Tag Archive for non-electric

Oil Lamp Basics

As far as oil lamps go there are basically 3 or 4 different kinds:

  • Floating Wick Lamps
  • Mantle Lamps
  • Flat or Round Wick Lamps
  • Pressurized Lamps

For power outages it’s a good idea to own at least one oil lamp. Your personal family needs and economic considerations should influence the type of lamp that is best for your situation.

Floating Wick Lamps

Floating wick lamps are really just for decorative lighting and emergencies. The light is faint and soft.
For the most part they are safe to use and are based on a design that has been in use for well over 6,000 years.

Floating Wick Oil Lamp

A Floating Wick Lamp

The way that they work, is that a piece of cork, bent metal or other material is fitted with a small wick. The whole rig floats or sets on top of a layer of oil and water. Some people will just use oil in the lamp without the water. Olive oil works best – corn oil is almost useless.

Primative Oil Lamp

Copper Clip-On Wick In Oil & Water

The advantage of using oil and water is that if the lamp should accidentally over turn the water will extinguish the flame.

Floating wick lamps are very similar in principle to early American Betty Lamps.
Betty lamps burn animal fat, grease or oil with a simple cloth wick without the floating cork or water. Betty lamps can be difficult to light when the room temperature is below 45°F . They were usually made of wrought iron or ceramic so the container could be heated from underneath to melt the grease so it would burn.

Mantle Lamps

Aladdin Lamps are perhaps the best known mantle lamps.
In my opinion they are the most effective type of oil lamp for general everyday household non-electric lighting needs. You can easily read and work by them without eye strain. A properly lit Aladdin lamp produces the light equivalence of about a 25 -40 watt electric light bulb. However they are expensive.

Aladdin Oil Lamp

Aladdin Table Lamp

Aladdin lamp light is harsh and has a distinctive blue cast to it. They make a very faint humming sound when in operation.

The way that a mantle lamp works is by the combustion of volatile gases moving across the knitted webbed mantle via a round tube-shaped wick and flame spreader. I use only Aladdin Lamp Oil and K-1 Kerosene in my Aladdin  lamps. Liquid paraffin and dyed kerosene should never be used in a mantle lamp like an Aladdin.

Oil Lamp Mantle

Lamp Mantle

Mantle lamps are  safe. But as with all open flame lighting common sense and caution must be used. The top 18″- 24″ area around the chimney of an Aladdin lamp gets extremely hot and stays hot for a long time after the lamp is extinguished.
In fact the entire gallery assembly of an Aladdin lamp gets super hot. So be careful!

Like all mantle lamps, the flame of an Aladdin lamp will tend to creep higher if it is turned up too high and too fast. When the lamp is turned up too fast it can cause sooting and black spots on the mantle.

Black Spots On A Lamp Mantle

Carbon Spots On A Lamp Mantle

But sooting is an easy fix. Just allow the lamp to cool and relight it again and allow the soot to burn off.

An over-fired mantle lamp can be dangerous and lead to a “runaway” lamp. A runaway lamp is a lamp that burns uncontrollably. The best way to deal with a runaway lamp is to turn down the wick and place an empty tin can over the chimney. The can will starve the fire of air.

Tin Can Can Be Used For A Runaway Lamp

An Empty Tin Can Is Used To Extinguish A “Runaway” Lamp

Aladdin lamps need close supervision if used around children or people who don’t understand how they work.

A Lit Aladdin Mantle

An Aladdin Lamp Without Shade. The Mantle Is Being Warmed Up Before Being Turned Up To Full Light

Most Aladdin lamps benefit from a shade. A shade moderates the bright light and will direct the light downwards towards a work or reading area. Glass shades have the advantage that they are easily washed. The downside is that they are expensive and can be broken.

Non-Electric Task Lighting In KItchen

Glass Shade On Aladdin Lamp. The Shade Directs The Light Downwards Towards The Work Area

Cloth or parchment shades are affordable alternative. They are not as heavy as glass and can be easily covered with any fabric.

Fabric Covered Aladdin Oil Lamp Shade

Fabric Covered Aladdin Shade


Flat Wick or Round Wick Lamps

These are the type of oil lamps that most people are familiar with. The light is soft, quiet and soothing.

Flat Wick Oil Lamps

Flat Wick Oil Lamps

The way that a flat wick lamp works is similar to a floating wick lamp. The difference is that the wick is much larger and stationary; and is threaded through a brass or nickel burner.The flat wick burner is fitted with little “teeth” or gears that allow the wick to be turned up by a round knob.

Brass Burner From A An Oil Lamp

A Flat Wick Threaded Into A Brass Burner

The lamp fuel is drawn up through the cloth wick by capillary action and is burned off. The higher the wick is turned up – the higher the flame. Wick height determines the amount of light.

One problem with a flat wick lamp, is that the wick can be turned up just so far, before the lamp smokes and the flame possibly breaks the chimney. A flat wick lamp has the lighting equivalency of a small electric nightlight. Maybe a little less.

All flat wick lamps benefit from having their wicks occasionally trimmed of carbon deposits and cleaned.

Flat Wick Oil Lamp With Decorative Glass Chimney

Flat Wick Oil Lamp With Decorative Glass Chimney

A lot of people will use ordinary kerosene for fuel in their flat wick lamps without any problem. But kerosene can give some people a headache. Ultra Pure Liquid Paraffin, K-1 Kerosene and Aladdin Lamp Oil  are a better choice for sensitive people. Those fuels will burn cleaner and without too much odor. However sometimes there is a noticeable odor after the lamp is blown out.

Round wick lamps do seem to give a bit more light than flat wick lamps and can be turned up higher without sooting and smoking.

Round wick Oil Lamp

A Miniature Round Wick Lamp

Flat wick or round wick lamps are easy to use, but don’t give enough light to read by. And just so you know, there is a type of lamp called a double wick lamp.
It works just like a single wick except there are two wicks attached to the burner. In theory a double wick lamp gives off twice the light.

Pressurized Lamps

I have limited experience with pressurized lamps. They are popular with the local Amish here in Western Pennsylvania. Petromax, Coleman and BriteLyt are the two brands I’m familiar with.

Like Aladdin lamps pressurized lanterns are expensive to buy. But they are cost-effective to run; safe and very dependable. But there is a learning curve.

Unlike Aladdin lamps, pressurized lanterns must be used with adequate ventilation. Pressurized lamps use a gas generator and gas mantle. They have to be pumped by hand to create the interior pressure and can be a little tricky to operate. Some people find the hissing noise that they make disagreeable, but some people find it soothing. The light is very bright and harsh.


Keep Lemons Fresh In A Crock

For long-term storage, fresh lemons keep best in a tightly sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator.
But if you don’t have a refrigerator or space in the fridge is limited, there is a time-tested low tech way to store fresh lemons.

Fresh Lemons In A Crock Of COld Water

Lemons Can Be Stored In A Crock Of Cold Water

Fresh lemons will store very well for about 6 to 8 weeks by being completely submerged in a ceramic crock of cold water.
Simply place lemons in a clean ceramic crock and cover them entirely with very cold water.

Set a small plate or water filled plastic bag on top of the lemons to keep them submerged and prevent them from floating. Allow the water to cover the plate. If you use a water filled plastic bag, add more water to weight the bag down if necessary to keep the lemons down in the cold water.

Lemons Under A Plate In A Crock

Lemons Held Under Water By Plate Stay Fresh For Weeks

Store the crock in a cool location like an unheated basement or root cellar. Change the water every week or so and you’ll have a supply of  juicy lemons whenever you want them.


