Overwhelmed: A Small Stove Saga

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New Member
Dec 30, 2021
I've poked around this forum for a while and there is a wealth of information; it's just a little too much for this wannabe wood stover. I'm hopeful someone who is a little more seasoned (see what I did there?) can help me find my way and put my mind at ease.

My home's primary heat source is forced air gas, but I'd like to add a small wood stove for backup heat and ambiance. I will probably have a fire most weekends from October through March. For what it's worth, I have several acres and will be processing my own firewood (primarily red oak, white oak, hard maple, and black walnut). I started splitting last year, so I should have some seasoned firewood ready to go for October 2022.

So why am I overwhelmed?

When I decided I wanted a wood stove, I recalled the elders in my family talking about Buck stoves. It was really the only name I knew so I figured it would be a good place to start. I visited the nearest Buck dealer, but to my surprise the employee scoffed at the idea of a Buck and pushed me toward three models they had on display (I know). The three stoves were a Vermont Castings Aspen C3, a Vermont Castings Intrepid II, and a Pacific Energy Summit LE. I had an immediate concern about the C3's lack of user control. The other two stoves couldn't have been more different and all three stoves varied greatly in price. I knew I would need to do more research. The whole experience felt very much like they just wanted to sell what they had rather than help me find the best stove for my needs. However, my eyes were opened to a whole "new" (irony) type of stoves in cast iron.

I found the VC stoves very attractive and that led to my downward spiral into stove research. After reading some less than stellar reviews of the current VC models (fragile catalytic systems, too much assembly cement blocking air passages, etc.), I pretty much ruled them out. Somewhere in that process, I also decided I want to avoid catalytic stoves altogether in effort to keep it simple. I discovered Jotul and thought the F 602 V2 would be perfect until I started reading about warping, cracked side plates, etc. The same, and more, for the F 118 CB. So, here I am in a complete state of distress trying to determine if I'm overthinking things and should just go for the 602 or 118 or some other cast iron stove or should I revisit steel? Are there any "newbie-friendly" cast iron models or would overfiring and premature wear or damage be an almost certainty?

On another note, one of the more frustrating things I've found while researching stoves is that price seems to be an industry-wide secret. I understand installation costs vary greatly, but I despise not being able to quickly determine the unit price of the stove while searching online. I refuse to visit dealerships that don't post prices of their vehicles so this really irks me, haha.

For interested parties, the prices and availability below are what I've gathered so far for my area (central WV) as of 12/29/2021. I'm no longer considering some of these models, but figured the information might be useful to someone who is.

F118CB (Black Bear): $1400 (In stock - 1 - Discontinued model - regular price was $2200 - display discount)
F602 V2: $1416 (3-months out - salesperson informed me their last three sold for $999, so $1400+ is quite a price hike)

Pacific Energy
Vista LE w/ Blower: $2450 (In stock - 1)
Super LE w/ Blower: $3028 (3-4 weeks out)
Summit LE: $3500 (3-4 weeks out)

Vermont Castings
Defiant: $4730 (No ETA)
Intrepid II: $2339 (In stock - 1)
Aspen C3: $1200 (In stock - 1)
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There have been a couple Aspen users on here with the C3 and i think mostly positive feedback.
I am not sure about the Jotul's warping and cracking - i was under the impression they were pretty solid stoves.
You might also take a look at some of the Morsos. I think they're very attractive looking, and I believe they have a reputation as being pretty reliable. Not sure if you're open to a used stove, but i see a lot of the Morso 2Bs on facebook marketplace in my area, often refurbished or in pretty good shape.
How big of a space are you heating and how well insulated and air sealed is it? Are you aware of the the 26% tax credit for qualified models (HHV 75% or higher)? Given you current list the PE stoves would be my choice. The Aspen C3 is intriguing it’s just not a big stove. I can heat 2000 sq ft down to about 30 with a 1.7 cu ft Jotul. It’s to small and has short burn times.
I have a Jotul 602 CB and burned it for a year and a half before I upgraded to an F45 for longer burns. It’s a great little stove and really pumps out the heat for such a small fire box. You need smallish wood 12-15” long which is hard to find if you buy firewood but you have your own land so no problem there. The Jotul 118 is similar to the 602 but can take a 24” split and has longer burns. I think I would jump on that 118, looks like great price.
The PE super le and summit would be my choice, don't forget about ash build up that takes up space in the stove.
I appreciate everyone's input. I'm going to try to answer questions and reply to comments in order.

Tabner, while I love the size and look of the Aspen C3, I'm not crazy about the internal "thermostat" that reduces/eliminates user control. I really thought the F 602 V2 was the clear way to go, but I started reading about cracked side plates, etc., and now I'm questioning whether I should go with cast iron altogether. I hope someone can assure me I'm just overthinking it because I really like the look of cast iron stoves. Regarding used stoves, my homeowner's insurance requires the stove be purchased new and installed by a licensed professional.

