Saturday, October 6, 2012

Winterizing a Cookstove

I received a comment yesterday asking for my suggestions about what to do to protect an outdoor cookstove during the winter.  Since our weather has gotten colder, I need to get down to our summer kitchen to winterize our Riverside Bakewell.  Though the Riverside is not technically an outdoor stove, it is exposed to freezing temperatures, and snow frequently sifts into the summer kitchen via the air vents near the ceiling and lands across the stovetop.  Therefore, we have a ritual that we perform every fall to protect the cookstove from the elements.

Here is what we do:

1) Drain the reservoir and wipe it dry with a terry cloth towel.

2) Clean the stovetop with a grill brick as you can see us do to the Margin Gem a couple of posts ago in  Cleaning a Woodburning Cookstove.  We then coat the stovetop with vegetable oil.  The only exposed cast iron on the Riverside Bakewell is the cooktop.  The rest of the stove is enameled, so there is no need to protect the other surfaces.

Side Notes: This step may vary depending on the type of stove that one has.  If a stove has surfaces that are not enameled, or if it is likely that a stove needs additional protection, I would put a layer of stove black on all of the surfaces that are not otherwise protected.  After the stove black is worked into the metal and well buffed, I would apply the layer of vegetable oil.  I've used three different kinds of stove black, and my preference is certainly a semi-paste called William's Stove Polish.  If your local hardware store does not carry it, it is widely available online.  If you choose to black your cooktop, be warned: in my experience, stove black has a habit of attaching itself to things that you'd rather it didn't.  If a stove is to reside outdoors, though, skipping the stove black seems risky.

I would not coat any enameled part of a stove with oil.  If you do, you'll want to completely remove the oil from the enamel before firing the stove again, and I imagine that this will not be an easy task.

3. I then start a small fire in the stove with little sticks or corncobs.  This fire is not intended to last long or be very hot.  The intent is just to give the new layer of vegetable oil a chance to seal, and to thoroughly dry the reservoir.  Under ordinary circumstances, a stove should NEVER be fired with an empty water reservoir.

4. Once the fire is out, remove all ashes and soot from the stove.  (Don't forget that a bit of fly ash frequently lands inside the oven, too.)  When wood ash combines with water in any form, potash lye results, and this can be very corrosive to metals.

These steps are sufficient for our Riverside Bakewell.  But all situations are different.  In her book Woodstove Cookery: At Home on the Range, Jane Cooper writes the following:

"If you plan to store the stove in a garage or shed, it will also be necessary to coat the stove's metal with oil, grease or petroleum jelly--anything without salt which retards rust.  Don't, however, think of this as a way to recycle old crankcase oil or motor oil because they will do nasty things to your house when the stove is finally re-fired."

Of course, if the cookstove is going to be fired outdoors, the issue of what will happen to the burning layer of oil may be considered somewhat less of a concern.  Just remember that whatever was applied to the stove is unlikely to burn off entirely except for on the part of the cooktop that is over the center of the firebox.  Furthermore, it would certainly be folly to coat the inside of the oven with anything other than stove black and an edible oil or shortening.  Even that will have to be burned off enough that it will not impart its own flavor to whatever is being cooked in the oven once the stove is put back into regular use.

The bottom line is that moisture is the enemy of the unused cookstove, so any steps which can be taken to keep the stove dry are advisable.

If anyone reading this has something else that they would advise, please make good use of the comments field to help a fellow wood cookstove cook.


  1. Jim, I have received an email from one of my online friends/readers who wanted to contact you and ask you some questions pertaining to their stove. His question is:
    "My wife and I purchased a Range Qualified cookstove (such a nice older unit) and I have some questions about how the firebox grate should look and whether or not mine is complete."
    He reads your blog so if you can answer this for him, I'd really appreciate it. Thanks!

    1. Katlupe,

      Jim answered my question directly-see the post
      "Answer to a 'Grate' Question". Thanks to both you and Jim for a supportive community on both of your blogs.

    2. I see that Return to Basics has already replied, but I just wanted to say that it's nice to hear from you again, Katlupe. God Bless as you keep the home fires burning!