I’m no fan of the grocery store. So I keep two freezers and a well stocked pantry.
One freezer is mostly for meat and the other is for fruits, vegetables, bread and other assorted foods. Throughout the year both freezers are in a constant state of flux. As one is emptied the other is filled again. I try to have both freezers low on food at the beginning of June to coincide with the summer garden. But sometimes that isn’t always possible. Especially if a cow,a  pig or a couple of lambs have recently been butchered and put into the freezers.By November 1st I like to have both freezers and pantries well stocked for the coming winter and following spring. That’s the time when food is scarce.

Meat Freezer

Upright Freezer With Meat

It may sound strange to you, but if I had to choose between owning a freezer or a refrigerator, I’d give up my refrigerator before I’d get rid of one of my freezers.

To my way of thinking a freezer is a much more practical electric appliance than a refrigerator. I can live very well without a refrigerator, but not without a freezer.
Here’s why.
Most foods are best when consumed fresh.
In fact a pretty effective argument can be made for always eating as fresh as possible and to avoid overly processed foods with a long shelf life.
Many foods can be kept at room temperature for a few days to a week before any sign of spoilage begins.
Fresh eggs can sit out on a counter top and have a very long shelf life. Hard cheeses and breads do well as long as they are wrapped tight.
Potatoes, onions, squash, apples, oranges, celery, cabbage and many other common foods really never need refrigeration.
Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and soft cheese should be kept cool. Beer, fruit juice and soda pop are best served cold.
Happily those foods can be stored in a large cooler.
Meats and other foods from a freezer can be easily defrosted and consumed as needed.

Upright Freezer

Upright Freezer In October

The way that the Old Order Amish here in my corner of Pennsylvania keep their dairy foods cold is with ice. They use a cooler or an old refrigerator that doesn’t run.
The Amish who use a broken refrigerator will buy bagged ice in town. That ice is then put into a large plastic dish pan or tub on the top shelf of the refrigerator and the food is placed on the lower shelves.
Depending upon the time of the year and how often the refrigerator door is opened, the ice is usually replaced every few days to once a week. During very hot weather the ice has to be replaced much more often.
Of course during the winter food can be kept in a cold pantry, in a cold attic, on a cold porch or in a cold box that is fitted to a window.

Chest Freezer

Removing Tomatoes & Butter From A Chest Freezer

When you have a freezer you can make the ice necessary to keep things cold. With ice you can keep your perishable food in a cooler or in an ice box.
I’m a food storage fanatic.
And I always store at least one year’s worth of food and supplies.
Long-term food storage is best accomplished by stockpiling foods by at least two different methods. Canning and freezing are the two methods I most often employed.

A large freezer (or two in my case) allows for the long-term storage of food and preserves the taste and texture of many foods much better than canning. Some foods like broccoli, cabbage or egg-plant should only be frozen and never canned.


Garden Fresh Broccoli Ready For Freezing

A large freezer can be easily maintained during an electrical power outage with a generator and some common sense.
If for some reason a power outage should last weeks instead of days, most foods in my freezer can be canned in an orderly manner.
The foods that can only be frozen (like egg-plant or broccoli) will have to be eaten promptly or fed to pigs or chickens.
But that’s not a real problem in the big scheme of things.
Give me the choice between a freezer or a refrigerator – and I’ll pick the freezer every time.
If you ask me, a refrigerator is an expensive and overrated modern convenience that most people think of as a necessity. There are much cheaper ways to store milk, ketchup, onions, lunch meat and beer.


Cleaning Out A Freezer

Non-Electric Drip Coffee Maker

I have hard water on my farm. Hard water has killed every electric drip coffee maker that I’ve ever owned. So years ago I gave up on electric coffee makers and switched to either range top perked coffee or the Melitta pour over system for coffee. Both methods make good coffee but both methods have drawbacks for my particular household.

Non-Electric Drip Coffee

Non-Electric Drip Coffee Maker On Cook Stove

Stove top perked coffee is wonderful but takes too long on most mornings. The Melitta system uses expensive paper filters and I’m not wild about buying disposable anything.
So a few years ago I bought a Lindys stainless steel drip coffee maker. The coffee maker consists of a two piece basket and lid and bottom.

Non-Electric Drip Coffee Marker

Lindys Non-Electric Drip Coffee Pot

Here’s how to make a really good cup of coffee with one:
Set a kettle of water on to boil. Place the basket on top of the pot. Measure ground coffee into the basket well and then place the basket top over the coffee. I use 1 tablespoon of regular ground grocery store coffee to 1 cup of water.
After the water begins to boil remove it from the heat and permit the water to just cease boiling. Quickly pour the water over top of the basket assembly and allow the hot water to drip through.

Coffee Driping

Coffee Dripping Through Basket Into Pot

After the coffee has finished dripping, remove the entire basket assembly from the pot and set aside.
I usually set the basket in the sink because sometimes it will still drip a little coffee.
Put the lid back on the pot and the coffee pot can now be set on the stove to keep it warm.

The manufacture suggests the use of paper coffee filters but I have found that with paper coffee filters much more coffee needs to be used. Without the paper filters sometimes grounds will get into the bottom of the coffee pot but it’s not too bad. I’d rather put up with some grounds than have to keep buying paper filters and extra coffee.
The non-electric stainless steel coffee pots are expensive. But they pay for themselves over time. We have used our coffee pot every day for well over 3 or 4 years without a problem.

Treadle Sewing Machine Advice

You love to sew.
Or perhaps you are looking for a sensible off grid sewing machine and think you’d like to buy a treadle sewing machine but don’t know where to start or what to look for?

Sewing Corner

A Sewing Corner With A Treadle Sewing Machine

Maybe you are worried that all treadle sewing machines are expensive antiques and you can’t afford one?
Or you’re concerned that you’ll have to do without a zigzag stitch or machine made button holes if you use one? Or maybe you don’t know how to sew but would like to learn?
Well grab a spool of thread and get ready to sew – because I’m about to give you some practical and very basic advice on one of my favorite off-grid topics – treadle sewing machines!

A treadle sewing machine is simply a sewing machine that is powered by what you ate for breakfast instead of electricity.

 With No Electricity

Working By Natural Light & With No Electricity

All Sewing Machines Have  Main Elements In Common
Sewing machines – electric or treadle – consist of a “head” and some type of mechanism that drives the head.
The machine head is the part of the sewing machine that actually does the sewing. A sewing machine head consists of precisely machined and tooled fitted rods, screws, wheels, springs, disks, gears and other parts. Some of those parts are hidden and encased within the head and some parts are visible on the outside of the sewing head.
Keep this information about sewing machine heads in mind because you’ll need it later.

The mechanism which drives a sewing machine head can either be electric or non-electric as in a treadle or hand cranked sewing machine.
An electric sewing machine usually has a machine head with an attached light and the sewing machine may or may not be computerized, and is driven by an electric motor.
Treadle sewing machines also have two main elements to them; the sewing machine head and the treadle base. The treadle base is the table or cabinet that the sewing machine sits in.

Machine Head Out Of Its Cabinet

Singer Model 66 Out Of Cabinet

Treadle sewing machines are powered by a drive belt that is most often made of leather and connected to a treadle assembly.

Singer Treadle

A Singer Treadle Assembly

The belt sits in a groove on the hand/balance wheel of the sewing machine head and is fitted down through the top of the table or cabinet base of the sewing machine in a continuous loop.

Drive Band Goes To Treadle

Drive Band Goes From The Balance Wheel To The Treadle Assembly

The leather drive band loop usually encircles a large metal grooved wheel under the base of the sewing machine that is attached by way of a pitman rod to a foot treadle.

