Saturday, June 23, 2012

Purchasing a New Woodburning Cookstove

Those of you who have been following this blog or know us personally know that a year ago this month was when we ordered Marjorie the Margin Gem cookstove.  The Margin Gem is actually the second wood cookstove that I have purchased new, and I want to share with you what factors I considered when choosing a cookstove.  As I've read other wood cookstove owners' accounts of how they decided to purchase the various cookstoves that they own, I notice that each is unique.  Our story is too, and perhaps someone will benefit from reading about it.

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.

20 comments:

  1. We were talked into the flame view, and we love it. We were looking for a stove that would heat a large home, and yet be a true cookstove. We have used it for two years now and are happy with it. We used it for about 95% of our heating last winter. It was a mild winter, so it hasn't been tested in a true SD winter yet! My wife cooks on it in the winter, but it is too hot to use it right now!

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    1. Great to hear from you, Phil! One of the things that has been exciting about this blog is that it has put me in touch with other families who are using woodburning cookstoves. Please feel free to chime in with information about your family's experiences with the Flameview. I want this blog to be a source of as much information about cookstoves as possible.

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  2. Hello; I am in the process of deciding which wood cook stove to purchase. I am leaning toward an antique cast iron wood cook stove that has been totally renovated. I found a man in Maine that restores them. He said the Clarion, Queen Alantis, Glenwood and Star Kineo are all good cast iron cook stoves. Here is a picture of one. I would love to hear from people who has cooked on these also.

    http://www.antiquecookstove.com/inventory-popup.asp?item=22055&pic=77938

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    1. Welcome, LadyOfLaPan! I'm glad you've found us.

      Everything that I've read online agrees with what you've said about cookstoves that are all cast iron. They do seem to be the most durable and easiest to fully restore.

      I've never had a chance to cook on an all cast iron cookstove, since most of the stoves made in the Midwest during the twentieth century included at least some components which were made of steel. However, I did visit Living History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa, a few years ago. They have a couple of woodburning cookstoves that are in regular use there, and the one that is most similar to the stoves that you are talking about has a reputation for being easy to cook on. You can see a picture and a write up about the stove at the link below.

      http://livinghistoryfarms.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/our-acorn-woodburning-cookstove/

      How about it, readers? Can anyone chime in with some firsthand experience?

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  3. Initially we were very interested in the Flameview, however, after speaking to a dealer in the States we found out that the Kitchen Queen has a welded fire box instead of a bolted one, he said this makes the Kitchen Queen more durable. However, we live in Canada so the Canadian-made Flameview would be easier to purchase. We will have to go to extra lengths to get the Kitchen Queen into Canada and have it certified here.

    Did you consider the Kitchen Queen at all? If so, what made you go with the Margin Gem over the Kitchen Queen?

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    1. I had the opportunity to see a Kitchen Queen at an Amish stove shop in southeastern Iowa a couple of years ago. I gave it a thorough going over, and we did not consider purchasing it for several reasons.

      1. I didn't think that the cooktop seemed deep enough. When you adjust the cooking temperature of a vessel by its location on the stovetop, you have to consider both depth and width. The wider the cooktop, the wider the range of cooking temperatures which will be available. The deeper the cooktop, the more(and larger) vessels you can have simultaneously cooking at the same temperature.

      2. An Amish man from down by Redding, Iowa, told me about his brother's family's experiences with their Kitchen Queen (see section D above in the post). When I talked with Mr. Fenoff at Stoves and More Online, from whom we purchased our Margin Gem, he told me that he was glad that the Amish man had spoken with me about the Kitchen Queen. You can see in the "Our Story" tab of Stoves and More Online's website that the Fenoff's first cookstove was a Kitchen Queen. They now have a Flameview and report that they think it is the perfect stove.

      At the time that we purchased the Margin Gem from them, they were selling Kitchen Queen cookstoves too, but Mr. Fenoff also told me that he only recommends the Kitchen Queen to people who live in very cold climates due to the fact that you have to have such a hot fire in it in order to bake. Since we use our stove during as much of the year as possible, we didn't want to have it drive us out of the kitchen in the summer.

      3. The Kitchen Queen has just two large lids in the cooktop. I wanted to have the six smaller lids of the Margin Gem cooktop (however these are not an option on the Flameview anyway). I like being able to remove lids and cook directly over the fire.

      4. I know this seems shallow, but I just plain don't like the looks of the Kitchen Queen--too boxy. Sorry, can't help it.

