How to start a coal fire burning stove

Starting a coal stove

No one told me how hard it is to start a coal stove when I purchased one. Starting a coal stove is nothing like starting a wood stove fire or a pellet stove fire. Not even close. When you are done reading this you will be amazed how easily you can start a coal stove fire.

Some people will have you believe that its not so hard to start a coal fire that it just takes patience. Bulls**t! I went online to see how other people start their coal stoves and found a few different ways people go about it.

One rediculus and extremely lenghthy way to start a coal stove fire:

STARTING A COAL FIRE 1. Use paper and dry kindling to start the fire. 2. Add small pieces of hardwood when fire is burning hot. Keep the draft control fully open till a hot fire is established. 3. When a decent bed of red wood embers is built up, start adding coal--small amounts at a time. Keep the draft control open!! 4. Continue adding small amounts of coal until there is a 1” to 2” bed of burning coal. Don’t add too much coal at one time and allow sufficient time between each small loading for the coal in the stove to thoroughly ignite. 5. It is important at this point to fill the stove to the highest level possible. A deep bed of coal is critical for the proper function of all coal stoves. Since coal can be regulated better than wood, a deep bed does not mean that you can only run the stove hot - rather you can control the stove by setting the air control on your stove. 6. After all the coal has been ignited and is burning with a blue flame, then the draft control can be turned down. Serious damage can result if the stove is run wide open for extended periods of time. Make sure that the ash pan door is closed at all times.

Sounds easy right? NOT AT ALL! This person does not tell you that you will be sitting in front of your stove for an hour trying this method. I tried this method before I discovered a new much easier way and it took me about an hour to get the coal to catch fire

Here is another so called easy way to start your coal stove:

ADDITIONAL HINTS ON STARTING 1. Some users have tried MATCHLIGHT CHARCOAL to light their coal stoves—also some brands of SOLID charcoal starter (royal oak,minute light) will do the job. This eliminates the mess of wood. Just spread the charcoal out until it barely covers the grate and put a small amount of coal on top don’t cover the charcoal completely!! Light the charcoal - OPEN AIR CONTROLS 100% and when the coal is burning with a blue flame add more coal as before. Never use liquid starters on a coal or wood stove.starters with large quantities of wax or softwood in them may not burn hot enough. 2. Always make sure that your chimney is drafting upward before you start your stove. Some chimneys have a tendency to reverse while not in use. In most cases the following procedure will start the chimney : Place a small piece of newspaper as far up in your stove or chimney as possible and light it. When it burns and gets pulled up the chimney-then light the coal fire. 3. Never poke or stir the coal fire when starting or at any other time. Coal fires like to be left alone and many former wood burners tend to fool around with their coal fires, thereby putting them out!!!

Yes it's just that easy folks. Abosolutely NOT! I also tried this method and let me tell you I wanted to punch the person who came up with this idea. I tried the matchlight charcoal, lit it, and did everything this article told me to do and all I ended up with was a cellar full of smoke and fumes. Not to mention I never started the coal stove doing it this way. I tried for ,and I am not kidding, 4 and 1/2 hours to no avail. This person makes it sound so simple. Its not period.

At my local coal stove dealer he sells these little coal starters. Some people refer to these as coal mice. They are a little box about 2 inch square and have a fuse sticking out of them. You are supposed to put the box in your stove on top of the grate where your coal fire will be. Pile some coal on top of this little box and then light fuse with a long candle or BBQ grill lighter. Close the door on the coal stove and when this little box ignites plug in your coal stove and tada your stove is up and burning. Maybe. These little coal mice are only $1.50 per box some places are a little more expensive than that. These little coal mice work but not all the time. The first time I went to start my coal stove I went through 2 of these little boxes. The second time I went through 3 of these boxes. Just about every time I need to start my coal stove again I go through 2 to 4 of these coal mice boxes. A lot of the time these things are duds and do not work. On average it costs me $3-$5 to start my coal stove. On average I have to restart my stove every 4-5 weeks during use to clean my coal stove. So it costs me on average during the winter $18 to $30 to restart my coal stove. Yes you need to shut down your coal stove every few weeks to clean it or your stove will not function properly.