Pitman Rod

The Pitman Rod On Minnesota Model “A”

When the foot treadle is worked, the attached pitman rod turns the large grooved assembly wheel which begins to move the leather drive belt caught in the sewing machine’s hand wheel and the parts of the sewing machine head begin to move.
The result is that if the sewing machine head has a needle and the head is properly threaded, when fabric is placed under the foot of the machine – sewing commences.
A hand cranked sewing machine is also a “people powered” sewing machine. Instead of being belt driven it has a handle attached to the balance wheel. As you turn the handle on the balance/hand wheel the machine sews. Hand cranked sewing machines are a good choice for people who don’t sew often. They can be quite a bit slower to sew on as opposed to a regular treadle sewing machine. Hand cranked sewing machines are usually about ¾ the size of a standard sewing machine.

In spite of the modern electric and digital age, there are millions of treadle sewing machines still in use around the world.
Thousands of brand new and not so new treadle sewing machines are used every day in private homes and in 3rd world garment and textile factories.
The odds are pretty good that if you are over the age of 35 at some time in your life you have worn a factory ready-made garment that was sewn in part on a treadle sewing machine.

A treadle sewing machine in good working order is a joy to use. The physical act of treadling can be soothing and relaxing. Many people who love to sew or quilt prefer to use only a treadle sewing machine. Many who sew professionally will keep a treadle sewing machine as a backup to their electric sewing machine in the event of a power outage or a looming fitting deadline. Believe me the drama of a two day power blackout during a final wedding dress fitting with a nervous bride and her mother will take 10 years off your life.

The needle speed on a treadle sewing machine is usually slower than that of an electric machine. The slower machine speed can be a real advantage for the novice sewer because it is easier to watch their fingers and maintain control of the fabric and seam width. I think a treadle or hand cranked sewing machine is the very best way to teach a child or a beginner to sew.

Learning To Sew

A 10 Year Old Learning To Sew

Treadle sewing machines are built to last almost forever and are actually very simple devices and lend themselves to easy home repair, service and  maintenance.

New Treadle Sewing Machines
Modern treadle sewing machines are available new but they can be very expensive. Janome makes a fair to good modern treadle sewing machine that is supposedly popular with the Amish and other people who live without electricity. The Janome 712T treadle sewing machine uses a top-loading bobbin and has 10 utility stitches and a built-in buttonhole stitch.

The last I knew the Janome 712T is made in Taiwan and has a limited 25 year warranty. The advantage of a modern treadle sewing machine is that service repair, bobbins, needles and parts are readily available. The disadvantages of purchasing a modern treadle sewing machine are lack of quality and price when compared to an older machine. ***See below for extensive sewing machine rant***

Necessity (and frugality) is most often the Mother of Invention.
If you want a modern sewing machine complete with decorative stitches, many vintage sewing machines (and some modern) can be easily converted into a treadle or hand cranked sewing machine.
If you are handy with a screw driver, drill, hammer, wire cutters and a jig saw; and have a dose of creative vision and aren’t a stranger at the local hardware store, then converting the right electric sewing machine may be a low-cost way for you to get a treadle sewing machine or hand cranked sewing machine.
Thousands of older treadle sewing machines were converted from treadle to electric. To reverse the process is not complicated.

Electric Motor Attached To A Sewing Machine

An Electric Motor Attached To A Minnesota “A”

Many good sewing machines made during the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and early 1960’s have heavy grooved balance wheels that are exterior belt driven. All that is necessary to do the conversion is to simply remove the electric motor and set the sewing machine into a treadle table or base.
A sturdy treadle table can be fashioned from an old treadle base and with a new top.
Craig’s List, eBay, yard sales, auctions, thrift stores, Free Cycle and plain old-fashioned asking around, are all good ways to find low-cost or no cost sewing machines and treadle bases.

Sewing Machine At Auction

A Singer Model 66 At Auction

Very often a simple classified ad in the local newspaper (old people still read newspapers) will turn up a gem of a sewing machine. Many people have old treadle sewing machines sitting in their garages and basements and would like to have them gone.

Sewing Machines At Auction

Three Treadle Sewing Machines At Auction

Often the sewing machine belonged to a beloved family member that has passed away and the family would be happy for the machine to go to someone who would appreciate it.
Depending upon the condition, such sewing machines can usually be had for $0 – $90.
A word of warning: A treadle sewing machine with a base or a cabinet is heavier than a dead preacher so be sure you bring help to load it if you plan on taking it home.

If you don’t have enough room for a full size treadle sewing machine a hand cranked sewing machine may be a really good low-cost non-electric solution for your sewing needs.
The Pfaff sewing machine below is a good example of a high quality sewing machine from the 1950’s that can be easily converted into a hand cranked or possibly a treadle driven sewing machine.

Pfaff Sewing Machine

A Pfaff Sewing Machine For Bought At A Thrift Shop for $3.99

The sewing machine is precision Swiss made, has a solid steel head and is built like a tank. That sewing machine was made when I still had my baby teeth and will outlast me.
I paid $3.99 for it last year at my local Salvation Army Thrift store. For about $6-$12 I can convert it to hand cranked or treadle operation if I find a balance wheel to fit it.
*** See extensive sewing machine rant below***

If your heart is set on an older or antique treadle sewing machine but you don’t know where to find one or you’re afraid that you can’t possibly afford one – relax – be happy and don’t fret.
If you really want an older or antique treadle sewing machine you can probably find or assemble one to call your own. It is much easier and more affordable than you may imagine.
If you know how to read and follow directions; and can work in an orderly, methodical fashion; and if you aren’t in too a big hurry and don’t mind some really grubby, dirty work – a beautiful old Iron Lady can be yours.
It is impossible to do antique treadle sewing machines the justice they deserve in a blog post – even a long post like this one.

Among collectors and aficionados of antique treadle sewing machines there are lots of  different opinions. So don’t take what I’m about to tell you next as the only gospel. I would encourage you to follow the hyper links located in this post and visit The Treadle Lady and other websites for more information.

In general, there are 3 considerations when buying an older or antique treadle sewing machine. You must keep all of them in mind.

The 3 considerations are:

The Sewing Machine Head which includes:

  • Bobbin Type
  • Needle Type
  • Feet

Base or Cabinet & Treadle

Availability of Parts

The Sewing Machine Head

When looking at or considering the purchase an older or antique treadle sewing machine, the head of the sewing machine is the most important part and requires the most consideration.
You will need to determine the condition of the machine head and check to see if all parts of the head are present with a visual inventory.
If all parts aren’t present – what parts are missing?
When examining a sewing machine head carefully and slowly examine the head moving from the right to left and from top to bottom.
Does the balance/hand wheel turn or is it frozen?Does the needle move?
What is the condition of the bobbin winder?

Bobbin Winder

A Bobbin Winder on a “Household” Brand Sewing Machine

What is the shape of the base? Are the feed plate/or plates present?
What type of bobbin is used? What type of feet? What type of needle is used?Who is the manufacturer? Is there a model or serial number?

Serial Number

Singer Model 66 Treadle Sewing Machine – Born October 31,1922

Are the thread pins intact and tension disks, springs or plates present?
What is the condition of the steel, chrome, the decals and how much dirt, grime or rust is present?

Household Sewing Machine

A “Household” Brand Sewing Machine Head

Sadly nothing can really take the place of  life experience when it comes to buying antique treadle sewing machines.
But luckily, eBay is a great way to see lots of treadle sewing machine heads, cabinets and treadle assembly bases.
The “zoom” feature on eBay auction listings can give a treadle sewing machine newbie the opportunity to look up close at many different types of antique treadle sewing machine heads.
Just be forewarned about eBay – often the description from the seller is wacky and inaccurate. Complete and intact treadle sewing machine prices tend to be wonky and are often outrageously high.
That said, the eBay prices for sewing machine parts are good and antique sewing machine manuals are plentiful.
Very often there are real deals to be had on sewing machine heads – especially Singer, White, New Home and Domestic.  eBay is my favorite place to buy antique sewing machine parts.
A word of advice:  antique sewing machines are just like coins, guns and rare books. Condition is everything.
Just because something is old doesn’t make it particularly valuable. People who don’t understand or know anything about treadle sewing machines will tend to over price them.

