The Best Wood-Burning Stoves for Off-Grid Living

Top Rated Wood Stoves for Your Homestead

The Best Wood-Burning Stoves for Off-Grid Living

Picking the best wood burning stoves for your homestead is a personal affair. Factors including your budget, your intended use, and personal preferences will largely dictate what stove you choose. Before investing in a chunk of iron, here’s a preliminary dose of information to help you decide if wood heat is for you.

Pot Belly Stoves

Pot Belly stoves were popular in the late 1800s and were commonplace in train stations, stores, and cabins. Pot Belly stoves cast heat and give you a small flat area to cook on, which makes them useful. The downside of most pot belly stoves is their poor efficiency and drafty construction. An old Pot Belly makes for a nice functional touch in a hunting cabin, but I don’t recommend it for daily use.

Airtight Stoves

The best wood-burning stove for you may be an airtight stove. The Franklin stove, invented in 1741 by Benjamin Franklin, is credited as the official precursor to the airtight stove. Franklin never patented his design, and inventors of the world improved upon his idea. Eventually, the ideas of Franklin evolved into the airtight stove.

Like many older airtight stoves, this stove features a solid iron door.

Unlike the unbridled burn of a fireplace, an airtight stove allows you to influence the rate of combustion by limiting the amount of available oxygen within the stove. They also do an excellent job of extracting much of the heat, usually with the use of baffles. Additionally, many airtight stoves have flat areas for cooking and that classic windowless loading door appearance. If you’re buying a used stove locally, this is likely the type of stove you’ll find.

Re-Burn Stoves

If you’re in the market for a brand-new stove, your best wood-burning stoves will likely be a re-burn design. The recent EPA rules in the United States require wood stove manufacturers to produce stoves that conform to their new emission standards, and this design is their answer. Re-burn stoves feature tubes, baffle or plates that take unburnt emissions from the fire and either send them back into the coal bed or a high-heat combustion chamber. Re-burn stoves are not airtight, drawing in a secondary air flow which is preset by the factory. This secondary air flow supports the “re-burn” effect.

Many re-burn stoves offer space to cook, glass fronts and many people like the design because of the lively visual burn. They’re also very efficient and far sturdier than the other option for EPA compliant stoves.

To meet EPA standards, many re-burn stoves feature tubes like these in the fire chamber.

Catalytic Stoves

Catalytic stoves are the other answer to EPA compliance. Generally speaking, it’s far easier for a manufacturer to design a catalytic stove compared to the complicated systems involved in a re-burn stove. Most people couldn’t tell the difference between a catalytic and a re-burn stove from afar, but the catalytic stove requires more user intervention to operate properly. Additionally, catalytic stoves are not the most popular because of the expensive, fragile and temperamental catalyst system. You need to be careful what you burn, because some materials will destroy the catalyst material, and rough handling of wood may cause it to shatter. With the high cost of replacement catalysts, it’s no wonder why people are avoiding this design.

Cook Stove

If you have your heart set on a wood-fired cook stove, be prepared for two big downfalls. One is the high rate of fuel consumption and the other being the sticker price. Few manufacturers are still building wood-fired cook stoves, including some Italian producers and very few American makers. Regardless of manufacturer, expect a price range of $2,000 to astronomical. Before committing to the high purchase price, look locally for a used stove. You may find a beautiful piece of history worthy of a little reconditioning.

Drum Stoves

For those of us who are cost-conscious, a homemade wood stove may be our best bet. The 55-gallon drum design has sparked the imagination of many farmers, and you’re a click away from many YouTube videos featuring DIY drum stove conversions. You can buy kits complete with legs, doors and other hardware you’ll need to fabricate your stove.

Kit stoves may be cheap, but not exceptionally efficient. Most designs position the drum(s) horizontally, which won’t lend itself to cooking. Additionally, the thin steel drums don’t last forever, so expect to rebuild them eventually. Still, drum kit stoves are fun, cheap and effective. If you’re a do it yourself kind of person, then drum kit stoves just might be the best wood burning stoves for your barn, garage or shed.

Inserts are an attractive solution to many, but they’re not always the best option.

Fireplace Inserts

If you have a fireplace in your home, you probably understand how much heat it sucks out of your home. Many people think fireplace inserts are their best solution, but their design is inherently inefficient. Stuffing these inserts into your fireplace blocks loses a lot of radiant heat as well as air circulation that could otherwise extract your precious heat.

If you have your heart set on using a fireplace insert, be certain that they are installed correctly and serviced professionally. I also urge you to install a full liner in your chimney when installing an insert stove, even if local codes only require a simple stub liner.

Wood-Burning Stoves

The Best Wood Burning Stoves

Cost Efficiency Cooking Availability
Potbelly $ Poor Ok Used
Airtight $ Good Good Used
Re-burn $$$ Great Good New
Catalytic $$$ Great Good New
Cook $$$$ Poor Great Both
Barrel $ Good No DIY
Insert $$ Marginal No Both

This article isn’t an exhaustive list of options, but it does offer a few popular options. I’m sure you’ve noticed the absence of outdoor wood boilers, masonry stove plans or a wood stove hot water heater. I consider them different animals altogether. Whatever design you decide to be the best wood-burning stove for you, be certain to consult a professional and your local building regulations.

What’s your favorite method of heating with wood? Join the conversation in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “The Best Wood-Burning Stoves for Off-Grid Living”
  1. I have had a catylist stove, Blaze King, for years and can’t say enough good about it ! It doesn’t matter what species of wood burnt the only thing is the wood must be dry and seasoned. If used properly this stove is the most efficient I know of. My wood consumption is half of any stove I have had in the past and the pollutants are so low for most of the burn time there is no smoke. When it comes to cleaning the chimney the debris is powdery and the quantity is very low, even the smoke pipe is fairly clean. The burn time per load is so long it never goes out once lit for the season. Yes it is expensive but I have used it for eighteen years and haven’t had to replace the catylist. This stove is also plumbed so outside air can be used to operate minimizing the worry of using all the oxygen. My money is on the Blaze King !

  2. Ken,
    Thank you very much for your considered, concise, eloquently comprehensive comment regarding your Catalyst Stove. Having had your stove in use for eighteen years makes your remarks and observations invaluable, especially to absolute beginners, such as myself. May your stove bring you many more years of efficient, worry-free service.

  3. Have I heard that it is no longer legal in America to manufacture or sell (commercially) airtight wood or coal burning stoves and that many of the antique stoves are being destroyed? If that’s true, it’s a real shame bordering on tragedy. Bad enough not to be able to buy an airtight stove but to destroy the old antique stoves is idiotic. They are remembrances of our past and beautiful to look at.
    If anyone has any knowledge of this or knows or outlets for the antique and more modern airtight stoves, can you email me?

  4. I am looking for a wood stove that can be used for cooking and heating our cabin that is 1300 sqft. Do you have any suggestions. Thank you

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