Wood stoves are available in a variety of styles that vary from contemporary to traditional-looking models. They are usually cast iron, plate steel, sheet metal, soapstone/tile or a combination of these materials. Some manufacturers have altered the appearance of the traditional cast-iron stove by applying different materials to the outside of the stove. Stoves are frequently enameled in a variety of colors and some are covered with marble or stone. Steel-plate stoves are generally made of 3/16- to 1/4-inch thick plates cut and stamped to shape. Cast-iron stoves are made of cast parts bolted together. The parts should have detailed lines and clean surfaces free of grains. The characteristics of steel and cast iron are not significantly different, therefore you can make your choice based on size, budget and the design of the stove.
The following article compares common stove materials:
You can tell if a wood stove is well-made by checking for clean castings, smooth welds, tight doors, smoothly-operating draft controls, and the appearance of good workmanship. Most stoves also have firebricks or metal plates to prevent burnout. These materials increase both the life of the stove and, to some extent, the thermal mass (the heat’s storage medium). After the fire is out, a 500-pound stove radiates heat several hours longer than a 250-pound stove. Stoves may have doors on the top, on the side, or both.
Many of the new wood stoves have large glass doors on the side so that you can see the flames. Some glass doors perform better than others. For example, one type uses an infra-red barrier in the glass that reflects heat back into the firebox. Some new models have airflow systems that remove soot and smoke from the glass doors, making them virtually self-cleaning. Wood stoves can also include several additional features such as thermostats, insulated door handles, removable ash pans and blowers
If you are purchasing a stove for a home that has never had one, you will probably need to install a chimney. Prefabricated metal chimneys are the easiest types to retrofit. They are relatively inexpensive and not extremely difficult to install. You will, however, need to cut a hole in your roof or side wall. If you are using an existing chimney in your house, make sure that the stove you are planning to buy is compatible. Many existing chimneys need to be relined (with stainless steel pipe) in order for them to work correctly with the new high-efficiency stoves.