.
- for a stove sold in ' full working order ' maybe ask the following questions... what is the condition of the firebox? if there are any cracks and if so are they repaired? is the window mica sealed to the frame? are the door seals in good order? are firebox panels sealed? is the stove complete? These questions will give you a good idea as to the technical integrity of the stove which then leaves you free to decide if you are drawn to the shape, style or colour of these living and working beautiful antiques
- for a stove sold ' as found , needing attention or requires restoration' maybe ask these questions... is the stove complete? if there is major service work or damage to be repaired ask for clear bright photos of the critical area(s), not long range shots where the stove is a dot on the horizon or shot in semi dark. We see (and have) ' as found ' stoves that in many instances require only the most minor service work to operate well, but of course the opposite is true too.
- of course it must be taken into account that whatever condition a stove is in that these are antique stoves and they will operate within the scope of an antique, but be clear how the stove is described to avoid disappointment.
- ensure you can see photos of all aspects of the stove with a couple of real close ups of nice detail or problem areas. Update : Recently text descriptions have become more detailed & factual which is a great improvement on just a few year ago, a commendable and welcome trend, BUT... in too many instances there are no photos to show the detail and extent of the problem described for you to be able to take an independent view. It's really easy just to ask the seller to send photo(s) of the detail that concerns you, and any refusal to do so should be treated with a little suspicion. If you make a request for extra photo(s) via eBay you will have to supply your email address as the eBay message system does not have the facility to transmit photos.
- we all get a few things wrong but the good sellers will put errors to right quickly and to your satisfaction
- feel comfortable with your seller before purchase
Tip ! Do not clean your stove when hot!! In all cases with an enamelled stove this will leave a stain or discoloration in the enamel almost every time, and stains are almost impossible to remove at a later date.
Q - what is the best method to clean the enamel?
A - clean the stove with a pure soap and warm water... we use Marseilles soap in a block. Once dry buff with a soft clean cloth, and that should do the trick.
Q - how do I clean Mica windows? Here is a typical email request with our answers
Q - I have just acquired an antique wood burner but unfortunately the small mica windows appear to be so stained/dirty that we are unable to even see through them. They let light through and do their job properly but we wish we could actually see the flames.
1) is this normal?
2) is it possible to clean them, and where do we get the products?
3) is it possible to buy new sheets?
- Mica and glass do become discoloured on all stoves, whichever fuel you use.
- Mica is a laminate which can be cleaned carefully with a mild liquid soap and warm water, but it will de-laminate if cleaned too much. If your stove already has quite a build up of deposits we would recommend replacing the mica which is readily available on line.
- When using your stove you can lessen future build up by using good quality fully seasoned dry wood and by burning the stove up for a short time every day so that the deposits burn off.
- There are glass/mica cleaning products available from stove shops and online but have never felt the need to use them, so can't recommend any to you.
We list additional Mica information on our mica FAQ's page, please use the link at the top of the page
Q - what is the fundamental difference between a wood burner and a multifuel stove?
A - a wood burner does not usually have the heat lining to cope with continuous coal or coke burning, plus it does not have a suspended grate to allow coal to burn efficiently. If there is not a suspended grate and the fire box is not lined with either cast iron panels or fire brick, it will not burn coal or coke correctly !
Tip ! There are exceptions to this tip but in the main a pure wood only burning stove will require a larger fire opening or space than an antique multi-fuel for the simple reason that wood has far more bulk. Most traditional French antique wood burners will load from the RH side ( to utilise fully the firebox capacity ), which will require a space for the stove and room on the RH to load the fuel.
Q - I have been offered a French stove that looks like a wood burner but is supposed to burn coal as it has a grate, can that be right?
A - yes it's possible, we call them mixte or hybrid stoves as they originated as traditional wood burners but were either re-modeled by the factory to burn all solid fuels or designed to look like a traditional wood burner but capable of burning coal & coke too. They will have a suspended grate and usually a set of cast iron liners, plus will weigh substantially more than a wood burner of a similar size. Sometimes the added internals were removed to allow for larger logs to be burnt, but at that point it becomes a wood only burner - see also Stove Types above
Q - why does a multifuel stove need a grate if a wood burner does not?
