Cleaning “Lucy”, the Stove

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I stared cluelessly at my O’Keefe & Merritt vintage stove. It looked okay to me. Then I noticed a few minor things. The oven and broiler chambers needed a bit of cleaning. Two of the grates were cracked. There was a bit of dark crud around and under the outside chrome trim, so I decided to whip out my pressure steamer and give it a good cleaning. Steaming along the top’s edge seemed to loosen and flush out decades of accumulated crud (burnt grease and dirt). But crud just kept coming. “How can I get that trim off so I can get at what’s underneath it?” Another mystery to solve. Then I noticed  touches of rust in many nooks and crannies.

Before hiring a plumber to hook it up to the kitchen gas line that had been capped for decades, I decided to do more cleaning and rust removal. I had no idea the amount of crud just under the chrome trim was nothing compared to what I was going to find just under the hood.

Initially, I had no idea how anything worked or how anything was assembled or could be opened or disassembled. Not much info online and the experts wanted precious funds for their advice; funds I didn’t have.

Online reading did help a little. It taught me these stoves were assembled by hand during manufacturing, so thankfully nearly everything was attached with basic screws/bolts, parts that could be nearly as easy to remove, unless frozen. There was no bizarre hardware that require unusual sets of drivers or other tools. No glued parts. Here was an essential appliance designed to be used several times a day every day, that was extremely durable and easy to disassemble with standard wrenches and screw drivers. Imagine!

Wiping away history under the hood

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It took me a while to discover I simply had to lift up the hood to see most of the workings. Conditions just under the hood – not as clean as on the hood. Years of rust, accumulated old food bits and dust/ash. Eeewww. Amazing how dirty a space can get while it’s covered.

I started by scraping gently with a putty knife, then wiping down the floor of the stove top with paper towels while testing several household degreasers (Grease Lightning, Grease Grizzly, Zep Industrial Purple). PB Blaster, Goof Off and lots of paper towels were indispensable. The kind of stuff I was removing would not rinse out of a sponge.

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It took a while to find out with a little effort I could just pull the control knobs off the valve stems. They are held only by friction and fit. No screws or clamps were used.

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Derusting steel and iron

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With the knobs, two crumb trays and the control panel screws removed, I could easily remove the entire control panel. Removing it revealed many stove parts desperately in need of attention. There were dusty, corroded, rusty valves, a rusty manifold (the main gas pipe), gunk and rust inside and underneath the control panel, a badly rust-etched horizontal brace bar and hood support stick (steel rod that holds the hood open).

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All the screws I removed were also pretty rusty. I scrubbed those with a wire brush and Scotch-Brite heavy duty sponge (green side), sorted them into various labeled cat food tins, and soaked them in PB Blaster.

Without knowing how to properly disassemble more, additional rust removal would be a lot harder. But I wasn’t ready to get extreme on taking major things apart until I got more comfortable with Lucy (stove’s new name).

Mechanical tools like putty knives, wire brushes, steel wool, scrubbie sponges, and sandpaper are safe to use on most things because no chemicals are involved.

Chemical oxidation removers: what should be used depends on the metal. Best items for metal oxidation removal (black rust, red rust, tarnish) depends on what’s being oxidized and how much oxidation there is.

With brass, the oxidation is actually a protective layer to inhibit further corrosion. Its oxidation turns the color to a dull brown. Most of the gas valves are made of brass.

With steel and iron, oxidation is not beneficial. Red rust (iron oxide) will eventually eat the metal. There are lots of chemicals that can remove rust. Most acids will do a great job of removing rust. Although, because iron is so porous, certain very strong acids, like muriatic acid, tend to dig deep and break down the iron. Phosphoric acid turns iron oxide into iron phosphate, a very stable by product that can protect from further red rust.

My personal favorites when not in a hurry – distilled vinegar (1 day soak), citric acid (2 day soak), black strap molasses (1-2 week soak). toolmakingart.com : rust-removal.

Recently, I discovered DMSO works, too.

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Sandpaper, wire brushes and steel wool worked well to knock down most of the rust on the manifold and anything else I wasn’t able to remove.

Afterwards, all formerly rusty surfaces I wiped with vaseline or PB Blaster to slow down further rusting. Now for the darker surfaces I like to use automotive brake grease. It’s meant to withstand high temps.

I knew this was an appliance that spouted fire. I decided to take the risk. Turned out, everything was fine. The surfaces I applied the Vaseline or PB Blaster didn’t ignite or even smoke.

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8 thoughts on “Cleaning “Lucy”, the Stove”

  1. I acquired a Cribben & Sexton Universal stove ( I believe from the 50’s) and am hoping to get it running. It is really clean , and after reading your blog, I Believe I can do it 🙂 When you took apart your burners, you attempted to make gaskets for it with replacements tabs. What did you use, and was it successful ? The purchased ones don’t seem to be correct for mine. My stove seems uncommon ( although it looks JUST like OKM other than the brand name on the tag ) I am hoping a lot of parts are Universal as the brand name implies. The Alltrol Valve Cleaning & Restoring section is priceless, thank you so much for all your information you posted.

    1. Hi Leila. I have not heard of a Cribben & Sexton, at least not yet. But when it comes to basic parts like oven thermostats, burners, valves and clocks, it seems the stove companies bought them from other more specialized manufacturers. So it’s possible you will be able to find the stove parts you will need.

      The cooktop burner gaskets I used were purchased from Grape Vine Sally (http://www.grapevinesally.com/). I would recommend starting with them. If they don’t have what you need, don’t despair. Since cars and trucks use all kinds of gaskets when joining parts, there are decent gasket options. You can even purchase gasket sheets and cut your own, if need be. Just make sure to get something that will meet the performance requirements. Burners get very hot and their surfaces the need to join to other metal surfaces seem rather rough, so the gasket material should be relatively thick and be able to withstand high temps (e.g. 600 – 1000 deg F).

      And if you are planning to work on your stove, I would highly recommend getting a gas leak detector. Don’t rely on your nose. The bubble method is nice in a pinch, but the safest is to have something that is much more sensitive and can tell you exactly where a leak is coming from. When dealing with explosive gases, it’s best to not guess. 🙂

      I know you can do it. The greatest things about these stoves is their durability and elegantly simply design. And you won’t need a pricey warranty. These babies have proven their quality and ability to last. Go for it. I will help you any way I can.

  2. Just discovered your wonderful site. I’ve been reading how you restored your Lucy and started reading the other questions and answers. It’s now 4 AM and I’m still reading.
    Question : is there anyway for little critters such as mice or rats to get inside the oven area from outside. I had a little problem a few years ago and had it taken care of but still worry about the hygienics of my oven. I have a late 1950s Okeefe and Merritt not sure of the exact year but it is 36 inches wide with a chrome top. I was told it was the Deville model. Thanks for any information and is there a way to make sure that critters don’t get inside my oven or storage area thank you

    1. Mice and other similarly sized critters can easily get into the stove. They are known to make nests within the insulation, especially within the stove’s left and right side walls. People won’t usually know until the smell of baking critter poop gets strong enough. Eeewww

      Is it possible to make your stove critter-proof? Good question. I suppose. You’d need to use some form of wire mesh or steel wool – place it in any significant gaps were they can crawl in.

    1. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I don’t know if photos can be included. I’ll research that. In the meantime, check out the Facebook group “Vintage Stoves”. I know you can post photos there and there would be a lot of people who’d enjoy seeing your stove.

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