Singer 15-88

A 1953 Singer 15-88

At present (2013) here in western Pennsylvania, the going auction price for a complete antique treadle sewing machine in good condition is about $45 – $120 depending upon cabinet condition and who’s at the auction.

Lastly, keep  bobbin type and parts availability in mind when looking for an older sewing machine. In general, bobbins are divided into 2 types – a shuttle with a bobbin and a modern round bobbin. Shuttles and the bobbins that fit into them come in different sizes and are not interchangeable.

Shuttle & Bobbin

A Shuttle & Bobbin With Thread

This is an important consideration when purchasing an old sewing machine. Round bobbins are a more modern system and they are much easier to find and not as expensive.

Round Bobbin

A Modern Round Bobbin

When buying an old treadle sewing machine it is wisest to look for a sewing machine that was mid-priced and popular for its time.

Singer sewing machines were made by the millions and are still relatively easy to find and affordable.
The Singer model 15-88 and Singer model 66 are both good choices when looking for treadle sewing machines.

The Singer 15-88 was the last sewing machine that Singer made for treadle use. Most were made in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s. The model 15-88 uses a modern needle, low shank feet and has a reverse.

Singer 15-88

A Singer 15-88 With Attachments

The feed dogs can be lowered and it’s a good machine for darning or free form stipple quilting. There is a buttonhole attachment, a zig zag attachment and a walking foot attachment for the Singer model 15-88, along with the standard hemming foot, ruffler and other specially feet. As of today, I would expect to pay between $75 -$170 for a head in very good condition.

The Singer model 66 was made from 1902 to about 1960. It is uses a round bobbin and a standard needle. Singer model 66’s made before the early 1920’s have feet and attachments that are non-standard. They have a back clamp instead of a side clamp and don’t have a reverse. The Singer model 66 often has attractive and distinctive decals and is nicknamed a “Red Eye.

Singer Red Eye

A Singer Model 66 Or Sometimes Called A “Red Eye”

As of today, I would expect to pay $40 -$90 for a Red Eye head in very good condition. In fact Craig’s List and eBay are positively polluted with them.

Often times it is easier and more affordable to assemble an antique sewing machine from parts.
Old sewing machine heads tend to outlast their cabinets and bases and it’s very common to find a sewing machine head in good working order with a cabinet that is beyond repair.
If you plan to assemble an antique treadle sewing machine from parts it’s a good idea to find the base or cabinet that you want first, then buy the sewing machine head.

Mid-price Singer Cabinet

Standard Mid-Priced Singer Treadle Cabinet From 1920’s

Singer is my first choice for this kind of “parts & pieces” assembly. Singer heads will almost always fit in Singer treadle cabinets (never seen one yet that didn’t -but measure first to be safe); but don’t assume that other sewing machine brands are sewing head to cabinet interchangeable.
That said, sometimes cabinets and machine heads will fool you – but it is still safest to stay with the same sewing machine brand. That means a Minnesota model “A” should be moved to a Minnesota treadle or cabinet- don’t take a chance with a White or Domestic cabinet. When you go shopping for a cabinet take the machine head with you so you can fit it on the spot.
A good quality cabinet is scarcer than a good sewing machine head.

And just so you know it is possible to construct a new top for an old treadle assembly. Read more about it here.
When you buy your treadle sewing machine don’t forget to hunt down an owner’s manual for the one you are buying. Many old manuals are free online and many are available for purchase as reprints or on CD’s for under $10.

Tools You’ll Need to Clean the Sewing Head
A camera
Lots of clean rags
Sewing machine or household oil
Flathead screw drivers – large & small
Needle nose pliers
Air in a can
Liquid Wrench
Extra fine steel wool
Tooth brush
Small paint brush
Tin can
Small plastic bags
Paper towels
Car wax

NEVER EVER! use any type of household cleaning product on a sewing machine head. It is risky and you may destroy the decals. Household oil is the only product ever used to clean the exterior of an antique sewing machine head. Household oil will remove rust, layers of grime and dirt.

Grime On A Sewing Machine Head

Typical Grime On A Sewing Head In Good To Fair Condition

When I bring home a “new” treadle sewing machine the first thing I do is to set up a neat and orderly work space.
Before I start to disassemble the sewing machine and while it is still in the cabinet I begin by taking pictures from all angles. I photograph everything about the machine – the hand/balance wheel, the bobbin winder, the needle position, the shuttle, the tension disks; every screw, loop or spring.
I next take pictures of the cabinet from every angle too – the under carriage, the skirt guard, the treadle, the pitman rod, all hinges, springs, the drawers and top.
By keeping an extensive picture diary I have a record of what the machine looked like before I started cleaning it, but more importantly a I have a reference for how the machine is supposed to look like when I’ve finished. More than a couple of times I’ve been left with an extra washer, spring or screw from a sewing machine restoration that I couldn’t figure out or remember where it was supposed to go.
A photographic record will save you lots of reassemble headaches.

Cleaning A Sewing Machine Head

Carefully Cleaning A Singer Model 66 Sewing Machine Head

To clean a treadle sewing machine head it must be removed from the cabinet or base.
As I remove the head I set the screws or bolts on a paper or cloth towel and sometimes letter or number the towel to keep track of  the disassemble order. I take a picture of the towel for reference.
After the head is removed from the base I will usually remove the front plate, bobbin cover (covers) and any other chrome or steel pieces or fittings from the head that have screws in them. Those pieces are put on to a different towel which is also numbered along with the screws and I photographed them too.

Sewing Machine Parts

Some Of The Parts From A “Household” Brand Sewing Machine

Next the tension disks are removed and placed on another numbered towel in the order which they came off – and you know what comes next-…I take another picture.
I continue in this manner around the entire head.

Household Machine Oil Is Your Best Friend – You Can’t Use Too Much
When the head is complexly stripped of all removable parts I begin cleaning the head in earnest. I rub machine oil over the entire surface in a circular motion with my fingers and wait awhile for the oil to break through the dirt and grime. After about 10 minutes the surface is wiped with a clean rag. I continue “massaging” oil into the surface and wiping until there is no grime – just oil on the cloth.

Removing Dirt With Oil

Apply Sewing Machine Oil To The Surface Of A Sewing Machine To Remove The Dirt

It is important to proceed gently as too much surface abrasion will remove the decals.

I clean all the fittings the same way – with household oil and rags, Q-Tips or a toothbrush. Sometimes if I’m feeling brave I will clean the brass or metal fittings with Formula 409 and a toothbrush.
When the exterior of the sewing head is as clean as I can get it I then proceed to clean and oil the entire interior.

Anything that moves (or is supposed to move) will get a coat of kerosene with a small brush.
I let the kerosene soak into the grime and then wipe with a clean rag. Sometimes I will blow out the dirt or dust with a judicious blast of canned air – but not too much.
For a really filthy sewing machine head I will put it into a covered plastic tote tub outdoors and pour 5 gallons of kerosene over it and let it soak for a few days.

Machine Head Ready To Be Cleaned

The Underside Of An Old Household Head Ready For Cleaning

The grime will sometimes just dissolve in the tub.
Often a couple of squirts of Liquid Wrench or any other brand of penetrating oil product will be needed if the sewing machine head action or balance wheel is stiff or frozen.
I clean the forked bars under the machine head with a brush and kerosene first, followed by oil, clean soft rags and fine steel wool.