After going through all of this hell trying to start my coal stove last winter I decided to try and find a cheap and more reliable way to strart my coal stove. Through some research online I found a way where you can start your coal stove every time and not have to worry about building a fire with paper and wood, or use charcoal bricketts and sit there for hours on end.

So here it goes. I use a heatgun. Yes a heatgun. Some people use heatguns for stripping paint, heatshrink electrical wires on automotive applications, welding plastics together. I use one to start my coal stove. I know it sounds crazy at first but once you try it you will stop wasting your time and money on all of those useless methods. I am sure you are wondering how to do this so I will tell you how I do it.

1. Put on some heavy duty leather gloves for your own protection. Welder gloves or fire proof gloves. No you hands are not going to be in the fire it's just common sense to wear gloves when starting a fire anyway. Also you should always wear safety glasses when lighting a coal fire because the little pieces of coal have a tendency to pop like popcorn. You will thank me for this later.

2. Stick end of heatgun onto grate. Make sure the end of the heatgun is in the middle of the fire grate.

3. Pile up some coal at the tip of the heatgun. You do not need to cover the tip of the heatgun just pile it up against it.

4. Turn your heatgun on high,close your door as much as possible,I know your arm is in the way just close it a bit to try and keep as much off the fumes in the stove as possible. Hold the heatgun in this position on the grate until you have a coal fire about the 2 inches around, approximately 2-3 minutes, and then plug your coal stove in and make sure your blower is on. It helps to have someone there to plug your stove in when its ready but not mandatory for this method to work. I do this alone every time and it always works. Just make sure your fire is big enough before pluging in stove or it will go out. It will be very bright so don't look at fire directly.

A heatgun with a rating of 750 degrees F to 1000 degrees F will do the job. Keep in mind the end of the heatgun is going to be extremely hot after you use it so be very carefull not to touch it or place it on anything that will catch fire. This is where having those heavy leather gloves come in handy as I have made the mistake of accidentally touching the end of the heatgun after use. Ouch. I have listed some heatguns below that will do the job. Good luck, and if it doesn't work the first time make sure you have the coal in the end of the heat gun. Make sure you dump out any coal that is left inside the end of the heatgun.

Comments 54 comments

Terry 7 years ago

You are 100% correct when it comes to starting a coal fire. I have used the coal mice and about 1/3 of them are duds. Plus they are expensive when you have to use several of them to start the fire. They are also in very short supply. The bottom line is a heat gun can not be beat. I recently purchased a Wagner heat gun which is rated for 750 to 1100 degrees. I followed your instruction to the letter and my Reading, Leigh model coal stove started righ up. The heat gun cost me $24 and I purchased it from Lowes. Thank you for all the good advise.

coal 6 years ago Author

Thanks Terry. Sorry I did not reply until now. I have been busy and realy didn't expect many people to read my hub. Not too many people burn coal where I live. I am pleased I have been able to help you.

LadyCoalBurner 6 years ago

We have had a coal stove in my house for years, and with 3 little ones, the quicker I can get the stove going the better!

My one secret is to use pizza boxes..that's right,a pizza box.

Set at the the bottom of the stove, add wood on top and you would be surprised how FAST and HOT the wood gets burning from the grease in the box. (no need for paper or kindling)

Using this method, I can most times get the stove loaded and burning nicely in about 45minutes without frequent loading of wood and small bits of coal.

barbero 6 years ago

THANK YOU, THANK YOU. tried starting my coal stove this morning using as you suggested a heat gun.

It worked like a charm. I don't think it took more than a minute to start the anthracite rice coal I use. I was a little doubtful at first, but a believer now.

coal 6 years ago Author

Your Welcome Barbero.

michelle 6 years ago

Thank you! I will be making a trip to Lowe's to purchase a heatgun today! We just went through our last three "mice" and our stove is still not lit. Not to mention, the dealer that sells the "mice" hoards them like they are gold, & limits the ammount you can purchse because of such high demand! My husband will be so delighted that we won't have to purchase those anymore.

coal 6 years ago Author

Glad I was able to help.

