What is the correct way to burn coal in my stove?
- The size of coal fuel is critical; too large and it won't burn well, too small and it will smother the fire creating excessive smoke and gases.
- Purchase Bituminous coal nuggets that are 1-3/4" to 4" (sometimes referred to as egg or nut sized/shaped coal) diameter and that have been "cleaned" to remove rocks and other minerals. Bituminous coal is recommended for ease of use but produces a greater amount of volatile gases so it is important to build and refresh coal fires properly.
- Extra maintenance will also be required to remove accumulated soot on heating surfaces and pipes. *
- All fires should be initially started using wood kindling.
- Hardwood is best as it creates a hotter bed of coals that is necessary to ignite the coal. Once a hot bed of wood coals has been established an initial layer of coal may be placed in the firebox.
- Due to the high amount of volatile gas produced by coal, the initial flames will be long and of an orange or yellow color accompanied by quite a bit of smoke. As the gas is burned off the flames will become shorter, the color will change and less smoke will be produced.
- Once the fire is well established, add coal to the center of the firebox in a cone shaped arrangement.
- The highest part of the fuel should be in the center of the fire box. This allows the heat to drive off the volatile gases and the turbulence created causes a more efficient burn.
Remember to allow enough secondary air to enter the fire box and keep the stove pipe damper open to properly burn off the volatile gases. You will have to experiment with your particular setup (fire construction, fuel load, spin draft control, damper and automatic settings) as no two arrangements of furnace/chimney are the same. When refueling a coal fire, use a poker to break up any crust that may have formed being careful not to mix the coal which may increase the chance of forming "clinkers."
Banking a Coal Fire
A fire should be banked for extended operation without tending, such as overnight. This is accomplished by heaping the fuel along the sides and back of the fire box so that the fire gradually burns through the fuel. This reduces the intensity of the fire without letting it go out.
- Use the same procedures as in refueling but without shaking the grates. The layer of ash will help to reduce the intensity of the fire.
- After loading the fuel in this manner, let the fire establish itself for about 30 minutes then close the damper and adjust the automatic control to a point so that the house does not get too cold.
- Make sure you leave yourself enough time to bank the fire before leaving or retiring so you can make the necessary adjustments after the fire has become well established.
Reviving a Coal Fire
- To revive a fire that has almost gone out, increase the draft through the grates by opening the ash door and stove pipe damper and closing the door spin draft control(s).
- Place a thin layer of new coal over the entire fire but DO NOT SHAKE the fire grates. Doing so may cause the live coals to drop through the grates.
- Once the fresh layer of coal has ignited you may shake the grates (slightly) and refuel as usual.
CAUTION: Do not smother a fire when adding coal. Gases driven off from fresh coal must be burned or they may accumulate and explode. Whenever refueling, open the pipe damper and turn the thermostat damper to high before opening the door to allow any accumulated gases to be burned off.
Here is a decent YouTube video on the same subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTsY5eGQD34
I myself burn a high quality anthracite coal with very little to none sulfur smell. I mine it from a coal seam about 400 meters from the stove. The seam was not commercially viable in its time, but still suffices for the house I live in today. And last, coal burns hot, so it will erode the metal in your stove quicker than wood will. For all the wood stove experts out there, wood tends to burn best from above, but coal tends to burn best from below.
Accumulated soot is often called creosote, and creosote will burn to devastating effect in chimneys. That’s one reason we have chimney sweeps. Plan B is to use chemicals to reduce the creosote to flakes that the stove can burn; or one can burn other type things that burn hot enough to accomplish the same thing. Where I live people often burn cedar, locust, and even empty soda and beer aluminum cans to accomplish the same thing. And I avoid burning pine if I can, but one place I lived had a lot of loblolly pine we did burn, and of course that meant we often made more creosote, too.