Cleaning Grime

Cleaning Grime From Under The Head With Fine Steel Wool

After the last bit of grime or dirt is removed from the sewing machine head I will dry the head with a clean rag and apply 2 or 3 coats of a high quality car wax and buff it.

Using Car Wax On A Red Eye

A Singer Red Eye Is Protected With A Coat Of Car Wax

The sewing machine head is ready to reassemble after it has been completely cleaned, oiled and waxed. This is where the pictures and separate numbered towels come in handy. The parts are carefully reassembled in the order in which they came off. Once the head is reassembled I usually will oil it with a good grade synthetic oil.

If the treadle base is in very good condition often all that will be needed is a thorough cleaning with mineral spirits and a coat of paste wax.
But more often than not, the wood finish will be bleached, dark, dry, cracked, stained or peeling or a part of the cabinet will be in need of repair.

Repairing And Restoring A Tp

Cabinet Restoration

If the finish on the cabinet just looks dirty and not in need of complete removal, I will usually try to clean it with Murphy’s Oil Soap and water and lots of soft rags. I apply the soapy water with a soft cloth and then dry the wood with a clean rag. I repeat the process until the wood is clean.
When the wood is clean and dry I like to apply 2 coats of Milsek Oil or Old English Scratch Remover over the entire cabinet and allow the product to soak in. I remove the excess with a dry, lint free cloth.The metal treadle assembly can be cleaned with a bucket of hot water and diluted white vinegar. Be sure to dry the metal parts after they are cleaned.
If the cabinet finish is completely hopeless and beyond the powers of ordinary soap and rags, I usually will remove it. I have had good luck with fine steel wool and an acetone based furniture refinishing product like Formby’s. But I will use standard paint remover like Zip-Strip in a pinch.

Cabinet Is Refinished

Refinishing A Sewing Machine Cabinet

I refinish bases and cabinets by removing all hardware and working in small 6” X 6”sections using a pad of fine steel wool that has been soaked in Formby’s or paint remover.

After the old finish has been removed, I will go over the wood surface with rags and a small amount of mineral spirits before I finish and seal the wood. Sometimes I will apply 3 coats of Johnson’s paste wax, buffing between coats. Other times I mix paint thinner with polyurethane. I have also used Danish Oil with excellent results. The type of finish that is chosen depends upon personal taste and preference.

When the base is clean and presentable, the sewing machine head is finally ready to be reinstalled.
Hopefully by the time you are done cleaning the machine head and treadle base you took my advice and found an owner’s manual. The manual will give the proper threading sequence, bobbin winding procedure, needle placement and other important information.
All you’ll need to do next is to prepare yourself for a lifetime of sewing joy.
Good Luck!
Strong opinion below-read at your own risk

What the hell is wrong with people living in a country who will pay more for a Big Mac and fries than the used Swiss made sewing machine in the above post?

Not a month goes by that I don’t come upon a vintage used Swiss or German manufactured sewing machine for sale for under $30. That’s less than a six pack of beer, an order of cheese sticks & a large 5 topping pizza.

Swiss, German and some American Singer sewing machines made prior to 1960 or so, were for their time and still are, some of the finest household sewing machines ever manufactured in the world.

Less than 60 years ago it was not uncommon for a regular blue collar American family to spend 3 – 5 months of the family’s entire income on a household sewing machine. And that money was very well spent.
That’s because at one time in this country Americans actually produced some of their own clothing and household needs instead of sitting on their fat asses and watching television or screwing with their phones and tablets.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of Americans are happy to wear cheap underwear and ill-fitting clothing made by essentially slave labor in 3rd world sweat shops instead of sewing it themselves.

What really gets me cranked, is that so called “public education” (funded by a coercive shake down of property owners), believe they are doing children and society a favor by “teaching” correct & hygienic condom use or SAT test preparation to teenagers instead of basic sewing or cooking.
Yeah that’s right…like I’m so sure every young person in this country can’t wait to get laid or plans on wasting $35,000 for a useless college education.

The fact of the matter is that with sound and basic sewing skills, the $3.99 Pfaff pictured above, along with a pair of scissors, chalk, thread, a yardstick, tape measure, an iron & ironing board and some old-fashioned common sense, is the start of a lucrative home based business.
Think I’m kidding?

How many of you reading this have wanted new custom fitting slipcovers for your ratty looking furniture but couldn’t afford them or couldn’t find someone to make them?
Well guess what?
Slipcovers are easier to construct than a dress or a pair of pants and you’ll find a leprechaun faster than you’ll find someone to make a custom slipcover or lined drapes.
How many of you are a specialty size or have a clothing need that ready-to-wear cannot address? Lots of other people have the same needs too and would love to find someone to help them with their apparel requirements and concerns. That’s a business opportunity just waiting for you or your child.
Enola Gay’s Naturally Cozy is a perfect example of a successful home based sewing business meeting a need.
So the next time you order a Big Mac and fries or kick back with a pizza and a 6 pack, consider that you could have started your own business with a Swiss sewing machine or saved your son or daughter from the heartache of being “college educated” and unemployed.

Don’t Buy A New Sewing Machine

I have never bought a new sewing machine – electric or treadle and don’t recommend that you buy one either.
I know that new treadle sewing machines are being manufactured at present but don’t waste your money if you can help it.
Buy a good Singer model 15-88 or Singer model 66 if you want a treadle sewing machine.

If you are determined to buy a new treadle machine because you don’t want to deal with a restoration project please buy it from the Amazon link below and help me pay for this website.

Here’s a blanket statement that you can put in your pipe and smoke: Modern household sewing machines electric or non-electric are not as well made as older sewing machines made before 1965 or so.
This is especially true of current Singer and Janome sewing machines on the market.
Don’t ever pay more than $200 for a household sewing machine. Always buy a good used sewing machine.
The Singer model 201-K or a Singer 401-A are both excellent electric sewing machines and I recommend them.

Singer Model 401-A

Singer Model 401-A

Pfaff, Elna and Bernina have always made good sewing machines.
The older vintage Pfaffs, Elnas and Bernina machines from the 1950’s & 1960’s are superior in every way to the newer computerize bells and whistles sewing machines that cost an arm and a leg. Sure the old machines may not look as snazzy as the brand new computerized sewing machines. But believe me, a brand new sewing machine will not make you any more skilled and you’ll never be sorry that you didn’t spend an extra $2000.
End of story.

How To Preserve Meat With A Crock

There is a very old method used to preserve some types of meat and fish in a crock. The method is known as “potting” or “crocking”. It is a non-electric method of meat and fish preservation that was widely prevalent before the advent of home canning.
Potting or crocking meat and fish is a method that is no longer recommended by the USDA because of the potential for botulism food poisoning.
But in many areas of the world, especially France, it is a method that is still widely practiced.
In fact up until the Second World War, many American housewives and farm wives used the crocking or potting of meat for short-term food storage.

Crock For Storing Meat

A Stoneware Crock

After WWII the USDA made a concerted effort to educate American housewives and improve the safety of food preservation. It was at this point in time that the USDA began to strongly emphasized pressure canning as the only recommended safe method of preserving low acid foods. But old habits can die hard. And many American households refused to give up the old ways and continued on with food preservation the way they always had.