      These were my reasons for not purchasing a Kitchen Queen. I imagine that people who own one might have a similar list of reasons they like them. I hope they will share their thoughts here for everyone's benefit.

      Could you give any more insight into the stove dealer's comment about the Kitchen Queen's firebox being more durable due to its being welded? None of the three cookstoves that I've used regularly have welded fireboxes. The Qualified and the Riverside Bakewell have withstood hard use, and their fireboxes are none the worse for the wear. We've only been using our Margin Gem since March and have had no problems,of course, but the only thing that I've heard or read from a more experienced Margin Gem Pac owner is that they had difficulties with their grate. However, their grate was a different style than ours and they blamed it on the fact that they burned coal.

      No matter which one you choose, Green Mommy, I'm looking forward to hearing about your experiences with it.

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    2. Dear Readers,
      Since writing my above response, I have been informed that many Kitchen Queen owners would disagree with the statements in #2 above about how much heat the Kitchen Queen puts into the kitchen while baking.

      I'm leaving my reply to Green Mommy's question as it was originally posted back in November of 2012 because it still accurately answers her question about why WE didn't purchase a Kitchen Queen. I'm not trying to discourage anyone from purchasing any particular cookstove here.

      Had Green Mommy asked why we did not purchase an Oval, a Pioneer Maid, etc., I would have provided an equally honest answer, and my intent would be to answer the question regarding our decision, not to slander any particular make or model of wood cookstove.

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  4. Thanks for such a detailed response!

    Basically the dealer said that the Kitchen Queen had a welded firebox so that if the stove accidentally over-heated the firebox would not warp. He said that a bolted firebox could warp when overheated and then the firebox would no longer be airtight.

    It is good to hear that you have had success with non-welded fireboxes.

    The other reason we were interested in the Kitchen Queen is that it is cheaper for us to buy then the Flameview. We have to buy the Flameview from a Canadian dealer, because we live in Canada, and the Canadian prices are more (even though the stove is manufactured in Canada!!!)

    We do live in a place where it gets very cold. Usually it is between -15 celcius and -30 celcius in the winter months. It can even get down to -40 celcius so I'm sure we qualify as living in a cold place. However, we would like to use the stove in the summer too so maybe for this reason, the Kitchen queen would not be a good idea.

    However, all this may be irrelevant because today after speaking to our insurance agent I found out that we probably cannot have the Kitchen Queen insured in Canada because the certifications are not accepted here. For that reason alone we will probably buy the Flameview because, unfortunately, we need to have insurance for our mortgage.

    My husband and I have been discussing the presence of the lids in the stove-top. He claims that it will be harder to clean and more messy to have 6 lids as the Gem does. He likes the clean look of the smooth top of the Flameview. After reading many of your posts I am interested in being able to take the lids off and cook over the flames but as with all things in marriage, sometimes you have to compromise!!

    I will be sure to update you with what we decide to buy. We will be purchasing the stove after the winter when our renovations will be closer to completion. I'm just doing the research now.

