It can be a little confusing when looking for a wood stove whether to go with steel or cast iron construction, and which type of heat – radiant or convection – is best for your situation.
Radiant heat is like the sunshine. The heat rays go through the air until they hit a material that absorbs them such as your wall, your sofa or you. The material then begins to heat up and releases heat into the air. Cast iron stoves are great radiant heaters as the cast iron gets hot and radiates in all directions. This can be a benefit if you are going to a cold cottage, as the radiant heat will start to heat up your furniture, walls, etc., in that room.
Convection heat is created when the air around your stove becomes warm and expands and rises. A steel stove does this well as they will have built-in heat shields on the back and sides. As the air in this space between the stove and the heat shield gets hotter, it rises and is replaced by cooler air and the cycle continues. So convection heats the air, not objects. The hot air rises to the ceiling and then layers down, so in the cottage example it may take longer to feel the heat when you first get there. In a home where you need to keep it regularly warm convection heat is a good choice.
When looking at wood stoves you will hear about radiant (cast iron) and convection heat (steel), but in fact, wood stoves will generally offer both. Steel stoves will give you radiant heat from the ceramic glass front and excellent convection from the heat shields. The cast iron stoves will be tremendous radiators of heat and sometimes have heat shields installed to reduce the clearances to wall, thus creating some convection heat also.