Potted or crocked meat is meat that usually has been fully cooked and is laid down in a sterile crock and then enveloped with lard, butter or some type of grease. The crock is then covered and is usually stored in a cool, dry location.
The science behind crocking or potting is that in theory, cooking destroys potentially harmful bacteria in the meat. The subsequent encasement of the meat by fat seals the meat from the air and no further spoilage can occur.
Potting is a method in theory that is very similar to home canning – that is heat destroys bacteria and a lack of air or vacuum leaves the food in a type of suspended animation.
The risk with the potting or crocking method, is that the fat or grease in the crock can insulate botulism spores that may not have been destroyed by cooking and protect them in the anaerobic environment of a grease laden crock.
This is the exact same type of risk with the home canning of bacon or butter that is now making the rounds on the internet.
But here’s where the talk about risk and the USDA guidelines get tricky; the actual risk verses the theoretical risk of home canning or potting bacon is unknown.
Without expensive laboratory testing and because of the wide range of individual kitchen practices and sanitation, it is impossible to know what exactly is going on in any particular crock or Mason jar. What I can tell you is that the word botulism derives from the Latin word “botulus” or sausage and botulism is a very old food safety issue and bad sausages and food poisoning have been around for a long time.
And while my crocks of sausage patties or bacon may be safe – my neighbors may be not safe. With that said, what follows below is to be used at your own risk.

In the example below I’ve used bacon. Sausage patties and sausage links can also be used. I have no personal experience with any other types of meat or fish.

Wash a ceramic crock with very hot soapy water. Then sterilize by pouring boiling water into the crock. Hold the hot water in the crock until just before filling with meat.

A Crock Is Sterlized

Sterilizing A Ceramic Crock Before Laying Down Meat

Cook the sausage patties, links or bacon completely. You want the internal temperature of the sausage or bacon to reach well above 250ºF. When the meat is cooked remove it from the heat source and allow the meat to sit in the grease.

Bacon In Grease

Bacon Sits In Hot Grease

Empty the water from the crock and wipe the crock dry with a clean towel.
Place hot grease in the bottom of the crock so that the bottom of the crock is covered. Next place a layer of cooked sausage patties, sausage links or bacon into the crock. Cover with hot grease.

Hot Bacon Grease

Pouring Hot Bacon Grease Over Cooked Bacon

Add another layer of meat and repeat adding hot grease. When the crock is full or you run out of meat, cover the meat with at least 2 to 3 inches of hot grease.

Bacon Under Grease

Bacon Lays At The Bottom Of A Stoneware Crock Covered In Grease

Cover the crock with a plate or a cloth. Store the crock in a cool, dry place.

Covered Crock In Cellar

Covered Crock Of Bacon In A Cool Cellar January 17, 2011

When you want to eat the sausage or bacon, remove the meat carefully with a fork.

Bacon Is Removed From Crock

Fishing The Bacon Out Of The Grease

Place the bacon or sausage in a frying pan and re-fry and heat thoroughly. You want the internal temperature of the meat to reach at least 250ºF again. With bacon this takes just about 3 or 4 minutes on a high heat. With sausage patties or links it takes about 6 or 7 minutes. It is vital that the meat be reheated to 250ºF to kill any potential botulinum toxin.
There is absolutely no taste difference in the sausage or bacon when storing by this method. The bacon in the photos was crocked on February 3, 2011 and  finished at breakfast on May 16, 2011.

4 Month Old Bacon

Close Up Of 4 Month Old Bacon

Crocked sausage patties and links are superior in flavor and taste to canned sausage patties or links.


One of the reasons that I’m no fan of canned bacon is because from my point of view, it is a big waste of time, stove fuel, Mason jars, lids, bands, paper and human effort.
Why go through all the trouble to fiddle with a pressure canner, paper, scissors, canning jars, lids and bands – not to mention the wood, gas,coal or electric power needed to fire the pressure canner – when you can have a product that takes lots less time – and is just as unsafe?

In fact a good argument could be made that crocking or potting bacon is actually safer and less risky than the popular internet method of canning paper wrapped bacon.
Here’s why:
The current popular internet method of canning bacon wraps the bacon in layers of rolled paper. It is a “copy cat” of expensive canned bacon manufactured by big industrial food.
Paper layered bacon is inserted into a quart size canning jar and processed at the standard canning pressure and processing time of 10 lbs. of pressure for 90 minutes at altitudes less than 1000 ft. sea level.
The problems I see with this method are at least twofold.
First because this method is food science laboratory untested, there is no way to know for certain that the core temperature of the jar has reached 240ºF for a long enough time to guarantee a 100% bacteria kill.

With the addition of layers of paper there is an added layer of insulation.The extra layers of rolled paper surrounding the bacon may act as a cushion and insulate the inner core of the jar from the heat. The fat  present in the bacon in theory can insulate the spores of clostridium botulinum and the presence of heat may actually begin to activate dormant spores which will soon be in an anaerobic, moist environment – an airtight stored canning jar – and begin to produce toxin.
Secondly paper is not inert. Unless food grade paper is used toxic and unwanted chemicals can be leached into the bacon.

How To Preserve Eggs With Water Glass

Did you know that are a few different old-time ways to preserve fresh eggs for many months without electricity?
It’s true.
Freshly laid eggs have been successfully preserved by being kept in a “water glass” solution, in a lime water solution, by being coated with mineral oil, Vaseline or paraffin wax, and by being buried in sawdust, sand, oats and in salt.

Of all the old-time methods of preserving fresh eggs the “water glass” method gives the best and most dependable result. Fresh, unwashed eggs kept in a solution of water glass will remain good and usable for 4 to 6 months (sometimes longer) when properly collected and stored.

Eggs In Water Glass

Eggs In A Crock Of Water Glass

“Water Glass” or “liquid glass” is sodium silicate and is the generic name for sodium metasilicate (Na2SiO3).
Nowadays water glass has become very hard to find. At one time it was readily available in drug stores, hardware stores and building supply warehouses.

Eggs & Water Glass

Preserving Eggs With Water Glass

Water glass is alkaline in nature and has the taste of washing soda. It is used for general cleaning purposes, to seal unfinished cement floors and as an adhesive. Water glass is a clear, slightly syrupy liquid that comes already dissolved in a gallon bucket.

Water Glass On Fingers

Water Glass Is Syrupy But Not Sticky On Fingers

It has been within my lifetime that the “water glassing” of eggs has fallen out of favor due to the availability of refrigeration in most American households; and because of cheap eggs due to factory farmed hens kept confined in battery cages and under constant electric lights.
If you don’t know already, hens will naturally cease egg production once daylight hours are decreased during the winter months. Many people who have electricity will put a light in the hen-house during the winter to force hens to lay. Lighted hen houses and long-term cold storage are the reasons that there are eggs in the grocery store during the winter months. Without electric lights most hens will lay hit or miss during the winter.
Before refrigeration became commonly available keeping fresh eggs in a crock of water glass was the preferred method of egg preservation.

For many rural American families before the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, water-glassing eggs was the only way that they could manage to have eggs during the winter months when hens are discouraged from laying due to the cold and dark days. By saving surplus eggs during the spring and summer when eggs are plentiful, farm families were guaranteed a steady supply of eggs through the winter months.
Sadly, within the course of 2 generations what was at one time everyday household information has been lost and forgotten. Water-glass has gone the way of curtain stretchers and wire bail canning jars.

How Water Glass Works
Eggshells are porous. That’s why an incubating chick embryo can breathe.
Eggs will spoil and lose freshness due to bacteria passing through the shell and by moisture evaporation leaving through the eggshell. The way that water glass preservation works is simple and straightforward. The water glass blocks and fills the pores of the eggshell thereby preventing bacteria from entering inside the egg and moisture from leaving the egg.

Eggs For Water Glass Preservation
DO NOT USE WASHED STORE BOUGHT EGGS FOR WATER GLASS PRESERVING – they absolutely will not keep properly or for as long as a fresh egg. Quality will be lost rapidly.

Coparision Eggs

A Washed Grocery Store Egg Verses A Farm Fresh Egg Stored in Water Glass For 113 Days

Eggs that are to be used for water glass must be completely fresh and clean and they must not ever be washed. By washing a fresh laid egg you will remove the protective coating. It is permissible to lightly wipe an egg with a dry cloth if it is a little soiled.
The best eggs are collected from fresh clean nest boxes and will have no cracks or imperfections. One cracked egg will spoil the entire crock of eggs.

