Wood stoves are traditional symbols of home and hearth. Many people are unaware of the craftsmanship and quality of new stove designs in comparison to old-fashioned potbelly stoves. While top-loading and side-loading features are nothing new, they definitely come in handy. Instead of opening the front door of the stove, you can flip the lid of a top-loading stove to reload logs or open a door and slide in logs with a side-loading model.
As their name implies, you can insert wood logs right through the top on top-loading stoves. These models have a lid-like top that you lift with a handle so that you can insert the logs directly into the firebox. This feature makes it convenient to place logs right on top. The opening is typically wide enough to accommodate log lengths that fit the capacity of the stove. Some stoves can hold logs as long as 21 inches.
Side-loading stoves have a door opening that’s typically on the left side of the stove. You open the door and slide the logs into the firebox. With access through the side door, you can stoke the fire while you’re adding logs and position them exactly where you want them, such as closer to the front or on a diagonal.
All stoves have front-loading capabilities; however, top- or side-loading models offer an extra feature that manufacturers and retailers are quick to point out. Their top-loading and side-loading features make it more convenient to add wood to the stove. In fact, having a top- or side-loading option is an advantage if you have a catalytic combustor stove. This is because catalytic models are very sensitive to changes in the interior temperature of the firebox. If you open the front door to load logs on some catalytic models, it interferes with the combustor process, and you have to adjust the damper and monitor the temperature until the combustor essentially resets. However, loading logs through the side or top does not interfere with the combustor process to the extent that opening the front door does. Some stoves feature all three types of wood loading: front, side and top.
You could make a reasonable argument that side-loading stoves are safer. When you use a top-loading stove, your hands, face and clothes are exposed to the flames and heat each time you open the top. You have to position the logs directly over the burning flames and logs if you use this feature. However, your exposure to heat, smoke and fumes is reduced when you use a side-loading stove because you’re only sliding the logs through the door instead of having to lower them directly into the firebox chamber and right above the burning flames and logs. And because smoke and fumes rise upward by nature, you are less exposed to breathing them in when you use a side-loading stove. The door for side loading is also smaller than top-loading lids, so heat loss is lower than in a top-loading stove. On the other hand, top-loading wood stove proponents might argue that these stoves allow you to position the logs exactly where you want them and angle them more precisely than in side-loading stoves.
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