An economical pot-belly stove design
In the musical Oklahoma!, Curly comforts Laurie after she fires Judd and eventually proposes to her. During the scene he sits on a stove, and, thinking it’s hot, jumps off. It’s a funny moment, but there are more considerations when building the prop stove than may be apparent at first glance. The design of the stove has to be convincing as well as be sturdy to hold the weight of a person, especially when jumping off. Plus, for the production at my school, the prop needed to be economical as well.
Through experimentation with some unconventional materials I discovered that two buckets, joined at their open ends, formed a bulging profile very close to that of a traditional pot belly stove. With a little woodworking and design work, I was able to fill out the design to make the prop match a pot belly stove that certainly looked like it might burn Curly.
The buckets we selected were approximately 10 inches high, with a 12-inch opening diameter and a 9-inch bottom diameter. The wooden base of the stove and the “seam” where the buckets joined together added 7 inches to the height for a final height of approximately 2½ feet.
The burner of the stove was a disk of laminated wood the same diameter as the opening of the bucket. This let us use the bucket as a template for the top and bottom wooden pieces. The burner was joined to a smaller disk of wood resting in the “bottom” of the bucket (now its top, since the top bucket was inverted) using deck screws.
Similarly, at the bottom, a disk of wood was inside, and a larger disk was on the outside. This larger outside disk was screwed into an inscribed square of two-by-fours that acted as the foot of the stove. This square elevated the main body of the stove off the ground and mimicked stove legs. I screwed a 15-inch piece of plywood into the square that the whole stove would rest on to prevent tipping.
For the center interface I designed a “sandwich” of three pieces of laminated wood. The top and bottom pieces were bevel cut to fit inside the openings of the buckets. A slightly-larger center disk (modeled from a small garbage can) provided more stability and also matched several pot belly stove designs that have an exaggerated seam around the center of the belly. I screwed the three pieces together using deck screws, and then joined the bucket to the wood using deck screws driven into the bucket and wood at an angle.
Once the piece was put together, I made the finished touches. I removed the top bucket handle, but because the handle’s hook points were smooth and unobtrusive, I left them alone. The lower bucket’s handle was left in place since it dropped out of the way and was ultimately used for carrying the prop.
I used standard elements for the stove’s vent—a 90-degree elbow and a vent with a mounting plate—available from any hardware store, and attached with metal zip screws. The door of the stove never has to open, which means the sturdiness of the bucket is not compromised by having to cut into it. Theoretically, then, you could paint a door design on the bucket, but I used a discarded cage door from a pet travel crate. I bent the metal door and attached it with sheet metal screws. Finally, I painted the prop for an authentic-looking pot belly stove that would fool Curly, and the audience.