Fresh Collected Eggs For Water Glass

Fresh Eggs

If has often been said that the best eggs for water glass are collected during the spring months of March, April and May. I think the reason for this it that the weather has not turn too hot and the cooler weather keeps an uncollected egg fresher in the nest box. That said I will be collecting eggs this year during May, June, July and August for winter storage.

Old timers would not permit the rooster to run with the hens for up to a month before eggs are collected for water glass for fear of a fertile egg beginning to develop. I don’t think this is a real concern as long as the eggs are collected daily and stored properly. But no matter what I think, the practice of early 20th century housewives was to always crack eggs that had been stored by any method into a separate bowl for examination before cooking with them. After all who am I to argue with experience?

Water Glass Eggs
Water glass coming straight out of the bucket needs to be diluted. I use the 11 to 1 ratio recipe – or 11 parts water to 1 part water glass (sodium silicate) or 11 quarts of water to 1-quart water glass or 11 pints of water to 1 pint of water glass – you get the idea. It works out to 1 quart of water to 1/3 cup of water glass
And just so you know some recipes will give a 9 to 1 or 10 – 1 ratio. I have no experience with them.
The water should be measured out, boiled and then allowed to cool completely. Many older recipes recommend rainwater.

Measuring Water

Measuring Out Water For The Solution

Sterilize a clean ceramic crock, plastic bucket, wooden keg or other container with boiling water. You want to destroy any possible yeast, enzymes or bacteria. Almost any container will work but metal should be avoided.

Boiling Water Sterlizes Crock

Boiling Water Is Poured Into A Ceramic Crock To Sterilize It

Pour the cooled water into the crock and then add the water glass and stir well. It is important that the water be completely cool. You don’t want the water to cook the egg.
Place the fresh eggs pointed side down into the crock.

Egg Goes Pointy Side Down Into Crock

Place The Egg Pointed End Down In The Crock

You can fit many eggs into a crock; and eggs can be stacked on top of one another until the crock is filled.
Make sure that at least 2″ to 3″ of liquid covers the eggs at all times and the crock should be tightly covered.
The best success is obtained when the crock is stored in a cool dry location. A fresh, clean root cellar, spring house or cold basement storage area is ideal.

Water Glass Crock In Cellar

Covered Crock In Cool Cellar Store Room

Clean fresh eggs can be added daily as the season progresses. If water ever needs to be added make sure that it has been boiled first.
When the eggs are needed for cooking remove them from the crock. Water glass is cold and slimy so prepare yourself before you stick your hand into the crock.  Wash the eggs and break them into a separate bowl to check for freshness by smell and visual examination. If at any time eggs float in the crock dispose of them carefully because they have gone bad.

2 Eggs Floating Because They Are Bad

2 Eggs Floating Because They Are Bad

Eggs that have been stored with water glass may break when they are boiled so use caution if you intend to cook them by that method.
Fresh collected eggs will store very well for between 3 to 6 months without too much loss of quality. The viscosity of the egg white will have changed somewhat and sometimes the yolk will take on a very dark orange-red color. But the color change is harmless and the flavor of the egg is still good and acceptable for general cooking purposes.

Preventing Rust On A Cook Stove

The best way I’ve found to keep rust away from a cook stove is with a light layer of vegetable shortening or cooking oil.
The photo below shows the difference between the areas that have been oiled and the areas that haven’t. The oiled areas are much darker.

Half Greased Hob

Half Of Cook Stove Hob Greased

My cook stove is solid cast iron and is particularly prone to drawing rust all over and not just on the top. Rust is more of a problem during the summer than during the winter. During the summer the weather is humid and the cook stove is idle.

Summer Cook Stove

During The Summer Months The Cook Stove Tends To Draw Spots Of Rust

During the winter the cook stove is in use every day and doesn’t have a chance to get many rust spots.
But it will occasionally get a few. Mostly the spots that form are rings from where I set down a wet pan when the stove was cool.

Every few weeks or so I use a clean cloth to apply a bit of vegetable shortening or cooking oil to the top cooking surface of the stove (the hub) and along the sides and doors.

Greasing A Cook Stove

Greasing The Top or Hob or Hob of Cook Stove

It feels like polishing furniture but in reality it’s more like oiling a gun.  After the stove is well oiled or greased it takes a while for the grease to burn off from the hub. It’s easy to tell when I have polished the stove because
not only does the stove look better. But the whole house smells like I’m cooking pancakes for 2 days as the shortening slowly burns off.

Cook Stove Warmer

“Under this is placed a closet for warming and keeping hot the dishes, vegetables, meats, etc., while preparing for dinner. It is also very useful in drying fruit”
THE AMERICAN WOMAN’S HOME – 1869 Catherine E. Beecher & Harriet Beecher Stowe
Many modern and antique wood burning cook stoves have a top compartment known as a warmer, bun warmer, plate warmer or warming closet. My cook stove is no exception.The purpose of the stove warmer is exactly what the above names imply. It’s a place to keep things warm.

Cook Stove Warmer

The Warmer Of A Cook Stove

A warmer will of course will keep rolls, biscuits and bread warm and in some ways it’s a glorified crisper.
I usually keep a set of serving bowls and plates in the warmer so that they’ll be warm when I need one for supper.
Warm bowls keep food hot longer and nothing is worse than cool mashed potatoes. It will also keep a plate loaded with food hot for a few hours just waiting and ready for whoever missed supper. To keep a warm supper waiting during a snow storm is an act of faith that a loved will eventually return home safely.
I often use the warmer for defrosting food, cooking rice and keeping a pot of tea warm.

But my favorite use for the stove warmer has nothing to do with food. It’s the place where I dry my hat and mittens during lambing season. Dry, toasty warm mittens make it easier for me to go back outside and face winter weather chores.

Hat & Mittens In A Warmer

Hat & Mittens Stay Toasty Warm

The temperature of the warmer depends upon the temperature of the stove-pipe and the top of the stove.
Most of the time my warmer stays a cozy 125 °- 140 ° F.
However, if I’m burning the stove very hot for long periods during the day, the warmer can get too hot for me to touch the inside comfortably.
Back before the days of electric or modern solar food dehydrators, the stove warmer was a good place during cool, rainy fall weather to dry apples, pumpkin rings and other garden produce for winter storage.
Using a warmer was a big improvement over previous methods which consisted of drying food in the sun, or in the case of apples and pumpkins, slicing them into ring shapes, and then stringing them upon strings across the kitchen or in an attic to dry. Humid or rainy weather could mean mold and spoilage and the stove warmer was a dependable way to dry foods especially when Mother Nature didn’t want to cooperate.

Apple Rings

Apple Rings Ready To Be Dried In A Cook Stove Warmer

Apples were prepared by peeling them first, then slicing them about 1″ thick and then soaking them in a mildly acidic solution to prevent them from turning brown. Usually cider vinegar was employed, but lemon juice was used in some cases. The apples were then arranged upon a tin or plate and set upon the warmer. The apples were turned over every 3 or 4 hours and often the apples were left out to dry overnight.
Slices of pumpkin and other fruits were preserved in the same way. Dried beef, corn and green beans were also favorites to dehydrate in a stove warmer.

Dried Oranges

Sweet Oranges Dries In A Cook Stove Warmer

Cook Stove Basics

I use a cook stove for about 7 to 8 months out of the year. A cook stove is a lot of work, but from my point of view it’s a lot of independence and security too.
No matter what the weather brings or what happens with energy costs, I will always be able to heat my home and cook for practically nothing as long as I am willing to pick up sticks in the front yard and split wood. And if I should grow too old to split wood – I can always burn coal.

