How to restore a cast-iron woodstove

It turns out firewood needs to be burned to produce heat.

Go figure.

We’ve only been here in the Northeast for a few months. One of the first projects dad wanted to do was install a fireplace insert or cast-iron woodstove into the existing brick fireplace.

how to restore a cast-iron woodstove

Initially, my old man was going to climb on the roof, drop a flue down the chimney, and install the woodstove himself. But, Mom had other ideas. For some strange reason, she was uncomfortable with Dad DIY-ing anything related to fire.

Yeah. Weird.

So, dad went price shopping and found that inserts + installation were gonna cost about $5,000.


After a fair bit of cursing at those “chimney-sucking, soot-coated, [censored],” he decided he was going to wait it out until next season.

And then the heating bill came.

We’re out in the country with oil heat and even with the oil prices as low as they are, Dad had to fork over a bill of $500.

That $5k wasn’t looking as pricy anymore.

So he started looking on craigslist (or “the classifieds” as he calls them) for used fireplace inserts.

Again, nothing.

But, as luck would have it, remember that old shed full of wood dad scored? That shed we’re still unloading. (And will until the cow’s grandkids come home).

It turns out, there’s an old antique woodstove in there, tucked behind all that lumber.

So dad gets an idea. Who needs a fancy pantsy fireplace insert? Can’t you just put a woodstove inside the fireplace and vent it up the chimney?

“I don’t see why not…” Dad said.

Then, you get all the radiant heat benefits of a woodstove without the expense of a fireplace insert.


So Dad generously offered to take the guy’s rust-bucket woodstove from him. The guy asked $75 and Dad actually agreed. (I was there when he accepted the offer. Had I not been, Old Rhett Badger might’ve gotten away with saying the guy paid him to take it out).

And now we have a woodstove:

We’re still not sure if it’ll fit inside the fireplace. We took measurements and it’s pretty close. But, worst-case scenario, Dad will use it to heat the garage/workshop and find some smaller woodstove for the first floor of the house.

Now, with that exceptionally long introduction, here’s how you do it.

How to restore a cast-iron woodstove. 

1. Remove all moving parts.

Chances are, if it’s a beater like our was, the “moving parts” move about as well as a paraplegic on a dance floor. Usually, a can of WD40 will do the trick. If not, you might wanna try loosening them with heat.

For others, this probably isn’t necessary, but on the one we got, the doors didn’t quite close right and the damper didn’t quite work. So, we removed all removable parts and dropped them in a glass of vinegar for a de-rust bath.

2. Sand down all exposed surfaces.

Dad started with some sandpaper and an orbital sander (affiliate links), but he was going through sandpaper quicker than baby wipes at a daycare, he opted for an angle grinder with a wire brush attachment (affiliate link). That made quick work of the entire surface, but struggled with the not-so-flat surfaces.

But that’s okay. It don’t need to be perfect. It’s going to be painted and most imperfections will be disguised anyway. What you’re looking for is a relatively smooth surface as you move your hands across it (and yes, with all that stroking of cast-iron you’re doing, your hands will look like you held hands with Bert the Chimney Sweep by the end of it). If you find some bumps in a hard-to-reach place, steel wool works wonders.

Or you could sandblast it. That would be epic. And messy. But, alas, we don’t own a sandblaster.

 3. Wipe away the black dust with water.

After sanding, a lot of the black coating will be left on the surface. So, get an old rag and wipe it down, one small section at a time, then dry off with a paper towel. These paper towels should look like the snot residue from Bert the Chimney Sweep.

Okay, that simile was a bit much.

Anyway, it should look about like this:

4. Spray paint that beast.

Now the fun part. But don’t screw it up.


It would rather suck to get this far and have it turn out looking like a kid’s pinewood derby car.

As Dad says, “Spray paint minus patience equals sh[**]. Cuz that’s what it’ll look like.”

The key is very thin coats. How thin?

This thin:

(Sorry for the grainy pic. It was pretty dark when Dad started painting).

Yes, it’s okay that you can see the old color through. That’s how it should be. Otherwise, you risk having the paint drip.

So keep your pants on and paint slow. If the temp’s right (around 70 degrees), you should be able to recoat in 30 minutes or less.

So just chill.

Nice ‘n slow, dude. Nice ‘n slow.

5. Wait.

Yeah, this is the suckiest step that ever did stink. I know I was excited to see this baby below the mantle. But, if for some reason the paint isn’t quite cured yet, you’re going to end up with black paint on your hands, crime-scene worthy fingerprints on the stove, and you may have to start all over.

So just chill.

6. Install and admire the $4925 you saved. 

That’s the best part, right?

So here’s the before of this beast:

And the after of this beauty.

How to restore a cast iron woodstove

How to restore a cast iron woodstove

Pretty, eh?

Now let’s hope it actually fits.

Stay tuned.


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