Due to the popularity of the Rayburn post I thought I’d do a post on our cheap little Machine Mart barrel stove because it has been a trusty little companion over the years and a superb replacement for the original open fire, despite its cheap cost and low quality manufacture.
When we moved into our house (a semi-derelict) some ten years ago, the lounge had an awful 70’s style brick
monstrosity fire surround. We hated it and vowed to remove it as soon as possible. All the rooms in the house were very dark when we moved in, due to dark woodwork, horrible dark wallpaper and dark carpets. We decided to paint all the walls in light pastel colours, paint all the skirtings and doors in bright white and in the lounge we would remove the brick fire surround and instead plaster and paint the fireplace recess to brighten the place up.
This picture shows the lounge a few weeks after we moved in, we’d already ripped the wallpaper off the day we moved in, as it was so depressing.
Trying to plaster in the recess of the fireplace was a nightmare as it had been an open fire for 150 years and the bricks were thick with creosote and other grime. I used a specialist brick cleaner for just this purpose (sorry can’t remember the product name) but after about a dozen washes the bricks finally came up quite clean. I then drilled and screwed in some screws at intervals, to support the plaster on the less than perfect brick conditions. My plastering is rubbish to say the least, however despite having a stinking hot stove next to it for six years it has remained firmly in place, with just a myriad of fine surface cracking at the closest point to the stove. The paint however is another story and has flaked off quite a bit. Overall though, the plastered and painted recess with the stove is far nice than the original open fire and the room feels so much bigger.
Our lounge is very small at just 11 feet square and pretty soon we found that the heat from even this, the smallest stove in the Machine Mart range, was way too much to be safe near to the two sofas we’d squeezed in. We got rid of the two old sofas and replaced them with one large sofabed (so visitors had somewhere to sleep) and this sat on the opposite wall to the fireplace. This made the room feel twice as big. :-)
To fit the stove I needed to fit a closure plate to ensure a gas tight seal. I screwed some steel angle iron on the sides and back wall of the recess so that the tops were a few mm below the level of the concrete lintel. I could then slide the closure plate in and out from the front. I drilled a hole into the lintel to take a small screw to hold the plate firmly in place and sealed the plate in place with sealant designed for the purpose. I bought the closure plate from B&Q and it cost approx £5 (back in 2006)
Because the stove is only used for a couple of months a year and because we have mainly been burning anthracite or manufactured smokeless brickettes, the chimney remains pretty clean and we’ve found we only need to clean it once a year. Obviously if burning wood or coal you may need to clean it every few weeks. Thankfully anthracite doesn’t produce soot like coal does but instead produces a heavy ash that tends to fall back down onto the closure plate and is easily hoovered up by removing the flue pipe from the stove. The bricks in the chimney remain bright and clean even now some six years later.
Because this lounge chimney has a large dog leg in it, a sweeps brush doesn’t work so well, so I remove the closure plate every year and using a Machine Mart ash can, a Henry hoover and some hose extensions, I thoroughly hoover the chimney clear of all ash. This works well and gets far more ash and soot out of the dog leg than a brush would ever do. To remove the closure plate I use a sharp knife to break the sealant and undo one screw and slide it out, it only takes a few minutes. Then I can have excellent access up the chimney. After cleaning I simply re-seal the plate and the flue pipe.
The stove itself was bought from Machine Mart in Grimsby. In 2006 it cost just £109.99. At the time we simply could not afford a quality stove such as a Coalbrookdale which would have been my preferred choice. In addition to the stove I bought a flue adaptor to allow a 5″ flue pipe to be used and I bought a 1m length of flue pipe.
The total cost of the stove, the flue adaptor, flue pipe and closure plate came to approx. £150 which I thought was excellent value.
