Questions about vintage stoves

amaranthaAugust 11, 2010


We are working on completing our kitchen project and I recently found a vintage stove. I love vintage, the price is right and we are told it works. My husband's concern is about the pilot light and gas being "on" all the time. It's not just a safety concern but about the gas usage/waste. I grew up with a Tappan gas range so feel comfortable about using gas but I'm wondering if those of you who have vintage stoves or those that just know about them would care to comment on the pilots being on all the time. Did you install any shut-off valves that allow you to turn the gas on/off easily.

The stove I found is by Odin Range called a "Beautyrange". I don't recall ever hearing of them before but I think it is probably from the early 50's. I would love an O'Keefe & Merritt or a Chambers or even a Tappan "Deluxe" like we had growing up. Unfortunately I didn't find any that were in the budget.

Also, just read recently about an issue of asbestos possibly being used in old stoves. Anyone ever heard of that or had issues with it? We won't want to get involved with restoration or repair if that is an issue.

The other range I saw was a used Garland 6 burner. It definitely needs restoration - that one actually fits our kitchen better (more rustic)but needs more work. Anyone ever renovate an old Garland and care to share details? Was it worth it?

Thanks all for any information you can share.

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We have an old stove that does have a pilot running all of the time. It's not really a concern for us from a safety perspective; we have fire and carbon monoxide alarms and of course are attentive to any smells of gas, but it's never been an issue. It *is* irritating from a conservation perspective. It uses very little gas (our bill is extremely low when the heat's not on, even with all the cooking we do)---but it is always there. Some ranges can be retrofitted with electric pilots, but not ours (as far as I know). I look at it as a balance between lifecycle cost of a brand-new range versus getting more years out of the old one (same basic argument as with our 80% efficient furnace---a new one would be more efficient, but it still works out to be more green in the short term to keep it, given how little it's used with our warm winters; in a cold climate I'd replace it in a heartbeat, though).

On the asbestos front, from what little I know about it, the big issue is the insulation, which is often asbestos (because everything was back then!) You (or someone else) can replace this very easily and inexpensively, though, so I don't think that's a dealbreaker. (In our O'Keefe and Merrit, the insulation is just in sheets stuck in the doors and sides, and you just unscrew the door and replace them with modern sheets in the same place, cut to size.) Dunno if there's asbestos in the finishes and such on the stoves themselves---maybe!---but there, I assume it's the same rule as everything else asbestos- and lead-laden: if it's in good condition and not chipping or otherwise flaking off into the air, it's not an immediate hazard.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2010 at 4:11PM
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The heat generated can be a problem.

We live in Northern California, and on this lovely August evening the temperature in my home is about 64 degrees! Times like this, I love the heat the pilots (my stove has 4) generate in the kitchen.

But last summer we had some really hot days and I just had to turn off the gas to cut the heat. In theory, my stove has these safety valves that stop the flow of gas when the pilots are out. But I guess they don't work properly, b/c if I blow out the pilots, the kitchen will definitely smell like gas. So, we have to actually turn off the gas running to the stove.

That only happens about once a year. This summer is so cold, it probably won't happen at all. But if you live in a warm place, the heat could be a problem for you.



    Bookmark   August 11, 2010 at 10:56PM
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Circus Peanut

I think it depends on the climate. I'm in Maine and we haven't had any issues with the pilot lights (4 plus oven and grillevator). But it rarely gets hot enough here for that to be an issue, plus our kitchen has three doors and 4 windows, so it's well-aerated (!). We had all the safeties replaced, so haven't been too worried about wanton gas leakage.

I love the rangetop pilots for being able to rise bread/pizza dough and melt butter as I cook. :-)

But it's such a personal thing - one woman's slight inconvenience is another woman's absolute nightmare. Any way to test-drive the stove you're considering buying?

