I took the following things into consideration when making my choices. They are not necessarily listed in order of importance.
a) Cost. Unfortunately, this is always a consideration. When you consider this, though, think about what kind of return your stove will potentially give you. We don't have to pay for our firewood. As my brother says, "Jim can't burn enough wood to keep up with the dead trees around here." Therefore, other than our time (which would be spent cleaning up the tree mess in some way in any event) and woodcutting supplies (chainsaws, chains, saw fuel, sledge hammer handles, etc.) it costs us nothing to operate our stoves once they are installed. Thus, our cookstove considerably cuts down on our use of propane for heating and cooking, and now that the Margin Gem heats our hot water, we have additional savings there.
I've never heated our house entirely on propane during a winter, but I think that a conservative estimate (given our high-efficiency furnace, the size of our house, and its draftiness) would be that we would burn a thousand gallons of propane during a normal winter if it was our sole source of heat. That means that it would cost us at least a thousand dollars to heat our house for one season if we used only propane. When you look at the cost of a stove and prorate what it will save you in heating expenses during its useful life, that can change the way you look at your initial investment quite significantly.
b) Location. You have to consider where you will be putting your stove quite carefully; then choose a cookstove that will fit there. However, you must also figure in the clearances! This is so important! The measurements of a stove are not a representation of its true footprint in your house. Clearances can be reduced with appropriate materials, but those materials will have measurements of their own. Measure, research, measure!
The clearances on woodburning cookstoves vary drastically because of the different designs that are out there. If you are planning on purchasing a true antique cookstove, you can pretty much plan that your home insurer is going to ask that 36" of space be between your cookstove and any combustible surface, and 18" of space will need to be between single-walled stovepipe and anything combustible.
c) Looks. This might be the least of many people's concerns, but for me this is an issue. I know that many of the new wood cookstoves that are on the market are designed to keep costs low for those who want a functional and efficient stove, but I also want one that is at least somewhat traditionally pretty to look at, too. Sorry. I can't help it.
I'm still reconciling myself to the more modern look of the left side of the Margin Gem. I prefer the antique look of the Oval's left side, but I still feel that the Margin Gem was the right choice for us.
d) Purpose of the Stove. What are you planning on doing with your woodburning cookstove? If you are only going to be using it during the occasional power outage or for weekend ambiance, your approach to choosing a stove can be quite different from what it would be if you are planning on using your stove as your main--or even sole--means of cooking.
Before we purchased the Margin Gem, I talked to an Amish man who owned a Gem Pac (slightly smaller and less ornate sister of the Margin Gem). The man whom I was talking to and his wife were planning on building a new house in the near future, and when I told him that we were thinking about replacing the Qualified, he offered some interesting insight. He said, "My wife would like a Margin Gem for the new house. She told me that she wants a cookstove, not a heating stove that you can cook on. My brother's stove has to be so hot to get the oven up to temperature that it will drive you out of the kitchen before you can bake anything." I'm glad that we don't have to be sweltering just to bake.
e) Oven size. To me, this was a top priority. I knew that there would be considerably less joy in using a wood cookstove regularly if I felt like the size of the oven was preventing me from using the baking utensils that I was accustomed to. Thus, as a twenty-one-year-old, I pored over the specifications for the ovens in the cookstoves which were available and affordable at that time. Then, with a yardstick, I drew lines in the pile of my living room carpet which represented the width and depth of the ovens. Next, I retrieved all of the biggest baking utensils that I had: my largest cookie sheet, the biggest jelly roll pan, and my largest enamelware roaster. I placed them on the floor to see whether they would fit in the oven. When I got to the roaster, I also put the lid on it and held my thumb on the yardstick to represent the height of the oven to make sure that I would still be able to use it with its lid.
The fact that the oven on the Qualified Range was the largest in the stoves that were in my price range had a great deal to do with my choosing it. I went through the same set of tests with the same cookware before deciding to purchase the Margin Gem, too (only I didn't draw in the carpet--I guess I'm growing up).
f) Ease of fueling. Perhaps this wouldn't be as much of a factor if I hadn't started out with the Qualified range. The Qualified has a coal feed hatch on the left side of the firebox, a door in the front of the firebox behind the white cabinet door, and removable lids, "T", and cast iron frame above the firebox. In other words, if you have a piece of firewood that is the right size, you have all kinds of options for getting it to the fire. The best thing about fueling the Qualified was that unless you had such a large piece of wood to add that you had to lift the "T" or the entire cooktop frame, it rarely let any smoke escape into the room.
Several of the new stoves on the market today do not have very many fueling options. Some can be fed only through the top. This seems impractical to me, especially when you are in the throes of canning. The last thing you will want to do is to move a large canner full of jars away from the firebox in order to refuel. The Margin Gem has a larger front door on its firebox than the Qualified, and I find that I feed through the front much more often now. I still tend to favor feeding through the front cooktop lid, however. I think this is because I don't have to bend down to see what I'm doing. For feeding large pieces of wood, the Margin Gem is equipped with a handle which raises the entire section of cooktop above the firebox. I imagine that we will use this more often in the winter, but we haven't used it much right now because a great deal of smoke hits you in the face when you open the stove this way.
|A pic of the Margin Gem that Nancy snapped on|
the night we were hooking it up. The pic shows
the cooktop and front door open, comprising two
of the ways to add fuel.
g) Cooking flexibility. When we ordered the Margin Gem, the sales representative tried hard to convince me to opt for the Flameview. I think his words were that it was "the perfect stove." Indeed, it has features that I think we would have liked, but two things prevented me from choosing it. First, it has a greater heating capacity than the Gem. This would be great if we only used the stove in the winter time, but since we have an additional heating stove to help heat the house in cold weather, why put up with extra heat when we just want to cook in the warmer seasons? Second, the Flameview is only sold with a solid cooktop--no removable lids. I'm far too accustomed to being able to remove a lid or lids and grill directly over the fire or speed the cooking of something. Nancy can attest to my occasional inflexibility, and I didn't want to give up those options.
If you are a wood cookstove cook, please comment and share what things you considered before making your purchase. My hope with this post is that it will help wood cookstove shoppers with their considerations before making a purchase. No matter which range one chooses, it will become a major part of one's home, so careful consideration is a must.