EbS-P, my house is a ~2300 sq ft Cape Cod style and was constructed in the 1940s. I've installed rockwool insulation, double-pane thermal windows, sealed many air gaps, etc., but I have no intentions or expectations of heating the entire space. With our primary heat source being forced air gas, we easily maintain 70+ temperatures in the home even during our coldest winters. I'm really just looking for ambiance and supplemental/backup heat. The stove will be installed in the den, which is a first floor addition and is located at the furthest point from the furnace, but still receives ducted heat. If our gas service is temporarily unavailable (unlikely) for any reason during the winter months, we will just sleep in the den with the stove.

Todd, I've processed quite a bit of firewood at 16" already and would prefer to stay with at least that length. If I get behind in processing, the firewood sellers in my area all offer 16" splits. I know this impacts my small stove choices (pretty sure the popular Morso models can only handle 12").

Kenny, the PE stoves seem to have a great reputation and I think they're a safe bet. I'm still holding out hope for something cast iron though. If I officially move on from cast iron, I think PE is where I'll land.
I'm one of the guys who has been happy with the VC Aspen C3 so far. Availability (dealer had 3 en route when I stopped in for a quote) and qualifying for the 26% tax credit were big factors for me. I had no Morso dealers within a several hours' drive or I would've looked at the 2B as well. The Jotul F602V2 was 2+ months out from the local dealer back in August when I was shopping around, and I figured that could easily have doubled with supply chain issues. It also did not qualify for the tax credit. I ended up basically having the $1250 VC Aspen C3 (minus tax credit) and a $550 US Stove/Vogelzang 1120 (no tax credit) from Menards as my two options.

I was not excited about the lack of air control either but for the most part I have learned how it works and it just does its own thing. If you will have a tall chimney due to stove location in the house I might not recommend it, as the correct draft range is pretty important for the air control to work correctly. Obviously there is no cat to worry about on this model and I think minimal (if any?) furnace cement is used on the Aspen C3 now as the cast parts are mostly joined with gaskets. It's pretty thrifty on wood and it sounds like you'll have good hardwoods to use in whatever stove you get.

We also don't know how large your house is. Mine is under 800 square feet and we haven't been very cold yet but based on how it's performed so far I don't see any issues. I know you are looking for some ambience and ability to offset your heating bills... Personally I want to be able to at least minimally heat my entire house if there's no power for a few days, but that's your call. Just thinking out loud if you have a 2000 square foot house the Aspen C3 and F602V2 would be on the small side but might keep things around 50 degrees in pinch, if you have decent insulation and air sealing?
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The range that the sales person suggested is huge. There is nothing I have read that says a small or medium-sized Buck stove wouldn't work. My impression of the salesperson is pretty low so far. Sounds like someone working on commission or just blowing smoke.

How large of an area will the stove be expected to heat? It's not the whole house from the sound of things. How open is the proposed stove location to the rest of the area that is expected to be heated?
wjohn, I'm happy to hear you're pleased with your Aspen C3. They are very attractive stoves and would be my top pick if not for the lack of user control. My concern is more related to a "runaway" fire than anything else. It may be a non-issue, but I just don't like the idea of not being able to shut it down in an emergency situation. Since I'm a new member, my posts aren't appearing in real-time (each one indicates it is pending review), but I added some information regarding square footage in my response just above yours.

begreen, your impression of the salesperson is the exact impression I have of them. Regarding the area I'm trying to heat, the stove will be located in a 16x20 den. I'm not actively trying to heat much beyond that room since that's the room we spend most our time in. Any heat carried throughout the house is just bonus. I believe any stove on the market would satisfy my heating "requirement" if you can call it that. My main point of concern is whether or not I'm competent enough to manage a cast iron stove without overfiring and cracking it or warping internals, etc. If I can get comfortable with the idea of owning a cast iron stove, I think my only other requirements have been narrowed to: capability to accept 16" or greater splits, user controlled air flow, and some amount of viewing glass in the door.
The Aspen C3 or Jotul F602CB v2 will both work. The are not that unforgiving and what you have read about the internal plates cracking is normal wear and tear. They are sacrificial parts that go about 10 -15 yrs or so with normal use. A Buck 21 would also work if you prefer a steel stove. If you like the look of castiron but with the durability of steel then look at the Pacific Energy Alderlea T4. It is a cast iron jacketed steel stove. Inside it has the same firebox as the PE Vista.
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begreen, the Pacific Energy Alderlea T4 is another beautiful stove. I'll have to add it to my short list.

