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Country Discussion Topics
To add your comments to this topic, click on one of the 'Reply' links below.

Learning to Burn with Coal
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stonebroke    Posted 02-10-2003 at 15:48:38       [Reply]  [Send Email]
I have learned a great many things about country living just by reading the posts on this board, and quite often I've put that knowledge to good use. That being said, I have a question that I haven't seen addressed. It concerns the burning of hard anthrocite nut coal. I have a Federal Airtight stove (m# FA264CCL)and the 5 or 6 times that I've tried - I'd say I've failed.
Here's what I do; I start with a good bed of wood coals, then add small quantities of coal (I leave the ash door open) to establish a very HOT bed. After 15 or so minutes I top this off with more coal. Once I see the added coal burning fairly well I close the ash door and open stove damper fully. (The damper in the 6" stove pipe is open also).
The next morning (burrrr) I find that quite a lot of the coal has not burned. I've read that burning coal is a challenge but I know that you "good folks" have an answer to my question and will share your knowledge with me.

Thank you for taking the time to respond.

Scroggy    Posted 01-06-2006 at 16:30:33       [Reply]  [Send Email]
In the type stove you have, ALL the combustion air comes from the bottom. Leave the ash door wide open, as this will allow the max air to enter the stove. I soak all my kindling wood, 1"x1"x14" oak in diesel fuel in a 5 gallon bucket. Simply put five or six 1"x1"x14" on the grate and a hand full of coal on top and light. Add more coal as the first cathes.
P.s. I've tryed all the methods, trust me 25 years of coal burning and this is the best.

stonebroke    Posted 02-11-2003 at 16:30:57       [Reply]  [Send Email]
Thank you all for taking the time to reply. The information and suggestions you just shared has me "re-thinking" this whole coal burning thing. Giving up on this is not an option.
The positive side of this is that I do have a descent coal stove. The negative side is that I have no instructions in it's use. It came with the house. Until this winter I had been burning wood. But I live in SE PA., where coal is plentiful, so I thought I'd give it a try. Until I contacted you good folks the only operating information I had came from "Coal Tips". Thank you Red Dale for suggesting that site. I have followed their step by step instructions and from my previous e mails you can see I'm missing something. But now with your help and the additional information I'm adding about my stove that, I'm sure you'll help me find just what it is that I'm missing. The nut sized coal I am useing is good hard Anthrocite. Thank you TB for mentioning the posibility that I might be using bad coal. Right now I'm buying it by the box for .10 a lb.. Just like going to an ice machine - put in $3.50 and get a 35 lb. box. Ludwig, you bring to light that my "airtight" might need more air. And that's a real posibility. This stove has three rotary dampers that allow air to enter into the stove. One in the ash access door that's below the grate. That's the one I feel I should use to control the coal (as per Coal Tips) once it's lit real well. Another in the left side door. That is the door that I use to fit in the firewood. I only used that damper for quick starting a wood fire. And another (again on the left side but above the door) that leads into the stove but "above the firebox". Up and until I read Larry's e mail I never gave this one much thought as to it's function in the burning of caol. Coal Tips never mentioned "above air" and being as I am/was a wood burner I never felt a need. But Larry has me thinking. This damper feeds air to a group of tubes inside the stove but "above the firebox". Above the tubes is (what seems to me) a 6" dia. honeycombed 2" thick Catalitic converter looking piece. Because the exiting for the stove pipe is located inside and at the rear of the firebox these tubes do not vent to the outside until they pass over the top of the fire. That is - the air fed through the tubes has to enter into the top of the firebox before it can be exhausted out of the stove. Inside the stove, at the top of the firebox, there is a fairly heavy cast grate that looks like a sive. It must have 50 or so 1/4" holes in it. It serves to protect the tubes. It's warped down so much that it prevents me from adding as much wood as I would like to. Before your kind responces I had been thinking about doing away with it and covering the hole with a solid piece of steel. I saw no need for it. Now I believe that I have a need. Please let me know what you think. Your advise is much appreciated. Again - thank you all; TB, Salmoneye, Red Dave, Larry, Les...fortunate, Stan, bob, and Ludwig.

