Google+ House Revivals: Tips for Finding the Perfect Vintage Stove

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tips for Finding the Perfect Vintage Stove

We've decided to go all electric at the beach house.

Our propane stove is gorgeous, and we plan to keep it, but it will go to another property we own.  For the beach house, we want to make things really simple, thus going all-electric. Plus, our climate is really hard on propane tanks and valves.

Since we designed our kitchen around a forty inch vintage propane stove, I'm looking for a "new" forty inch vintage electric stove.

I adore retro stoves.  We had a vintage electric stove in our Queen Anne Bungalow in Colorado, and it was the. best. stove. ever.  In our search, and research, for a "new" electric stove, I've come up with several tips to help you in your own search.

First, cast a broad net.  Check craigslist every day -- not just in your own city, but any city within striking distance.  If you have family in more distant cities, check the listings in those areas, as well. Don't forget to check eBay. Search locally for "local pick up", but do a wider search, as well.  Some sellers may be willing to ship your appliance by freight. If your community has an active Freecycle community, check there.  Since some older stoves might come from homes of seniors who are not internet savvy, check local classified ads.

Second, check used appliance stores.  Some stores won't handle vintage stoves at all, but some actually specialize in vintage stoves.  Also, talk to your local appliance repairmen, and let them know what you are looking for. They may have some leads for you. Find out who works on vintage appliances -- you may need their services later!

Building supply resale stores are a great resource.  Most cities have a Habitat for Humanity Store, or a Re-Store, or some other kind of architectural and building supply re-sale store.  Even if the stores don't have what you're looking for, talk to the people who work there, and let them know what you are looking for, so they can keep their eyes open. Lots of these stores have their entire inventory online, which can save you lots of time searching.

There are several businesses that specialize in buying, restoring, and selling vintage appliances.  More places restore gas stoves than electric. According to my appliance repairman, vintage electric stoves are harder to work on and harder to get parts for.  There are businesses that sell vintage appliance parts online or in person -- in fact most cities still have at least one old used appliance/ appliance repair store that keeps an inventory of used parts. You can also find vintage appliance parts on eBay.

Some second-hand stores carry used appliances. You don't have to run all over town to check out these stores -- sometimes you can just call.  If they have a stove that sounds interesting, go look at it. The same goes for antique stores.

Don't take the seller's word for it that the appliance works. Test the appliance. I've gotten burned on this one. Some sellers will tell you anything:  "Great Aunt Martha used it everyday, until we put it into storage and everything works perfectly", or "it was working when we took it out of our kitchen for the remodel". Most sellers are honest, but you don't want to lay out several hundred dollars for a stove you can't test. Let the seller know you want to test the stove. You want to know exactly what you're getting. If you can't test the stove, but it is in great shape and you love it, and you have an appliance repairman who works on vintage stoves, try to negotiate the price way down. If the seller is serious about getting top dollar for an appliance, they need to be serious about figuring out a way for you to test it.

Don't pay top dollar for a dirty stove.  Again, if the seller wants top dollar for their appliance, they need to clean it.  Also, a really dirty stove may be indicative of how the stove has been cared for over the years. Dirt and grime can camouflage chipped enamel, as well. Lots of sellers say things like "these stoves go for thousands of dollars", which may be true, but only if they are in perfect restored condition.  If they are in sparkling clean and great working condition, with little or no scratching or chipping of the original enamel, they may go for several hundred dollars and more.  Of course, pricing also depends on available inventory, and your region of the country.

Chipped enamel is forever.  Don't underestimate how much chipped enamel can devalue your vintage appliance. Small chips on the sides or back are probably not a big deal, but if there are large chips on the front of the stove, you may want to pass on by. Re-enameling is very expensive and may not even be available in your area. You may need to ship your appliance shell to a business that specializes in re-enameling.  Automotive paint might also be an option, but it won't be as hard-wearing as enamel.

Make sure the stove is in good mechanical condition.  Do all the doors and drawers open and close properly? Do the range top elements wobble around? Clocks and timers often don't work, but you may be able to ship them to a repair house. If the clock and timer work, that's a bonus.

