(This article was contributed by our friend Pierre of Quebec, Canada.
We asked him for his expertise on how to start a coal fire in an antique coal stove, using anthracite coal. Anthracite, (‘ant’ for short), is the hardest variety of coal, and although it is a bit more challenging to get started than wood or soft coal, it burns hotter, cleaner and longer once it gets going.) He is using a Golden Bride No. 12 coal stove, made by Mt. Penn Stove Works, of Reading, PA.
How to Start a Coal Fire
About starting a coal fire, there are many different ways to do so. One I like to use is: open the manual pipe damper(if the installation has one), open completely the primary air control (the ash pan door can also be opened to help). Put many crunched up newspaper balls first, then place a few slices of econo logs on the paper and some charcoal around them.
The econo slices can be replaced with small wood, just like when starting a wood fire. Light the paper, when the charcoal ignites and and the pieces of econo logs are burning, start to put a few pieces of anthracite over the fire, not very much, about a scoop, this step is one of the most important with coal because the base must be burning strongly and you should take the time for it.
Then wait until the ant (anthracite) starts to produce blue flames. Blue flames indicate the fire is going on. Then add a light layer of ant, wait for the blues.
Then an other ant layer of ant and when the fire gets hotter, about 300*F and having blues over the fire, fill the fire pot up to the liner or fire bricks top. Wait about 5 min. then close the air control almost completly, just let 1/8″ to 1/4″ open (important to close the ash pit door if opened). If having a manual pipe damper, close it about 3/4. The fire will catch up within about 20 minutes and burn for around 12 hrs with no touch.
The start up is longer with ant but when done correctly it’s not very difficult. Having a strong fire and taking time is the secret, if using wood for starting the fire, wait until the wood is burning hard before beginning to add anthracite on but not until the wood is getting coal/ash.
The ash pan should be emptied every day so it doen’t get too full and touch the grate’s base and stop the combustion air passage.
After the 12hrs of burning, just re-load the stove to the top wait about 5 min. and re-adjust the air controls as before.
Well, may look complicated but in reality it’s not so much. The problem is no one installation is the same, the stove, chimney/draft, house location…many things that can need different solutions. The first 2/3 days are the easiest ones, then comes the ash build up in the coal bed. So the stove should be shaken every 24 hrs according to the fire rate, ash pan size… If not shaken enough the fire will hardly burn, if too much shaken you will lose the fire. One thing to respect when shaking is to stop shaking when seeing some red coal pieces falling down in the ash pan.
We should always remember that an anthracite fire is started only one or 2 times for the entire heating season, so taking the time for the first fire is important.
Questions and answers:
Q. I asked -What is an econo log?
A. The econo logs are wood saw dust compressed to a log form and are used to replace real wood logs.
If you don’t have econo logs, just use kindling wood, and when they are burning add some bigger pieces of wood on and wait untill the fire is well established. If the wood fire isn’t strong enough, it will be hard to ignite the ant, ant needs more BTU to ignite than wood. Placing pieces of charcoal also helps to reach high temp. Taking time to do this first step is very important when making the first ant fire.
Also remember that ant burns from under the coal bed to the top, opposite to wood burning. So if you miss the first fire (or an established fire running for days) you should go down to the grate base.
Q. I asked, -What if someone only wants to start a coal fire at night, and not 24 hrs. a day, or for the whole season?
A. A coal/ant fire is at best when used 24/24, all winter long. If wanting only a night fire, an ant fire is longer to ignite than a wood one and the next evening, you should start the new fire but there will stay good unburned ant over the ash bed. Sometime we can re-light a new fire over that but it’s not so easy.
Usually with wood, when the fire dies you have just ash left and making a new fire over it is easy. With ant, the ash on the grate will not help for the combustion air coming from under the grate, so it’s better to dump all what is on the grate and re-start a new fire as described.
Seems curious but when you know your coal burning system, you never want to go back to wood.
Plus wood fires make much more soot on the mica than anthracite does. Important if having a multi mica stove…
Another thing to know when burning all winter long is to empty the ash pan every day, best at evening time just before shaking the grate so the ash is the one from the previous evening and it’s completely cold.
Written by Pierre Boucher
Thanks Pierre! for this very informative article.
Comments and questions are welcome!