Stan    Posted 02-11-2003 at 09:40:13       [Reply]  [Send Email]
You didn't say whether you had a grate or not. Most coal stoves had a grate. Lets a lot of air under and thru the coal.

Ludwig    Posted 02-11-2003 at 06:36:24       [Reply]  [No Email]
I wouldn't call myself an expert by any means, but I've fired probably 10 ton of coal so far in my short lifetime, so I've got some experience.
Dad's had 2 coalstoves, one was an airtight and the other is an old pot belly. They take slightly different techniques.

For your airtight, I think the problem might be that its "airtight" as in it don't get no air!
Build your wood fire like you do, add your coal and get it drawing good, then add more coal.
Do this all in the morning so you can play with it during the day and learn how it works. You aren't learning anything by just trying to run it at night.
Also, TB is right, different coal burns differently "Low ash" is usually crap, I've had to put a torch on that stuff to get it to burn. High ignition point so it wouldn't light easily with wood. Dad got 2 ton of it one year, what a mistake!

Anyway, after the fire catches good close the vent and let it cook for a bit. Now use the damper to control the temp output. Get it to what you want and note the position. You may have to open the vent a little. You'll find that the damper has to be open fairly considerably to make opening the vent worth the effort. Think about that for a second and you'll see how draft works...
Since yours is an airtight you may find that you need to leave some combination of damper and draft open to get it to burn right and that that combination will change with the temp outside, wind direction, and humidity.
No one ever said this'd be easy. Pay attention to the stove and you'll learn.

Okay, so you got through your first day. This should have given you an idea of consumption and control. Now, shake 'er down good until you see the first red clinkers fall into the ashpan, then shake it just a little more. Don't get an ashpan full of red, just a few.
Load your stove again and go to bed. Dad's potbelly will hold maybe 20# fully loaded which is good for about 10-12 hours at ultra low. As you need more heat you burn more coal...
In the airtight we'd usually load up to just below the bottom of the door, sloped up in the back maybe an inch.
That stove burned less coal, but was more work, ate door seal ropes and finally burned out the grate which would have been $200 to replace. Dad hauled the potbelly out of the woods for free, we cleaned it up and burned in it for years until the grate broke. Had a friend make up a new one since its just a round plate with holes in it and he still uses it today.
The first stove lasted maybe 8 years. The new one is going on 15 with no signs of stopping.

Oh, one last thing. RESIST the temptation to melt beer bottles on the hot coals. It looks very cool, but you'll have to chip the glass out of the grate when the stove cools. Not fun.

Hobart    Posted 11-03-2005 at 04:31:38       [Reply]  [Send Email]
I have a Vigilant two coal stove. I have some anthracite coal Any tips or help??

Red Dave    Posted 02-11-2003 at 06:01:29       [Reply]  [No Email]
I found this on the site Salmoneye linked to on a question above. Good site.

This article may help you:

Larry    Posted 02-10-2003 at 22:51:21       [Reply]  [Send Email]

To burn coal you need the draft to come from the top of the fire not the bottom. When coal burns it forms a inpenetratable layer that blocks air from getting through. If you are serious about burning coal you should drill a 1/2" to 3/4" hole in the stove door and make a tin draft control so you can control the amount of air you let in. Hope this helps.

Les...fortunate    Posted 02-11-2003 at 04:29:54       [Reply]  [No Email]
Larry, your post seems to recommend just about opposite of what most of the others have said. I tried to burn coal in a Shenandoah stove I used to have and had about the same luck as Stonebroke. I finally gave up. Since coal isn't "native" around here, I went back to what I know: wood.
With that being said, I watch the "Trains and Locomotives" shows on RFD and those old coal burners definitely have the draft coming from underneath, through grates. Of course, there is a forced draft which may make all the difference. Just like the old forge in our blacksmith shop. I know they used coal in that.

Larry    Posted 02-11-2003 at 07:55:03       [Reply]  [Send Email]


Your right about the steamers haveing a forced air draft. I think that makes all the differnce with them. But have you noticed that the operator of these steamers do keep the door open a lot of the time when they are working the engine while burning coal.