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    1. Greetings Green Mama,
      Obadiah’s has sold hundreds of Kitchen Queen and thousands of other cookstove to Canada over the past 25 yrs. many of them were not ULC and some were not even UL. I don’t understand why one in ten have an issue with their insurance company. There are no national regulations that say you must have a UL or a ULC Certified stove in either country. Wood cookstoves are EPA exempt as well in North America. The listing in Canada for this matter is ULC S627 and UL 1482 for the USA as with many things these cross over. Class A Chimney is tested to a different standard in Canada and are more stringent, this is where the confusion comes in. In the US Class A pipe can mean many different things. In Canada Class A Chimney is tested to 30 minute burns. The main concern is the way the chimney is installed. Most insurance companies in Canada are concerned that the Canadian Class A Chimney be used and the installation be signed off by a WETT installer. There is a wide variety of what the WETT installers think is a correct install as they are nothing more than Contractors who took a WETT test, they are not a regulatory agency as there is no such thing. Many folks I believe get into trouble by the questions they ask verses the answers they give when you’re dealing with any Bureauc-rat or office clerk who does little more than push a pencil and loves to throw their weight around if given the chance.
      The cost difference in Canada for stoves made in Canada again boil down to bureaucracy and taxes that are charged in Canada, the cost of doing business is higher there because of all the regulations. No worries though, if our Bureauc-rats in Washington have their way, we’ll be paying more soon too.
      As far as welded fireboxes, let me clarify, what I was referring to is the Margin Stoves being bolted together sheet metal. They do not use any gaskets or furnace cement except under the cooktop, so you have metal on metal which is not air tight, maybe that is why some folks here have complained about them smoking? There is a huge difference in the gauge of the steel between a Margin Stove and a Kitchen Queen. This can best be summed up this way, look at the weights of the two stoves, one weighs several hundred pounds more than the other. All I can say is as a professional firefighter, I prefer lots of steel between me and my fires. Thicker steel burns through far slower, creosote is very corrosive, it is not Rocket Science.
      Lastly cleaning the stoves, the Flameview is the hardest cookstove I have ever run across to keep clean, there are places that are almost impossible to clean, like the base of the chimney which runs all the way down the back of the stove. I point these out in my various videos I did on the Flameview which are on You Tube for anyone to look at and judge for themselves. Just Google Flameview Cookstove You Tubes and you’ll find them. I made these videos after I had 3 Flameview customers report to me that their stoves caught on fire in this area and almost caught the house on fire. As a firefighter, I take this very seriously, as an engineer, I naturally want to get to the bottom of what the problem is, which is why I made the videos.
      As far as a good dealer in Canada for Margin Stoves we recommend Paul at Suppertime Stoves, he is the only other dealer other than Obadiah’s that will stand behind what he sells and give you your money back if you get a lemon. paul@mealtimestoves.on.ca We refer our customers to Paul all the time in Canada for Margin Stoves because he is an honorable man.
      Blessings!

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  5. We are just beginning to consider buying a wood cookstove and this is very helpful. Initially we wanted to purchase a stove for emergency purposes, but with such a huge investment, I want to install it and use it at least on a semi-regular basis. I also want it to look nice. I am reading that these require quite a huge chunk of space to install and use. I'm trying to get to the heart of the most useful, least space consuming wood cook stove, that looks good, that doesn't overheat and can be used all year as we have mild winters living in Southern Oregon. The Margin Gem seems to fit the criteria so far...

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    1. Welcome, ybb! We are very happy with the Margin Gem so far. The only other more compact stove with a similar look would be the Heartland Sweetheart. It is a higher dollar stove, and because of its rear flue exit, its total footprint in a room may be larger than the Margin Gem--I don't know for sure.

      A plus for you would be its lesser heating capacity, and I believe that they have a "summer grate" position which would be helpful for year-round use.

      However, be aware that their ovens are significantly smaller than Margin Gems, too. That would be a huge drawback for us, anyway.

      Best wishes on your search. If I can be of any help, please let me know.

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  6. I am in the final stages of deciding on which woodburning cookstove to install in my kitchen this Fall. From the get go, I have had my heart set on the Margin Flameview. Without knowing about the internal design, its looks and uniqueness of having a glass viewing door were what initially drew me to it. In fact, the side loading glass door looks directly into my dining room area. Also, I live in Ontario, about 3hrs from the Margin plant, so "shopping local" seems like the right thing to do. I have even had some quotes from local dealers. (Disappointed in the huge price difference in Canada vs. USA, when it is made here. Shouldn't the prices be very similar??)

    I have come across many favorable reviews about the Flameview's operation. However there is one very comprehensive youtube review that does not give the Flameview a good overall review. This review id dome by a dealer in Monatana, Woody Chain. He seems very knowledgeable on stoves. He sells nearly every make available in North America and beyond (or so it seems). So I feel he is being objective in his review, and has lots to compare the Flameview to. In his series of videos, he takes apart a Flameview to see it from the inside. He points out some flaws in this relatively brand new unit.

    Such as:

    Gaps in the internal flue that directs the hot gasses around the oven. Where it seems that smoke could leak out into your home until the gaps become sealed with creasode.

    Again, gaps around the oven hinges that would appear to allow smoke and gasses to leak out.

    Painted steel interior of the oven that was already starting to rust before it ever had steaming food cooking in it. (As opposed to porcelain enamel or stainless steel as other brands have.)

    Blower fan that is oppressively loud. And in the opinion of this dealer, is a design flaw that disrupts the thermo-dynamics of the stove by cooling a section of the flue, there by causing smoke to leak from the stove.

    Glass that doesn't stay clean. Apparently the airwash causes you to burn through fuel too quickly, and doesn't work that great anyways.