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 11:27AM
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I really would not think of the pilot lights as being an issue. If you want, you can turn off the surface pilots and light the burners with a match or grill lighter, etc. I did this for years with no issues. If your oven does not have a safety system (will shut off gas to oven burner if pilot light goes out) you should definitely retrofit one. I also found that the pilot lights on my stove do not seem to add any measurable amount to my gas bill.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 12:38PM
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So, a few quick thoughts on a tea break!

- I almost never use our griddle, but did last night. It's usually under a cover, and I did forget how warm it is. It's definitely warm to the touch. (Never thought of melting butter on it, circuspeanut! But I have long used and loved my little side cabinet for bread rising...) With the griddle cover, I don't feel the warmth at all.

- As far as I know, our stove has not had any retrofitting or restoration work done, and does have a safety on it that's in good shape. It's a 1955 model, I think, so may depend on the age of the stove. Our gas company did check everything for leaks when they came out to turn the gas on. (They had some special solution, but I imagine soapy water works equally well.)

- And I, too, live in a moderate climate, so extra heat is more often welcome than not. If you live someplace with such a thing as summer, it might not be so wonderful. (I remember summer nights as a kid when we cooked and ate outside because it was so hot that we couldn't bear to turn on anything heat-generating inside the house. My stove wouldn't have cut it there. We also didn't have a/c, though, which could change things too.)

I do know a bunch of people who've turned off the stove pilots and light those manually; it's very easy to do. The oven pilot would not be so easy to light manually on ours, though.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 1:03PM
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Sounds like I need to get my safety system checked out. I can't use my Grillevator until I get a vent hood, and I would really like to shut that pilot off.

Hey Peanut: could you do an experiment for me if you get a chance? Blow out the Grillevator pilot, and leave it out for 15-20 mins. Do you smell any gas at all?

My safeties must work to some extent, because if I blow out the pilot, I do have to push the red buttons in order to get the gas flowing again. Hmmmm. So maybe the problem isn't with the safety system, but some other place it leaks? I start to smell gas very soon after blowing out the Grillevator pilot. I'll have to go try the oven one.....

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 1:18PM
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Hi there, thank you so much for posting. I was hoping for some good input on it and this has made my day to read your replies.

artemis, glad to hear that your gas bill is not so high. I will look into the electric pilots - I never even thought of that. I agree about the cost of a new range versus buying something new. That's money we are saving right now. I forgot to mention this stove is free, another reason I think we should get it.

francy, we live in New England so hot long summers are not much of a concern. I guess it could make the A/C work a little harder though when it's needed (a point my husband would make)-this July has been hot but lately we haven't needed the A/C

circuspeanut, we have lots of windows too for ventilation. I guess we would look into replacing the safety valves. Growing up my mom would use the pilots to melt butter too and I would love to be able to rise some bread dough on it. Pizza dough even better - that would make my DH happy :)

joshct, I don't know if this stove has a safety system - I guess we would need some expert to tell us - will go on a search for that. Again I'm glad to hear you don't see much increase on your bill either.

So...we went to look at the stove today - well I thought we were going to pick it up but it didn't turn out that way. The stove is a beauty(to my eyes anyway!)- she hardly has a chip on her, hasn't been abused, the burners need some cleaning up. She has 2 ovens (my DH pointed out how a pizza box would not fit in it - I quickly said yes but my pizza pans will), 2 broilers and 6 burners. There are 3 flip up porcelain covers that are in good shape except one that has a sticky or cracked hinge. The one thing it doesn't have is a clean-out tray for the burners - you need to pull the burner covers off. It was an extra stove that they kept in the basement as a back-up (in black out days). The problem was we forgot how they used to make these and how much they w eigh and we did not bring enough people to help move this very heavy stove. So we left without my Beautyrange. I want it but DH does not - says it doesn't seem worth it.

After reading some of your replies, maybe I should try to find someone who works on these old stoves. We could have them check it out, put some safety features on it. Maybe they would even transport it for us as part of that work. Where to start - "old stove restoration"?