When I got the stove home I realised that the quality was not great. The barrel stove design at the time we bought it (now changed on the latest version), had a sliding slotted plate as the air control valve. It was so loose in its fittings that even when in the ‘closed’ position it let far too much air into the stove to controlling a fire was difficult. This was easily remedied with a grinder and I fettled the assembly so that the sliding plate formed a much tighter fit to the ash pit door.
Then I found that the door catch for the ash pit door kept working loose and prevented the door from remaining closed. This was partially fixed by fitting a washer beneath the nut and it has worked fine for the last six years like that.
The fire box door handle is another item that has changed on the latest version of this stove compared to ours. On ours, the main door handle is solid metal which obviously gets stinking hot in use so can only be opened using the wooden handle provided. To be honest this has never really been an issue for us but I notice that the latest version of this stove uses a wire basket handle which negates the need to use the separate wooden handle. The latest version also looks a bit posher than ours too.
Here is our door handle arrangement:
One of the reasons we chose the barrel stove instead of the other Machine Mart stoves was because it has a very low overall height, just 18.5″ from hearth to hotplate. As the lintel on our fireplace was a quite low 28″, this still allowed enough room to fit pans on the hotplate. This was important to us because the Rayburn is left to go out at the start of summer and is not relit until autumn as otherwise the house is too warm in summer.
If the weather is reasonable we do all of our cooking in summer months on a gas range cooker in the garden. Sounds extreme but we’ve lived like this for over a decade now and don’t find it quite as bad as people would imagine. It is amazing what my wife and I can cook on a BBQ! The only time it is a problem is in high winds or torrential rain so in those cases we want to cook inside but not have to light the rayburn which takes a long time to get to temperature and is inefficient for the first few hours.
We don’t have space in our kitchen for an electric or gas cooker and we don’t own, or want to own, a microwave either. So the little barrel stove gets used for cooking in bad weather. It is quick to light and gets the hotplate to cooking temperature very quickly. It obviously also provides heat to the house on those cooler summer days.
Whereas the stove body is made from 1/4″ thick cast iron, the removable hot plate is very thin and transmits heat very easily into a pan.
I’m not sure why you need the removable plate as we’ve always loaded the stove through the firebox door but I guess you could pour fuel in via this if you wanted too. I would not wish to as it may damage the seal for the hotplate and potentially allow fumes into the room. When not in use we put the little iron (as seen in the pictures) onto the hotplate to hold it firmly down to ensure it is tightly sealed.
We’ve cooked many meals on this stove and as can be seen from the following picture, the stove top has room for a couple of large pans. These are Tesco finest copper bottomed 3ltr and 2ltr capacity which work really well on both this stove and the Rayburn. We’d love to get some ‘le creuset’ pans but they cost so much. These Tesco pans have been great and are now six years old and still as good as new.
In fact by placing a large covered stock pot or pan on the hearth next to the stove when running at full pelt you can slow cook or simmer even more pans!
I should also mention that within a few months of running the stove at full temperature the factory black paint completely burnt off leaving the stove looking less than attractive. Clearly really poor quality, non heat resistant paint. I bought a can of very high temperature black stove paint from a nearby fireplace centre and carried the stove out into the garden one summer and gave it a couple of coats of paint. That VHT paint lasted really well and has only recently started to fade so will need respraying this summer.
Also the fire cement used by the factory to seal the various bolted together elements of the stove body and top had by this winter failed. I don’t see this as a problem. To last this many years running very high temperature fuels I think is a perfectly acceptable life for it. This winter I scraped out the damaged fire cement and replaced it. I also used a very high temperature sealant on the outside of the stove to cover all the joints. It looks ugly at the moment but it is overpaintable and I will be respraying the stove when the warm weather arrives. (if it arrives!)
This is the high temp sealant I used for the exterior joints on the stove, the flue pipe connections and the seal to closure plate.
This was actually the sealant used by Harworth heating when installing our new Rayburn. It goes on like normal sealant but expands when heated to form a gas tight seal.