A - a coal or coke fire works best when drawing air from under the fire and therefore needs to be suspended. A wood fire works best drawing air from the sides with the logs laying on the base on a bed of hot ash. Most multifuels will burn wood pretty well, but wood burners will not burn coal and coke well, and in fact burning coal and coke in a wood burner will damage the enamel over time.
Tip ! Even when a full set of photos & all dimensions are supplied about a stove, most people find it hard to imagine the proportions as applied to the location for their stove. A good way to get a 'feel' for how a stove will look is to find a cardboard box of the approximate size and place it where the stove will stand. It's a surprisingly good method of telling whether the dimensions of the stove you are thinking of buying will suit your space.
Q - what are the advantages of a wood burner stove?
A - most wood burners will burn larger logs than a multifuel, the fact that wood is a renewable fuel and often free !!
Q - what are the advantages of a multifuel?
A - they tend to be top or front loaders as against most antique wood burners loading from the RH side. This allows for a smaller more compact stove design which will often fit inside an existing fire place. Coal & coke will continuously slow burn for much longer periods than wood burners unless the wood burner is large and premium wood (oak,beech,ash etc) is burned. Last, and very important in many instances, it's possible to burn smokeless fuels in a multifuel stove.
Tip ! Wood pellets are becoming an increasing option as a fuel to replace coal & coke. A few benefits are (a) the fuel is renewable, (b) the smaller fireboxes of most antique multi-fuels can be fully utilised due to the compact nature of wood pellets, and (c) bags of wood pellets are easier to store than large wood piles.
It may be a year or two before wood pellets are easily available in all areas but there appears to be a move to make them more widespread.
A fourth benefit for the person wishing to burn wood only is no longer being limited to choosing larger side loading antique wood stoves, rather the whole range of antique multi-fuels with their smaller fuel loading doors and fireboxes now becoming a practical option too.
Q - is there a difference in heat output when burning wood or coal/coke?
A - yes there is ! Wood gives an almost instant heat but not as long lasting as a quality coal or coke. Coal or coke gives give a slower build up to it's heat potential and is longer lasting. Once going, a coal or coke fire will burn with greater intensity and develop more heat for the same volume/weight of wood. It's difficult to estimate the difference between heat outputs due to the different types fuel, each having various combinations, but as a very rough guide good quality coke will produce maybe 20 - 25% more heat than seasoned wood.
Q - the stove I have bought does not have a flue outlet/spigot... it's just a hole in the back. How do I connect a flue pipe to it? * please read
A - this is an increasingly frequent recurring problem when purchasing an antique French stove, the stove flue outlet is sometimes missing or damaged and without a flue outlet it is not possible to connect flue pipe safely at all. The problem is solvable but it is better to check before purchase that the stove has a flue outlet. If you are looking at the stove in person it is quite easy to take a look at the rear of the stove to check. If buying via the internet, insist, and I mean insist that you see a photo of the rear of the stove before you buy. Here are explanatory photos of a stove with & without the flue outlet photos
If the outlet/spigot is missing, it's possible to fabricate another. Depending on which type and model of stove as to how difficult the job is, and the level of difficulty will influence the cost. Of course if you are offered a stove at an astounding price because it has no flue outlet, it may be an excellent buy, in particular if you can fabricate something yourself.
Q - I can't find a flue pipe to fit my antique stove, what do I do ?
A - the answer is use a stove flue pipe adapter. There are many different antique stove flue outlet (spigot) sizes and even different shapes (round, round with a taper and oval), but an adapter to fit your stove flue outlet will be the means to connect into standard UK flue pipe sizes.