Phillip Francisco 5 years ago

Hey I tried your method and it got the coal stove up and running. I really didn't think it was going to get hot enough to work. but hey you made a believer out of me. I'm passing this info to anyone I know that uses coal stoves.

Thanks :)

coal 5 years ago Author

Your Welcome Phillip

barry k 5 years ago

I have a Reading anthracite dual burner self feeding furnace that attaches to my forced air system. I will purchase a gun today. I have been using wood pellets and starter. Also, I purchased starter bags from the coal company at $20 per dozen. I have had a difficult time starting the fire LY. Hopefully I can start both feeders within a few minutes.

Tracy  5 years ago

I too use to use bugs to start my stove but as mentioned multiple times above, yesterday when I wanted to fire up my stove, the only bug I had ended up being a dud. I read this post and purchased a heat gun, followed the directions and was pleasantly surprised to see it worked like a charm! Thank you so much for posting this information!!!

Mella 5 years ago

I used to raise goats. I still have a debudder for dehorning. Just wondering if you think this would work. I've become so frustrated with the coal mice that I just want to cry.

coal 5 years ago Author

Hi Mella,

Sorry not familiar with a debudder. I can tell you it should have some sort of fan to push the hot air or I do not believe it will work. You can always try though.

Andrea 5 years ago

After reaching my frustration limit of trying to get my stove started, I will be trying this method when I get home tonight. I hope I have as great a success rate as you and the others!

Alan 5 years ago

why does the coal fuse together

rottiegirl 5 years ago

Those methods sound great but my husband had the best idea--he uses a self igniting plumbing torch and NAP gas. A great tool to have in the house and great for camping and soldering pipes. He soaks 6 or so 2x2 blocks of wood and and about a pound of coal in Thompsons waterseal overnight. Within 10 mins. the fire is cooking without much fumes. He used all the other methods and this was the best.

Erik 5 years ago

Does anyone know where I can find a soft coal supplier in Oregon?? My pops would like to start using it as a heat source for the shop if the price is right.

coal 4 years ago Author

Sorry can't help you there Erik.

Bruce 4 years ago

Just before I was leaving this morning to get some coal starter mice at the local fireplace store, I decided to scout the internet to see if I could get them at a better price. While searching, I came across this posting by COAL and I am THRILLED that I spent the time to read it. I was looking for something that I could make that would be effective in starting the coal fires and was ready to buy some briquettes, etc when I continued to read and discovered COAL's advice about a heat gun! After reading it and the other postings after his, I felt this would be worth a try. Oh my goodness did it work well! Took about 3 minutes to get the coal burning! No muss, no fuss. Thank you COAL. Your advice was priceless!

Mary 4 years ago

Sitting here trying to get my stove going ( I've only been at it for a week) great infrmation and will use, just don't know if husband will allow me to try your way. (Oh well he will be leaving for a week)hehee

Donald 4 years ago

I didn't think this was going to work but I was exstatically surprised. We had run out our coal mice and a Nor'easter hit us this past Saturday. Read your post and ran to Lowes to pick up the Wagner heat gun. It worked best when I placed the tip of the gun in the coal. But holly cow when it worked, it really was unbelievable how well it worked. All I have to say is THANK YOU. You are a life savior!!!! Our house is WARM!!!!!

dale 4 years ago

I never comment on posts but am so appreciative of your great advice,a heat gun who would have thought,every year we go through the (light the stove rollercoaster ride)and I used a heat tonight and it worked great, thanks again for making my life a little easier.

heather 4 years ago

OMG.. my house stunk when I came home tonight! My poor husband just installed an Alaska rice coal stove today and had the darndest time getting it to start.. he spent over an hour and two phone calls.. after reading the great posts.. I have decided he is getting a heatgun for his birthday in a couple days! Great Info! Thankyou very much!!

wentwa 4 years ago

can I use a blow torch? will it be the same as a heat gun?

