Steel, Iron, or Soapstone...and cat vs. non-cat?

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It's been a while since I started this thread and wanted to give an update...several factors changed, and it's been a bit of a wild ride. First of all, we decided to install a wood-burning insert in the fireplace rather than a free-standing stove. All the considerations and previous input/advice remained relevant and I'm thankful for everyone's input. The last step I did before deciding on which stove to install was that we had a chimney sweep/fireplace installer come out to look at our setup and he recommended either a PE Summit or an Ironstrike Montlake 300. Based on where our firewood supply is kept, we went with the Ironstrike simply because the door opened from the right side. So after a long wait the Ironstrike was delivered and installed with a stainless steel liner in the existing masonry chimney. It looked great, and I did a couple of small fires to cure the paint in line with the manufacturer's instructions.

However, the third fire was a bigger, normal sized fire to bring it up to temp and start heating the house, but unfortunately after it got going I could not shut the draft down enough to keep the fire from anything less than a full-on blaze! I mentioned previously that we have about a 30' chimney with plenty of draw, and the secondary design of the Montlake absolutely would not allow us to control the fire. Even when I had the damper completely closed to the lowest setting, the fire was going like an afterburner and the secondary air tubes were glowing cherry-red. Luckily nothing bad happened and after that fire went out I pulled the side panel off looking to see if the damper linkage was unattached or out of adjustment, but it all appeared to be normal. Then I saw there was an enormous air inlet that was connecter to linkage going to a timer, which opened wide every time the door was opened, and stayed open for a full 30 minutes before it would close. Apparently this is to ensure a hot enough fire to meet EPA standards because the Montlake is a non-cat stove.

I don't know if the Ironstrike we got was faulty or if the draft from our long chimney was just too much for it, but back to the store it went and I got a full refund. Good news though is that I found a brand new Blaze King Princess 29 Insert at another local store, installed it to the same stainless-steel chimney liner, and started burning wood. The new Blaze King has been amazing! No problems controlling the fire, the catalyst has been easy to use, it absolutely DUMPS out the heat, and burns for a really long time. Bottom line, in hindsight I should have gone with a Blaze King from the start and now we couldn't be happier!