Note that I have seen recent postings where the operation by him of this stove has been mastered. The issue is less with the stove than running it properly on dry wood. It is a challenging stove to run as a non-cat for a newbie without a lot of experience. Once the repeated advice to install a cat was finally followed, things seem to have settled down a lot.
The cat doesnt matter unless you are burning low/slow really, for a controllability. Maybe it helps a bit burning what would otherwise go up into the chimney. I dont really create creosote like I was unless I try to rush a cold start or reload too late. Ive taken mine out waiting for shoulder season. I probably shouldnt but Im worried about expensive replacements year after year, at least while I was still learning burn control (and avoiding sky rocket cat area heat damage). I'll probably put it back in for the rest of the season here soon.
It's still a VERY tricky stove to operate, unless you have the VC badge of experience in the books. And that's what it takes. Months of experience for an individuals setup..because dare I say no two would run alike due to their setup. I bet that can be said for most stoves,..maybe not.
The only definitive flaw that I can point to this entire time is that the flapper got stuck on me early on, wide open. That was pretty scary there for a moment.
I still get an occasional ting, smell, odd looking flame etc that has me on edge, but Im SUPER sensitive to anything happening with this stove because I refused to give up and I want to have cause/effect. And because it weighs over 400 pounds, would take a loss selling it for something else that may have a different set of problems.
I dont think my problems were entirely a VC problem, I think overall the VC design might add to the complexity of the problem.
Im about to write down a user guide for my wife/kids, nothing too elaborate but foolproof to the point that if all else fails they know they can just shut it down all the way, watch for ten minutes then walk away until I get home. I'll laminate it and put it in the soon to be kitchen area.
In the end do I like my stove. Eh. Do I think it has flaws. Yea I wouldnt have picked one designed like this had I known. Does it work and produce heat, yea. Do I have fun using it sometimes. You betcha. I love seeing how long I can keep the stove over 400 degrees STT. I still cant believe what I was able to achieve with giant pieces of oak. I like being selective with my wood loadout...or just at times saying whatever and seeing how tight I can pack the stove.
Anyone new to a VC should learn to build up a good coal base. Good large kindling fire, then throw in a bunch of smalls/mediums and let that burn down a good bit then pack the stove up 1/2 - 3/4 with mediums or larges and learn from that. Dont try to fully load the stove at first, and try to always keep flames or a large bed of orange coals visible. You'll know you are on the path to righteousness when you wake up at 9:30 Saturday morning, and just stir the coals around and let that burn for another hour or so and the stove keeps cruising at 400+.