Coal 4 years ago

Hi wentwa,

I tried using a little propane torch once and it didn't work. In a post above rottiegirl states you can use a map gas torch. I have not tried this method but have heard it has worked for other people. Good luck!

Tester 4 years ago

I use a turbo torch. Put coal in the leave off the fans. stick the torch in the coal for about 1 minute. till the center is glowing red. Close the door. plug in the stove. and fan starts with feeder. In just a few minutes the fire is glowing red. Never had a problem and been starting this way for 8 years now

wentwa 4 years ago

every year for the last three years we have used rice coal, i screwed up and order PEA coal this year, its alot there any difference in starting pea coal, we are having a hard time getting pea coal started. we are going out today to get the heat gun! but just curious is anyone knows if there is a difference, pea is much bigger then rice so I do imagine it will not light as easy

mr380 4 years ago

this guy is right on the money...i just purchaed a keystone keystoker 90k btu unit used....put a couple of bucks in it (new glass,gaskets,barometric damper,stove pipe)..being new to burning coal i did endless searches and everyone talked about how hard it was to start a coal fire with anthrecite coal...came across this guys articla and he couldn't be anymore correct !!! i went out to walmart and bought a heat gun right from the beginning and wah la it lit ina matter of minutes...thanks for all your help...mike in pennsylvania

gt4c 4 years ago

I have a k6 keystoker and have cussed, sworn, and basically lost my mind attempting to light this thing. I have tried charcoal, wood, the little white packs of fire starter, the red syrup stuff, wood fire starters, and still could not get the fire going. I read this and went to walmart and got a wagner heat gun for about $24.00. In less than 5 minutes I had a fire. I want to thank you for putting this on the site. I would have never believed it would work but is sure does

Thanks again

casey 4 years ago

Works great. Thanks much.

MichaelOz 4 years ago

I would like to clarify are you talking about natural coal or charcoal? I'm using natural coal and would like to try this method.

Bo Seamus 4 years ago

This is a great post, thanks! I've wasted maybe 6 hours on two days trying to get my coal stove going again this year, and I'm pissed about it, but I'm hoping these tips work. I'm going to try my torch with MAPP gas, like Rottiegirl suggested; it didn't seem like regular propane was working well enough because my coal wouldn't stay lit. I have a lot of mixed-size coal that I was given; do you folks think the fire will start easier with only "same size" coal, or is mixed sizes OK? I have small and up to 3-4" size pieces... Should I only put the biggest on after the fire is going well?

Coal, it's been so long since I used my coal stove I can't remember how I used to keep it going. IF you can, I'd really like to read more about the ongoing fire tending methods you use. I can't remember, for instance, if poking some holes between the coals helps or hurts, and I really don't want to kill the fire by mistake once I get it going.. Thanks in advance if anyone can add some good advice about coal fire maintenance.

saoirse 4 years ago

omg,NOTHING beats a coal fire for the sheer heat output and the quality of this heat.

now i'm from back in the day when we had "solid fuel" cookers and open fires and unfortunately time was eternal so all we did was spread the coal out on top of the hot embers from either wood or turf and thank God we had it for the time being-

sometimes we would arrange a poker to elevate a slow burning area but scientifically i haven't a clue if it really helps BUT doing that never extinquished it either.

...........mygawd the heat when tossed in the fireplace,you'd literally have first degree reddenned skin type burns if you sat to close for too long.

Lenore 4 years ago

I just can't seem to keep my coal fire burning. I can get a nice hot wood fire and a nice layer of red hot embers to put coal on but the coal won't stay burning. What am I doing wrong?

Rice Coal Furnace 3 years ago

Heat guns are expensive. I have one but it was about $140.00. I use real hard wood charcoal (looks like black burnt wood chunks) not the compressed briquettes. Pile a hand full in the middle of the air burner plate hit it about 30 seconds with a MAP gas torch (about $30.00). Turn on your blower and shut the door and when it is burning good put a scoop of rice coal on top of the wood and your done. It takes about 1-2 minutes all together. Fast, easy and cheap. Thanks,

JJ 3 years ago

OMG Thank you so much for sharing this info... I bought a $24 heat gun last night and started my coal stove right up. No muss, no fuss nothing but EASY and cheap.