Thanks to everyone for the comments.
I'm partial to the Hearthstone Heritage 😉. It is soapstone/cast iron. It is a hybrid, meaning there is a cat system . (EPA certifed so eligible for tax credit). May not be what you have in mind, but if you're in homework mode, consider all your options. 2.2 cu ft firebox, 21" max log length, heats up to 2100 sq ft., side and front door load. and beautiful. I am a (self-professed slow-learning) 64 yr old female and have had very few problems learning to operate this stove. Looks like cat is easy to keep clean according to instruction manual and should give several years of use before needing replaced

I have owned 3 wood stoves in the last 35 years , presently still own a 1999 PE Spectrum Classic with gold plated door, legs and trivet clad in lustrous black porcelain enamel, this model is now called the Super Classic LE now-a-days, a really great stove that still looks as good as the day the dealer delivered and installed it in April 1999, so needed to look good and feel comfortable in the room, not out of place. The look of the stove was extremely important to us because it is in the room we all spend the most time in ( 15ft x 24 ft family room ) . Except for door gaskets that I change myself every 3 years or so ( I am a stickler on that ) and the floating side rails that I changed after 21 years of use, it is all original. If I were to purchase another stove tomorrow it would probably be the same stove clad in cast iron a Alderlea T5 or T6 ( IMHO the best of both worlds ) PE's once piece baffle and floating fire box to me is unmatched in the industry, the simplest, easiest and quickest stoves to maintain, clean out and put back together. Like many friends and family had to do in the past no $300.00 - $400.00 catalytic converter to replace at between 3 - 5 years of use, ( curiously these cats for various reasons never qualify for warranty or so it seems according to them) . I might however consider Jotul cast stoves, Morso or a soap stone stove but these are so pricey it would take me a while before warming up to it's pricing.

The only thing I do not like about my stove, is the built-in ash dump and ash tray, although they do work to me they are both more trouble than what they are worth, I would suggest PE eliminate these as standard and strictly offer them as options only to customers who might want them.

1999 Spectrum Classic Black & Gold, sunburst door.jpg
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The only thing I do not like about my stove, is the built-in ash dump and ash tray, although they do work to me they are both more trouble than what they are worth, I would suggest PE eliminate these as standard and strictly offer them as options only to customers who might want them.
Agreed, though they make a dandy bun warmer if you keep it clean.
Agreed, though they make a dandy bun warmer if you keep it clean.
Ah, ha, ha never thought of that. Sometimes when I clean the stove and pull the drawer I find spider webs in there, definitely not a good idea for buns or anything else except perhaps chestnuts in the shell..
We put muffins in there in foil or in pan to warm them up. Works fine. Spiders don't eat much . :cool:
Interesting story about your dealer. I would not rule out a Buck Stove just yet. You may want to look at another dealer just for comparison. Buck Stoves are generally well thought of, though I have never owned one. They are a pretty solid, no frills wood stove that have been around for decades. Just remember your choosing a vendor just as much as a wood stove. No matter what brand (and there are many good brands), service after the sale is important and the install is critical.
Plan on $2500-$3500 or more for installation, and a wait of 2-3 months, depending on season. When I had my stove installed in our current house, we had a low quote of $1200 from a guy who was not CSIA certified. I don't know how he was covering parts in that quote, as the liner alone should have run $1K or so... We ended up going with one of the two *good* CSIA certified sweeps in the area, and spent $3500, maybe a bit more...

Some do their own installation. I guess it's not particularly difficult, usually, just tedious, and a bit high up in the air. Personally, I'm more comfortable paying someone else for their expertise and ladder climbing prowess. :}
I just wanted to add my opinion of the VC aspen, though it seems like you might not be considering it anymore. I got one last January so I've used it for about a year and am fairly happy with it. I've never had a problem with a runaway fire, and actually find it really nice to be able to load it and walk out the door. I get overnight burns in it just fine (meaning plently of hot coals in the morning). For a small stove it can fit some large wood due to its north to south loading. The only thing I don't like is the baffle board is really easy to damage or push out of proper position (I'm on my third baffle board). Maybe this is common with baffle boards, this is my first experience with one. Just my two cents!
Anicole, I'm glad you chimed in with your experience. I actually emailed VC earlier today to ask what's up with the Aspen C3 being temporarily unavailable. The one that was in stock locally has sold, but I have renewed interest in the model.

By the way, I haven't received a response from VC yet, but I'll share the details once I do.
As promised, I'm following up with the response provided by Vermont Castings Consumer Support.

Me: "Do you have any updates on when the Aspen C3 will go back into production? I've heard two reasons for why it isn't being sold currently. The first is related to missing EPA documentation, but the second is about a design issue (air passages getting clogged with assembly cement). I'm hoping you can confirm there are no design issues and it's just a matter of getting the paperwork in order. Many thanks!"

Vermont Castings Consumer Support: "There is no design issue, it was just a paperwork issue. We do not have a specific timeline as to when they will be available again.

Your local authorized dealer is your best resource and can assist you with technical support as well as obtaining new parts if necessary. I have included a link below to find an authorized dealer near you.

Here in Vermont, Vermont castings with their new management do not have a good reputation. I have two Jotuls, one in my house the other in a converted carriage barn and they have both been going strong without problem for seven winters.
For anyone who is interested in the VC Aspen C3, they appear to be back in production. VC's website now reflects an MSRP of $1799. The MSRP at the time production was suspended was $1489.
If you are still looking for a stove get a box stove I had a Waterford and a Reginald both Jotul 602 knock offs, after having tried larger stoves and I’m going back to a box stove a Jotul 602 cb, if you are heating a small area go with a EPA 2020 approved box stove 602 cb Jotul don’t wait for the 602 eco it’s strange. If you want something a little larger try a Morse classic.