    Can anyone with a Flameview or other Margin stove give me some input on the points I raised earlier? My two biggest reservations are the potential smoke leakage problems and rust forming in the oven. I don't expect the stove to be perfect. For instance dirty glass is not that big of deal. A loud fan (as long as the whole this works) is not a big deal either.

    I understand that all stoves leak a little smoke when they are new. I am not super picky. It is just alot of money to spend and I want to make the right choice.

    Thank-you all for your input.

    CS

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    1. Welcome to my blog, CS.

      As you can see from this blog, we have had our Margin Gem for over a year, and we are very happy with it. See the July 2013 post entitled "A Review of the First Year with the Margin Gem" for a more detailed account of our experience so far. I can assure you that it has been under hard use since its installation. And while I know that the Margin Gem is an entirely different animal than the Flameview, I can tell you that we have had none of the concerns that you mention.

      I think that you are very wise to do your research up front, and I appreciate your comment about not expecting a stove to be perfect. It is a big decision because it is a big investment. Do keep in mind, though, that you can see good and bad reviews of every model of large appliance--be it a cookstove or an automatic washing machine--on the internet, so you just have to weigh your options and decide what is best for you.

      Check out the comments section on the post that I mentioned above. White Sheep Farm posted some information that may be helpful to you. They currently own a 2011 Flameview, but had a Margin Gem before that.

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  7. Thanks for your help! This site is going to be an excellent resource over the next season, as I install and learn to use my new stove. Construction begins Monday in the kitchen... really excited!

    CS

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    1. I'm excited for you. I'm also very glad to be of help. I'm no expert, but I'll do my best to answer any questions that you may have or to try to find people who can.

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  8. We decided to go ahead and buy the Flameview. We have had it installed for 3 weeks and have had fun experimenting. We bought the rear 20 gallon reservoir (with half coil), the electric fan, the warming oven and the thermostat controlled vent. We plan to put a heat exchanger in the reservoir and connect that to our in-floor heat but we don't have it hooked up yet.

    So far we have baked bread, pizza, muffins, cookies and chicken pot pie in the oven. I haven't ruined anything but I have burned the cookies and muffins slightly.

    I know there were quite a few questions about the Flameview. Although I'm not an expert with it, I would love to help out if possible.

    Here are some answers:

    The fan has a very wide range of settings. The lowest setting is not very loud at all and of course you can turn it off if you want!

    I did not find the oven to be rusting but I did find some rust on the drawer below the oven. I scrubbed with steel wool and then applied a light coat of vegetable oil. Obviously it is annoying that something should rust when it is brand new but it is not that big a deal.

    I do not see any smoke leakage from any gaps anywhere.

    The glass does not stay clean, it is true. I have spoken to other modern woodstove owners who say the same thing. We simply dip some newspaper in the water reservoir, then into some ash and wipe the glass clean in the morning before we light the fire. Although the glass has some creosote build up over the course of the day you can still see the fire.

    We have a 1500 sq. ft. house and it easily heats our house. The amount of heat radiating after the fire has long gone out keeps our house warm even when we are out all day.

    I can easily get the oven up to 500 degrees F but I need to make sure the fan is off. If you want to heat up the oven you don't want to send the heat away using the fan!

    I did buy an oven thermometer because the thermometer on the door is not accurate. It is even less accurate when the fan is off.

    Jim, I have some pictures if you are interested! Let me know.



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    1. Green Mommy,
      Thanks so much for the great information! I'm also excited that it sounds like wood cookstove cooking has been successful for you.

      I attached a post script to the 8/20/13 blog post entitled "Flameview Owners, Please Help" which directs people to your comment here because firsthand information like this is so valuable. Feel free to comment often!

      I would also LOVE to see pictures and write a "Blog Reader's Cookstove" post about your installation. You can e-mail me at rossnj8@msn.com

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  9. Does anyone know anything about the Olympic B-18 wood/coal cookstove. Made by Washington stove work in Everett Washington. I believe this stove was produced in the 60's or 70's. Any and all information is appreciated. Manuals? I am not finding much online about this stove.

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  10. Charlie,
    Thanks for the comment on my blog. I didn't have time to do it tonight, but I'm going to move your question to a blog post of its own to try to elicit more of a response for you. I have just a little bit of information about that particular model of stove, and I'll try to get that unearthed ASAP.

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  11. Great. I am also looking for a manual or copy of one for the Olympic B-18. Thanks for all the valuable information on wood stove cooking.

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