WARNING: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE THE STOVE IMMEDITAELY AFTER PUTTING THE SEALANT ANYWHERE NEAR IT!!!! YOU NEED TO ALLOW A FEW DAYS FOR IT TO CURE.
If like me you stupidly light the stove before the sealant has fully cured it will emit loads of smoke and fill the house with horrible fumes!!
It is also worth pointing out, that with very cheap stoves like this, to initially run them at a very low temperature for a few hours to ‘dry’ everything. It is also a safety measure as cheap castings can often contain air pockets that when heated up will crack open the casting. Better to find this out on a small cooler fire than when the stove is packed full of coal. To be fair though, our little stove has run at very high temperatures using coal, anthracite, brickettes and logs for months at a time and is still in good condition.
The heat output is staggering for such a small stove. After the initial teething troubles, and the fettling I had to do myself to make it safe and controllable, it has worked beautifully. Banked up with about 8-10Kg of Anthracite or manufactured brickettes it will heat the lounge upto about 30c and radiate heat through all the open downstairs doors, allowing the whole of the downstairs to benefit from the heat and generally takes other rooms upto 20c+ when outdoors is freezing.
With anthracite or manufactured brickettes such as the ecoal50 we keep the firebox door shut as you get a much more efficient burn and use far less fuel. The stove still radiates a huge amount of heat through its body. We only ever run with the door open for some cheaper fuels that are intended for open fire (very rarely) or when we want to have the romantic sight of real flames flickering, as in the picture at the top of this post.
Effectively this one little stove will heat the whole downstairs of our house in milder conditions (when the Rayburn is not running) or it will, in conjunction with the Rayburn, make the house toasty and warm throughout in even seriously sub zero temperatures.
The biggest problems are the lack of firebrick lining and the awful grate that comes with it. Our first grate lasted about two years before melting. It is not a suitable grade of steel to cope with the very high temperatures of running anthracite or coal for extended periods. However replacement grates are available from Machine Marts parts department and are quite cheap. The lack of firebrick lining means it is more difficult to keep the stove in all night as the stove will continue to radiate heat out through its entire body all night. Mind you, we have found that when running on the homefire Ecoal50 brickettes that it ran much better than the anthracite or coal, producing very little ash and managed to stay in all night.
In summary, for the price we paid for it, it has been excellent value.
It was not perfect and did need some fettling to make efficient and controllable but for the price it has proven far, far superior to running an open fire, far less mess or dust and much greater heat output over a longer period from the same amount of fuel as running an open fire. Quite frankly I would not dream of running an open fire again and would always choose a stove like this. It also goes to show that you don’t need to spend a fortune on a luxury stove if you are prepared to do some fettling yourself and do a little bit more maintenance.
The barrel stove is still being sold by Machine Mart but the design has been revised in several areas as can be seen in this link and the price is now nearly double what we paid for it nearly seven years ago.
You may also find that you have to have this installed by a professional as the laws may have changed since we fitted ours. I don’t know for sure but I certainly suspect this after the hassle we had when we came to replace our old Rayburn with a new one a couple of years back. To get the HETAS certifcate meant having chimney liners fitted, air vents through the walls etc, etc. It is certainly worth checking out the legislation before buying any stove.
Just thought I’d urge people to fit smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. These are critical items when running solid fuel stoves. We ourselves have trained our children that as soon as they hear the carbon monoxide detector go off they should get out into the garden fast. This has proved invaluable in recent months when for the 1st time ever the carbon monoxide detectors both went off at the same time and showed medium levels of CO in house. Investigation of this led to me discovering the failed seals on the barrel stove. Had we not had the detectors I dread to think what would have happened.
We have a set of CO and smoke detector mounted above the lounge door, in the kitchen which means they cover both the Rayburn and the barrel stove. We also have a portable CO detector in the lounge as a 2nd safety measure.
And yes I know the wall needs painting! :-) It is due for painting this year, was last done some seven years ago and in a solid fuel powered house things get grimy pretty quick.