Cook Stove

A Tea Kettle On A Cook Stove

My stove is a traditional Waterford Stanley and it is a modern solid fuel stove. A Stanley will burn peat or wood, and with a change of firebox liner it will burn coal. The design of my cook stove is from the 1930′s and the stove was manufactured in Ireland. My stove not only cooks but helps to heat my home. It also has a place in it to plumb a pipe for hot water if I want.

All cook stoves have individual differences but work basically the same way. Generally, cook stoves are similar to other wood fired appliances. They are connected to a chimney, have a firebox, have some way to clean out the ash and air to the fire is controlled by some type of baffle(s) or damper(s).

Parts of Cook Stove

Parts of Cook Stove

Cook stoves unlike regular wood stoves have an oven. The oven in a cook stove is simply a box within a box.


Cook Stove Oven

Some cook stoves have a water reservoir attached to the side for hot water. A water reservoir is handy but must never be allowed to run dry because it will ruin the silver solder seams and cause the reservoir to leak. Many cook stoves have a top compartment called a warmer. The warmer is used to keep food or plates warm and for dehydrating food. I use it to defrost food and warm up my hat and mittens during the winter.

Stove Warmer

Cook Stove Warmer

The top surface of a cook stove is called the hob. There are round plates on the hob called “eyes” that are removable for cleaning out soot and ash. They are not burners.

Removing an Eye

Lifting An Eye Off

With some cook stoves (not mine) the eyes can be removed while the stove is in operation. Stove eyes are removed to add small pieces of wood directly to the fire and to seat a pot into the hole for more heat if you need it to cook faster. The eyes are lifted off with a “lifter”.

On a cook stove the entire hob is used for cooking. The part of the hob that is directly over the firebox is the hottest part of the stove. In the picture below the skillet with the blue lid is directly over the firebox as is the covered pan behind it.


The Hob Area of a Cook Stove

When cooking on most cook stoves, the pots & pans are moved from the left to the right to control the cooking temperature. The left side of the stove is the hottest part and the right side of the stove is the coolest. Stove temperature is regulated in a few different ways; by type and amount of wood, amount of air that the fire receives and size of the fire. The type of wood used in a cook stove has a great effect upon how hot and how long the fire will burn.

Loading The Firebox

Loading A Cook Stove Firebox

Small, dry pieces of wood are best for fast fires. Poplar or pine burns cool and is considered “summer wood”. It was used quite a bit during the canning season years ago in summer kitchens. It burns quick and will leave a lot of ash. I use maple and sometimes cherry for my everyday cooking. Maple will build heat fast but the heat will not last. Hickory or oak burns very hot and throws off a lot of heat. Both woods make a good fire for frying or rapidly boiling water. Oak and hickory do tend to overheat the stove and will make the oven too hot for most baking or roasting. Some cooks will avoid oak and hickory because they tend to burn out a fire-box. My favorite wood for rapid heat is apple wood. The cook stove’s temperature can be controlled by how much air the fire receives. If I need a quick burning fire I will open the bottom or firebox damper to allow more air to the fire, and if I need a long burning fire I will close the damper. If I want to hold a fire from one meal to the next, I simply put a large piece of wood into the firebox after I finish cooking and close the bottom damper (the big circle thing on the door is the damper).

Closing Lower Damper

Closing The Lower Damper On The Fuel Box

The wood will burn, but burn very slowly. When it’s time to cook again, I open the firebox damper to give the fire more air and add wood to start the fire burning hot again. If I need to let off heat from the firebox and cool the stove down I open the chimney damper and allow the heat to go up the chimney.

Closing Top Damper

Adjusting The Top Damper To Regulate Heat

For most cook stoves it takes about 15 or 20 minutes for the hob to heat up and be ready for cooking when first started. For baking the stove usually needs at least 45 minutes to 1 hour before the oven is ready.As a general rule, if the top of the stove is hot enough to boil water the oven will be hot enough to bake. Over the last 150 years or so, many ways have been handed down for cooks to determine cook stove oven temperature. Old timers would sometimes judge oven temperature by how long it took a piece of white paper to turn brown, a hair to singe or how long they could hold their hand in the oven. Oven temperature is controlled by a separate damper(s) that works to hold the heat in the area that surrounds the oven. If I need to use my oven I will get the oven temperature to within 25 – 40 degrees of where I want it and then close the oven damper.

Oven Damper

Closing The Oven Damper

After about 10 – 15 minutes with the oven damper closed, more heat will have built up in the oven, and the temperature will be just about right and hold steady. If I need to reduce the oven temperature fast, I just open the oven door and allow heat to escape. Once the oven temperature is where I want it, I can maintain the temperature by adding just a couple of small pieces of wood whenever I see the temperature start to fluctuate.

It’s important to keep in mind that a cook stove oven doesn’t heat the same way a modern electric or gas range will. Heat collects at the top of the oven. This is good for breads – but a disaster for cakes. A trick that is used to prevent a cake from burning is to place the cake on the bottom or floor of the oven and a pan of water on the top shelf. The pan of water collects the heat and acts as a barrier to the top of the cake. Also, the side of the oven closest to the firebox will be hotter and food needs to be turned often while baking or roasting so that it doesn’t burn on one side.

A well made cook stove will last more than a lifetime. Cooks stoves are very safe if they are well cared for and common sense is used. It is important that a cook stove be cleaned and inspected regularly. Built up ash under the hob and around the oven will reduce the temperature of the hob surface and oven.

Raking Fly Ash

Raking Out Fly Ash From Under The Hob

The ash and soot needs to be cleaned out from underneath the oven and the hob frequently and any ash along the interior sides of the stove needs to be swept out. Generally, cook stoves are cleaned from the top of the hob, then along the interior sides and then ash is raked out the bottom at the soot door. A soot rake is used to get to the back of the stove and to all the hard to reach areas.

Clean Out

The Lower Clean Out Area of a Stanley Cook Stove

I clean out the interior ash and soot from my cook stove about every week or so. Some people will clean more often. The chimney thimble and stove-pipe that service my stove are cleaned and swept out

Chimney Thimble Ash

Ash Left Behind in the Chimney Thimble

about 2 or 3 times during the wood burning season. I occasionally will knock gently along the length of the stove-pipe when it is cool, to knock off any collected creosote or ash that may build up between cleanings. Any debris that falls off the stove-pipe, falls downward and will collect under the hob where it can be swept out during routine cleaning. If chimney fires are to be avoided it’s important to keep all parts of a wood burning appliance very clean. I think cleaning a cook stove is probably the worst part of owning one. It is a very dirty job. A heavy-duty brush, newspaper, rags, rubber gloves and a bucket of ammonia water are necessary. I wear old clothes and rubber gloves when I clean out my stove because soot will stain cloth and is hard to remove from the skin. And speaking of chimneys and cook stoves – a chimney subject to down drafts can make some days miserable. My kitchen chimney is subject to downdrafts. And because my cook stove is not an airtight design it will smoke and puff on a windy day when the wind blows hard from the southwest.

Chimney Down Draft

Effects Of a Chimney Down Draft

And just so you know, not all modern cook stoves have an old-fashioned or nostalgia design. There are quite a few modern and beautiful contemporary designed cook stoves. I chose my stove because the hob is 34″ high which is more comfortable for me to work at (I’m tall), and requires a very small wall clearance.

Wall Clearance

Very Short Wall Clearance

I also chose it because it is solid cast iron and retains heat for a long time. If you are considering buying a used cook stove keep in mind that antiques look great but may have cracks or other problems. Many good cook stoves from the 1940′s and 1950′s are still out there and some are in pretty good condition and are very reasonably priced. Cook stoves are some effort and trouble, but for what you get back I think they’re more than worth it.