Make Your Cooker a Looker: Affordable Stove Upgrade - Popular Woodworking Magazine
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affordable stove upgrade

Yes, I know about the raggedy paint line where the spice cabinet meets the wall. So much for the special painter’s tape I bought. There’s no substitute for a steady hand. And if the red knobs remind you of cicada eyes, you’re not alone.

Warning: This post falls under the category “First World Problems.” 

This week we continue the kitchen design theme, but with an affordable stove upgrade instead of cabinets. Full disclosure: we’re talking about the most superficial aspect of a stove, its appearance. Yes, the stove is a tool – a conventional necessity for cooking food (at least in modern kitchens, which don’t typically revolve around a wood-burning hearth). Sure, you could fry bologna on a portable hotplate (I hate to admit that my best friend and I used to eat fried bologna sandwiches circa 1967) or cook gourmet spiced pork ribs in a microwave. You can even use a Crock Pot to bake a cake.

affordable stove upgrade

I’m not so keen on the idea of baking cake in a Crock Pot, but I’d eat slow-cooked spotted Dick any day.

Such culinary contortions notwithstanding, a kitchen is generally deemed incomplete without a stove.

For most of my life, I’ve bought the least expensive stove available, because that was all I could afford. Early on, when I lived in England, this meant finding a secondhand gas cooker through the classified ads in the local paper. Those ranges of my youth worked fine, even if I had to make allowances, such as one case where the actual oven temperature reached 425 degrees when the control was set for 350. (Yes, I know I could have had that repaired, but I could not afford to pay a repair person at the time.) The stove in our home today, a GE 30″ freestanding electric range, dates back to when the house was a rental. The house is in a rural area without access to natural gas, and we have not (yet) installed a propane tank. It works fine for our needs. But its appearance is the definition of generic.

Our kitchen is very much part of the public space in our house. The stove is visible from the front door, and since the dining table is in the kitchen, I can rationalize putting a bit more care into such frivolous details than I might if the kitchen were merely a work-room, like those postwar “laboratories” (literally, work-rooms) known as Frankfurt Kitchens, which were originally designed by Austria’s Margarete Schuette-Lihotzky.

affordable stove upgrade

Frankfurt kitchen Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=551167. Occupying the smallest possible footprint, with a place for everything and everything in its place, the Frankfurt Kitchen was a working space designed to function efficiently.

Oh, who I am kidding? I’d care about how my kitchen looked even if it were “just” a work-room.

My fantasies involve restored antiques. Every so often a kitchen client installs a restored stove in the midst of cabinets I’ve built, so I can get my kicks vicariously.

affordable stove upgrade

Vintage Chambers illustration from Chambers Stoves Chicago, a site well worth a look. The owner of the business, Joe Oliver, restores these and other stoves. http://chambersstoveschicago.blogspot.com/

One variation on this fantasy involves a retro-style stove such as this one from Big Chill Appliances.

affordable stove upgrade

Big Chill, which started out producing refrigerators, now has a mouth-watering range of stoves in colors that make my heart ache.

The commercial style of a Viking would be equally welcome. But back on Earth, I’m living with that generic GE — and don’t get me wrong; I don’t take a functioning stove, or the electricity that powers it, for granted. So in the process of reworking our kitchen recently, I made the stove’s appearance a little less vanilla by changing the control knobs.

Wilson Elements sells replacement knobs that can be used on a variety of appliances. They come in several finishes and are a cinch to install (though the instruction leaflet could be clearer).

affordable stove upgrade

Universal appliance knobs from www.wilsonelements.net/universal-appliance-knobs

Simply remove the knobs by pulling them toward you.

affordable stove upgrade

The original control knob, right, with the actual control switch, left

This is a good time to clean the area behind and around the knobs, if you don’t do so regularly.

Next, determine which insert will fit your stove’s control switches. The knobs come with inserts in several sizes. When you’ve selected the correct size, determine which end should be inserted into the replacement knob; the instructions indicate the options, which will produce differing degrees of protrusion from the stove panel.

affordable stove upgrade

The insert has a knurled end and a thinner extension.

affordable stove upgrade

The blue part is the insert that will engage the control switch. I wanted minimal protrusion for the new knobs, so I inserted the thin end first.

Make sure that you align the flat part of the insert with the flat side of the control switch so that the new knob will point to “Off” when the burner is turned off. (Don’t ask how I learned this.)

affordable stove upgrade

This view of the control switch shows the flat part (top and bottom) that needs to align with the flat section of the new knob’s insert.

The next step in our stove’s transformation will, I hope, involve a new oven door handle. I’ve begun experimenting with a shop-made version, because I haven’t found anything suitable online or at our local restaurant equipment supply house. Stay tuned.

– Nancy Hiller


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Making Things Work:
Tales From a Cabinetmaker’s Life

By Nancy R. Hiller

Honest, earthy, and wryly humorous, this collection of tales drawn from more than 30 years of experience at shops in England and the United States is thought-provoking as well as entertaining. We follow Hiller as she stumbles into furniture making after dropping out of Cambridge University, finds employment in one, then another, English workshop, grapples with monotony, sexism, and self-doubt, attempts escape, and eventually makes peace with her vocation.

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Showing 5 comments
  • SSteve

    My wife’s sister has that exact Chambers stove and I’ve cooked many meals on it. I have to admit I’m not a big fan. In my experience the knobs are finicky, the burners aren’t all that powerful, and you have to light the oven with a fireplace match. And what is that thing where the fourth burner should be? I’ve never really tried to figure it out.

  • C. Stanley Plane

    The state of Indiana official souvenir dish towel is a nice touch too. Every kitchen needs some kistch.

    • Nancy Hiller

      So glad someone noticed. That tea towel was a gift from a friend. I love it.

  • pmac

    When I first saw the red knibs in pic #1 I thought, “Hmmm, that brightens things up”. Then I read the caption, busted out laughing, and now I can’t stop seeing cicada eyes.

    • Nancy Hiller

      Any time I can get someone to laugh I am happy. 🙂

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