So I decided to buy a heater, which may hopefully take the chill off the air if it happens again next year, and I picked up this large old Valor 525-R paraffin heater on eBay for £20.
It was sold as untested and therefore for spares or repair.
When I went to collect it, the couple I bought it from told me they'd recently downsized from a farmhouse and this was one of the items that had been lying around in a barn for years. On inspection, it seemed in decent enough condition and, more importantly, it was complete.
When I returned home, I stripped it down. The screws holding the hinge plate and the window surround were seized solid, and I couldn't free them using penetrating oil so I ended up drilling them out. They'll be replaced with new stainless steel flanged buttonhead screws and stainless nuts.
One of the pieces in the sight glass has broken at some time but it's a clean break, if somewhat irregularly shaped, and hopefully it's repairable with superglue.
|one broken glass pane.....|
The tank / burner unit appears to be in very good condition - there are no dents or breakages in the meshes of any of the air galleries. Even the tank level gauge works - the tank still had some paraffin in the bottom - the very primitive type of unguarded gauge fitted to this tank leads me to believe that this is a very early variant of this heater, maybe seventy or eighty years old.
|around an eighth full of paraffin ....|
More indicators that this heater is very old are (1) the legs are cold rivetted to the base section, not spot welded and (2) it burns with a yellow flame. Later models have an improved airflow design and burn with a hotter, blue flame.
This is an old advert for the heater I found on the internet, which unfortunately is undated. The text in the bottom right says the 525-R model as illustrated is on sale at 20/-, i.e. £1. An on-line inflation calculator tells me that £1 in say 1940 had the same buying power as £39 today.... This seems reasonable, because I could have bought a brand-new twin-flue Parasene heater for around £37, although the modern one is an ugly blighter compared to this antique.
I just love the imagery in that advert - the guy's sitting on his sofa at home in a suit and tie, with his patent leather shoes on, wearing trousers with turn-ups and creases so sharp they'd cut like a knife, and even a pointed handkerchief in his breast pocket and his pipe in his hand - and she's wearing a full-length evening dress - all very 1930s Agatha Christie, except for the paraffin heater. Maybe they're just on their way out to a night club, leaving the poor kid playing on the floor where all the carbon monoxide will collect ...
Anyway, back to the project in hand. When I stripped the burner unit, I didn't have very high expectations for the condition of the burner and wick but it all seemed fine after a good clean, so I reset and trimmed the wick with a very sharp craft knife, put it all back together again and lit it up - the paraffin tank was an eighth full.
It burned very well, with an even flame all around and no smoke. So, although it's fully functional as it stands, I decided to pretty it up a little.
I cleaned the base and flue sections with a wire brush and white spirit, and sprayed the base with a grey primer ready for a gloss coat. The flue was coated with a specialist high-temperature matt black paint I'd previously used on our living room fire, and this needs heat to cure properly. I put the tank back into the base, lit the burner and stood the flue in position over it.
|primed base, and flue coating on cure.....|
|burning evenly and cleanly...|
After ten minutes or so, I wondered just how hot the flue gases would be, and so I pushed a thermocouple through the upper perforations to measure the temperature.
|around 250 degrees C in there....|
I left the heater burning for around an hour to fully cure the high-temperature coating, before taking it apart again.
The base section was sprayed with blue gloss, and I gave the zinc window surround and Valor badge a spray with yellow gloss, as a contrast to the matt black of the flue section. I already had a few cans of the paints in the workshop.
Although I'd glued the broken piece of red glass together, and it seemed to be OK, I decided to cut new pieces of clear glass from an old photo frame. The window was re-assembled with the glass, a piece of aluminium mesh directly behind it and then a new insulating sheet of transparent mica. The assembly was fitted to the flue with the new stainless steel screws & nuts.
I'd bought a new tubular wick for the burner, available on eBay for a fiver delivered, intending to keep it as a spare. However, when I compared the length of it to the old one, I decided to fit it immediately.
|old wick is well used....|
|new wick before the inner gallery is fitted....|
The base and flue section were refitted together using new screws at the hinge, and so here's the finished article, up and running.
|the colour scheme's perhaps a little odd, but no matter...|
The intention is to run the heater on our domestic heating oil, i.e. Kerosene-28, which is basically paraffin by another name but it's a lot cheaper to siphon some from our large tank than to buy it in 5 litre containers at the likes of B&Q.
The heater also has an additional function - there are control vents on the top face of the heater flue, with a slider that allows the top holes to be opened so that the heater can also be used as a stove. Useful if you've one of these things in an allotment shed and you want to make a cup of tea....