Are any parts missing?  You can often get vintage and reproduction knobs from eBay and other places, but you may need to be patient.  It could take months to find the knobs that match your model. Are you willing to substitute generic/ universal knobs?  Are the racks, slow cooker pots and lids, elements, drip pans, and rings all in place?

Can the stove be leveled?  Few of us have level kitchens, so it's handy to be able to adjust our stoves.

Do you have help for the heavy lifting? Vintage stoves are heavy. Don't try to move one by yourself. Get help, bring a heavy duty dolly/ hand truck, straps, and packing blankets.

Does the stove have the qualities that you are looking for?  Are you looking for a beautiful statement piece? Do you want a built-in griddle? Six burners? A rotisserie? Double ovens? A combination electric/ wood burning stove? A separate broiler? A particular width or color? Lots of built-in storage? A viewing window in the oven door? A self-cleaning option (yes, some vintage ovens are self-cleaning!)? A slow cooker? Built-in lighting? You may not get every single thing you want, depending on how wide you cast your net, how patient you are, and how much money you want to spend, but try to find something that has the qualities that are most important to you. You want to bring home a stove you can love.

Good luck in your search!


  1. In the few months of dealing with everything related to my stove, I can say without hesitation, even though your focus leans more towards electric stoves, everything you've written about finding the right vintage stove is spot on, gas or electric.

    I bought my first gas stove (which turned out to be an O'Keefe & Merritt just a week or so before this post. (a local appliance parts store owner calls them "All grief and no merit" :). I live in an area where there are a lot of Victorian homes and vintage appliances, so I was fortunate to able to buy my stove from a neighbor who could no longer keep a 40" stove in their remodeled kitchen.

    I've been hip deep in cleaning and restoring my vintage stove ever since. It's been a blast learning about them, gas detection & leak management, gas fittings, vintage accessories and parts, thermostats, pilots, burners, etc. At this point, I've documented enough of the restoration on my website, one local vintage stove business owner said I should publish a book. But I'd rather spend the time playing with my stove. :)

    It seems my OKM and I were destined to meet. I've evolved to into the proud owner of a fine and essential appliance that was honestly built to last generations. I appreciate it's true value, what it represents and thrilled to bring it back to its former status. Imagine these 60-70 year old stoves are, today, still far better and more durable than nearly any residential appliance made today. And with a little maintenance, these vintage stoves could easily survive another 20-40 years.

    When I set out to acquire a gas stove, "vintage" wasn't even something I considered. I'd see for sale postings for brands like O'Keefe & Merritt, Wedgewood, Chambers, Holly, but I didn't know what those names meant. Getting a old/used stove just seemed like a way to save money.

    While it is a way to save money, getting a vintage stove will be like getting any high quality item - expensive up front, but loads of savings over time because the item lasts for so long.

    I've spent a lot more than the initial $300 (cost of the stove) on replacement parts, repair supplies, but it's a nice investment. Since this has been a DIY project, most of what needs to be done to my stove, I can do. This stove will last decades. If lucky, I can save enough to get a little re-chroming or re-enameling done down the road.

    One point you made re: Don't take the seller's word for it that the appliance works. This is SO important. Most folks I've talked to seem to be afraid of doing anything to their gas stove except turning it off and on. They don't maintain them and rarely have it done by a professional.

    By the time owners decide to sell, their stove's performance may seem to work to them, but in reality the performance may be half of what it should be. They may have never lifted up the hood to clean or adjust settings. A burner may take 3-4 minutes to light; the flame may be a trickle of what it should be, the oven hadn't been used in several years. Worse of all, a gas stove may be leaking a lot of raw gas. But to the owner, that's normal for their stove and they've gotten used to the smell.

    So I think not only should a potential buyer not take the seller's word that it works, the buyer should learn what to look for, what to check. A gas stove buyer should know how to use and bring a gas leak detector, whether buying from an individual or a business . I don't know what the performance standards for vintage electric stoves, but if there are any, it would be important to know.


    1. Desiree, it's sounds like you've found an awesome stove! Thank you so much for sharing your experience and for the great tips on what to look for in a gas appliance. Great advice!


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