A potbelly stove is a type of wood-burning stove made of cast iron. It is freestanding and usually vented out a wall or ceiling. The name is probably derived from the design, as it is usually shaped like a barrel and bulged in the middle. This type of stove is now an antiquated icon that symbolizes Americana and country store design.
Traditionally used primarily to heat large, public spaces such as stores, railroads, and schoolhouses, the potbelly stove was a well-constructed heating device. People could gather around the warmth of a wood fire while they waited for the train, shopped for goods, or gathered for church or school. As the American frontier was developed, the stove made its way into some homes because it provided greater warmth than a standard fireplace.
The potbelly stove differs from other types of cast iron stoves, such as box stoves, cylinder stoves, and parlor stoves, primarily in its shape. Various designs and styles reflect different periods in time, with the potbelly style being one of the earlier varieties. In addition to its bulging barrel shape, the it often had claw feet, but some designs also featured a simple block base. The front had a hinged door that opened wide enough to feed wood into and also clean ash from the bottom.
Though genuine antique potbelly stoves still exist, many manufacturers make replicas of various designs. Some homeowners who strive for authenticity in their historic farmhouses or simply wish to replicate a country farm house look and feel in their home install replicas. Some older homes still have an original potbelly stove in operation, and a homeowner may elect to convert an existing stove to gas or electric, especially if it is original to the home.
New potbelly stoves can be quite expensive. Antiques may cost more or less than new models, depending on the manufacturer, the condition, and the period in which it was used.