We do supply flue pipe adapters for our own stove sales, but do not generally retail them. We are not in the UK for longer periods these days and feel it is not good business practice for customers to have to wait up to 6-8 weeks for despatch of an adapter, therefore the decision was made to supply adapters only with our own stoves.
There are many suppliers of flue pipe adapters to be found on the www, a quick search should turn up something to suit, it just takes a little perseverance.
Note - damaged fireboxes
We are fielding an increasing number of enquiries about antique wood burning stove fire boxes. The question usually goes something like this " the xxxx antique stove I have just bought has a damaged firebox... is this repairable? " The answer is in almost in every case yes it is repairable, but with varying degrees of difficulty (and cost). The detail of individual repair methods is a full article in it's own right, and not for this note. But it is important to advise that when buying a stove always look at the inside with a torch, and if buying online look for a good interior photo or as a minimum a good description of the interior.
Minor and sometimes even major damage is not a reason to be put off from buying a particular stove, but knowing what you will be taking on allows you to make a much more informed decision re purchasing. If you wish to use the stove for heating, the interior (fire box) is equally as important as the exterior!!!
Q - I have a xxxxxx antique French stove, can I still buy spares for it ?
A - the answer is yes, no and yes. Service items such as fire rope or window mica are easily available on line. Original stove parts such as new doors, ash cans, grills or legs have not been available for decades, from anywhere. These same parts are sometimes available as used items from suppliers such as ourselves. We are building a stock of used commonly asked for original parts but as there were literally hundreds & hundreds of models, the coverage is at present patchy. Also stovefinders have now embarked on the long process of having some new original parts re-manufactured, and although we are at the beginning of this project there will be a constant policy of adding new parts when suitable.
Q - what type of wood should I use in my wood burning stove?
A - the short answer is dry or seasoned wood. Most types of wood work very well if they are seasoned for 2 years or more, some types burn better than others and have more heat potential, but when thoroughly dried most wood is a good fuel. Our favourite is Hornbeam along with Beech, followed closely by Oak. That said there are many satisfactory types of wood with a lot depending on what is available to you locally.
Regarding wood seasoning, here is a succinct quote from a modern Godin stove instruction manual " wood with a moisture content of 15% will deliver 4.16 kWh per kilogram, while wood with a moisture content of 50% will only deliver 1.73 kWh per kilogram " It goes on to say that 2 years is the minimum curing time and better 3 years or more.
Tip ! A simple and efficient method for checking the readiness of wood for burning is to use a common moisture meter. These are bought from DIY stores and online too and shouldn't cost too much. Push the probes into the end grain of the wood and take the moisture content reading. If around 20% the wood will burn quite well, if around 15% you are nearing the perfect moisture content for use in your stove.
Q - what type of coal or coke is best for my antique French stove?
A - here is a great website explaining what the purpose of different coals & cokes plus prices too !
Q - why can't I load the fuel through the front door of my antique multifuel stove... there's a grill in the way?
A - there should be a grill behind the door of a multifuel stove, or at least a very high lip and there are 3 main reasons to have it there. (1) to protect the stove window material (mica) from damage (2) to stop burning fuel from falling out when the door is opened (3) to allow many stoves to be filled with fuel above the door level and to retain the fuel. If this grill is missing you should only ever have a small fire in the stove for the above reasons. With a few fairly rare exceptions, most antique multifuels are loaded through the flap under the top lid.
Q - the window material in my French stove appears to be clear plastic, is that right?
A - no it isn't clear plastic at all, but it does look a bit like plastic. It is in fact a mineral called ' mica ' . There is much more detail on our mica web pages, just click on the mica FAQ's link at the top of the page.
Tip ! There are advantages too in using a wood or multi-fuel stove in a workshop apart from the purely heating aspect. Tools in a workshop will frequently attract surface rust overnight, but a wood or coal burner will often either reduce this happening or in many cases eliminate it completely due to a solid fuel stove drawing moisture from the air as it burns. Gas stoves and heaters will have the opposite effect of releasing moisture into the atmosphere.