Kiddingly, I told DH it's either this one or the Garland that needs work. Anything is going to take some work.

Thanks again. Hopefully, I'll be able to post more about my "new" old stove.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 4:47PM
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Our Wedgewood Holly (ca. 1960) has a thermocouple shutoff for the oven but not for stovetop burners. The burners periodically get blown out and you can smell a bit of gas. You can easily relight the pilot with a match without any fuss. The oven, on the other hand, requires heating up the thermocouple so that gas will flow to the pilot light. Once the pilot light is burning, it keeps the thermocouple hot.

I think it is pretty normal not to have safety shutoffs to the stovetop. The emergency shutoff isn't to deal with the gas that flows to the pilot when the pilot blows out, it's to avoid pouring gas into the room when the range or oven is turned on and there is no pilot to light it, or there is a gas outage/restart when the oven is unattended.

I've got an O'Keefe and Merritt in the garage if you are in California (Bay Area) and interested. The oven thermocouple is broken, but I know of a guy who services these things. I'd have to talk to my husband about a price, but it isn't restored so it won't be in the ether.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2010 at 8:01PM
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Hi Amarantha,

I can help advise you on this if you email me. The problem you are having can be easily rectified to your specification so you feel safe.

Hope to hear from you.

Congratulations on being a new proud owner of a classic vintage stove.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2010 at 8:32PM
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Hey all--I realize this is a 2+-year-old post but thought I would try to barge in after the fact. I have two vintage stoves in my house. In the kitchen, I have an early 50s O'Keefe & Merrit with 4 (2+2) burners separated by a griddle, and then a grillevator on the left and a smallish oven on the right. The grillevator and the oven work off dedicated thermocouplings--I didn't replace the grillevator thermocoupling when it stopped lighting (no way in hell I was going to clean that beauty if my husband started grilling inside it) but have gone through a couple of thermocouplings for the oven in the 37+ years I have been using it. In my basement, I have a tiny kitchenette and there I have a 1950s-60s small, 4-burner, 1-oven Wedgewood. The Wedgewood oven has a pilot which has to be manually lit with a match or lighter before the oven flames will come on. The burners on top all feed off a single pilot. Lately, the Wedgewood oven (which has been used at least 2 times per year-- or slightly more often primarily during TG and Christmas holidays for 37 years) has started to go poof rather loudly and arbitrarily and then the pilot/oven flames go out. This behavior recently singed the eyelashes of my DIL during prep for a family wedding feast. After that, we aren't using it even though TG and Christmas loom. My primitive understanding of these wonderful vintage stoves is that the stoves with thermocouplings wont leak gas because you have to depress the red button to get the gas to flow. If the oven blows out the gas stops flowing. Here's one bit of advice--if you can't get the oven to light AND STAY LIT, you need to replace the thermocoupling. My old stove guy (sadly now retired) said you have to do that about every 10 years. However, I am not really sure why my Wedgewood is misbehaving. As far as I know, it doesn't have a thermocoupling. Does that mean that when it isn't lit, the stove is leaking gas? There has to be some kind of cut off because the problem isn't a smell of gas in the room, but rather it's the poof when the oven blows out capriciously.

Any words of wisdom? Thanks and Happy TG!

    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 12:01AM
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Help! I just purchased an Okeefe and Merrit stove - I think it is early 1950's but I cannot get anyone to install it. Everyone that has come out has told me they will not install it without the paperwork (and a UL listing)- and of course there is no paperwork. I live in NC. Does anyone have any suggestions?

    Bookmark   December 17, 2014 at 11:39AM
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You might want to post this in the appliance forum, too.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2014 at 11:52AM
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You might want to check with aircon vintage appliances and A/C in Raleigh-Durham. They'd be the closest specialist and parts supplier. There's also a place in Clayton, GA if that's closer to you, but they are very pricey.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2014 at 2:18PM
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