I once had a old Montgomery Ward trophy top stove I used to use to heat our house with years ago. The stove came with a cast iron tube that you could install from the top of the stove and hung down over the fire. Then there was a sort of a draft control that went over the hole where you stuck this tube in. I tried to use it for burning wood just to see what it would do. It hung so close to the fire that I couldn't really pile much wood in the stove,becuase this thing was in the way. Then I asked a old timer what the purpose for this thing was,and he said it was for burning coal. He told me that the coal burned a lot better with an over the fire draft. So I got a few buckets of coal from the heating plant at the university where I work and gave it a try. Guess what? It worked great. If I would have had a good source for coal I would have burned a lot of it.

Another thing I learned about coal was that pigs loved to eat this stuff. But that's another story.

Ludwig    Posted 02-11-2003 at 06:23:48       [Reply]  [No Email]
Depends which kind of coal. My Dad's got an old railcar stove, the real potbelly kind. Its got "underair" which is what we've been talking about for hard coal, and "overair" in 2 places, which is what you need in combination with "underair" for burning soft coal.

"Underware" is a totally different subject...

bob    Posted 02-10-2003 at 18:21:03       [Reply]  [No Email]
get some re bar or round stock even angle iron and build you a grate all you need is make high enough for air to get under and have holes just large enough so coal can,t fall thro. weld pieces together that will be a start and you can improve later bob

Red Dave    Posted 02-10-2003 at 18:16:47       [Reply]  [No Email]
I have a Franco-Belge burning pea coal that we use once in a while. It is a class A PITA to get going sometimes because it really isn't big enough for the chimney flue I have it in.
The only thing that works for me is to use a propane burner to warm up the flue pipe to get a good draft established then use some match-light charcoal to start a fire in the bottom of the stove. Make a good-sized pile of it. Let the charcoal burn until it is real good and hot, glowing red. Put a handful of coal on the pile and let it burn awile, put another handful or two on, and keep adding it as much as it will take until the coal has a good pile of it burning good. Spread it out some and keep adding more.
I do mine with the ash pan in and the draft open wide because it will smoke the place up otherwise.
Hope that helps, the guy who showed me how said to forget everything you learned about wood burning, cause coal is different. I know it sure can be frustrating.

TB    Posted 02-10-2003 at 17:07:42       [Reply]  [No Email]
Most coal needs a tremendous amount of under fire air so you do need a good and compact grate. This will keep the coal off the bottom and allow the draft up thru the coal maybe. Unless you already have a stove with grates in it.

Salmoneye    Posted 02-10-2003 at 16:36:45       [Reply]  [Send Email]
Never had much experience with coal, but I thought that the draft had to come from the bottom through a grate to burn coal?

Where your ash door is...

stonebroke    Posted 02-10-2003 at 17:10:29       [Reply]  [Send Email]
Thank you for your responce. You're absolutely correct. My ash door is located at the extreme bottom of the stove. It opens to expose the removable ash pan which sits below the grate. The ash door also has a rotary damper control knob. I leave it wide open (the stove draws well) to insure a hot coal fire. But in the long run it doesn't seem to help. I'm just missing something and don't know what. I could use a little help - my trial and error method isn't going too well. And sorting through the ashes before starting another fire, looking to save good re-useable coal, is getting old.

TB    Posted 02-10-2003 at 19:58:08       [Reply]  [No Email]
It is possible that you have bad coal you might want to try a bag or two from a different coal yard.

steve    Posted 11-30-2008 at 14:20:26       [Reply]  [Send Email]
I'm tryingmyhand using coalas well, I found out I have a Harman Mark II stove and was burning wood for the last 7 years. I'm trying coal and followed the tips on building a good fire adding small and slow, then when i get a good bed approx 2-3" deep glowing hot the cool slowly goes out. I tried all day and ended up with 2" of burnt coal chunks. I have call the manufacture and was told the stove is a coal stove only(it burns wood good). I have used nut coal and I live in southeast PA york area.I know the door has some kind of draft below the glass but is manufactured in not for operating. Any help please

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