TS 3 years ago

I tried MAPP gas with a smaller cartridge torch and still had great diffculty in starting my coal fire. The "turbo" torch gets much hotter and I can see why this would start the fire. Unless you happen to be a plumber or in HVAC I doubt you will have one of these laying around the house and they are expensive to buy. If you accidentally burn through the acetelene hose on one of these torches you will get a lot more heat that you ever anticipated, please be careful.....I strongly suggest away from this method unless you are familiar in the use of these torches.

Back to the other options, I think they have stopped selling the "mice" here in PA. I'm thinking it is probably due to the ingredients in the mice becoming less available. The only substitute I could find were these home made mystery bags local amish are selling here that seemed to do the trick but they can get expensive as well. The lady who sold them to me said that they have coal, wood chips and maybe some other "stuff" in them.

Last night I tried to make my own bags up and failed mainly because I didn't add charcoal. It appears that the guy making these crushes regular barbeque type charcoal and adds wood chips and puts some regular rice coal on top of that. The layering is important.

I seen video on youtube where a guy made a similar thing by using what looks like a simple can with the ends removed and a hole at the side toward the bottom to light the mix. He simply rolls up some newspaper as layer one,adds a small handfull of crushed charcoal as layer two and lastly he adds small pieces of regular rice coal. It takes about three minutes to start the fire using his method with his coal stocker blower on.

So I am going to try the can idea tonight and see how it goes. If it doesn't go well I'll get the heat gun.

I hate to play devils advocate here but if you have a free standing coal stove and you loose power to your home how will you light the fire? Great Idea though.

eddie 3 years ago

True and pissed off to the point of finding the answer....Well put, If i do say so myself...

Chris Kilpatrick profile image

Chris Kilpatrick 3 years ago from Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania

I have a question I have been having a problem with my coal stove I get it lit and it stays running for a couple hours I go to check on it one last time and it's still feeding coal and running but the fire died out wondering if I could be using to much air or maybe the boiler is just broken?

Steve 2 years ago

All I do is chuck some paper at the bottom, cut some wood to think slithers, light that, walk away have a smoke come back then the wood is burning chuck a load of coal on top job done.

We have a multi fuel burner duno if that makes a differnce

carrie 2 years ago

upset ...i have used the heat gun and the torch and the mice and the wood and paper for pea coal and it still will not light and stay lit ....could it be the coal ?????

towing139 2 years ago

The heat gun trick was perfect I got it to light the first try thank you

mary 2 years ago

a I have a Petite godin French Parlor stove. I have used it for 15 years and have never had a problem starting it,this year it has been a nightmare.I do not plug in this stove and have no blower, will this method work with my stove?

Dave 2 years ago

Check your draft If it has worked for 15 years and now it has stopped I would suspect something has changed that has lowered your draft.

Doug 2 years ago

I heard about the heat gun method and tried it....; all it did was melt the tip of the heat beware you might ruin your heat gun...Maybe I was doing something wrong I dont know seems to work for other people.I have an Alaskan stoker stove and I use Ignito fire starter packets and matchlite charcoal but the first thing you must do is make a metal bracket to put on the ramp the coal comes down to prevent the fire from tumbling off the end of the ramp! Then after you get the charcoal going and gradually adding coal and eventually a solid coal fire established by slowly increasing your air flow you remove the bracket.and adjust rate of coal being fed automatically it does take patience but not so bad once you get the hang of it.The biggest mistake people make is giving fire to much air and it goes out.

Dan 2 years ago

I have had a coal stove for years, I would hate stopping it to clean because I knew I would have a hard time starting it. I have tried everything mentioned here. still had a hard time, read your articail,and reread it, My problem was I would start the blower at the same time. THERE WAS MY PROBLEM. I burnt all the wood pellet and the charcoal fluid an started from 0. Instead of using a heat gun I went for my propane torch,NO AIR. got it running in a couple of minutes. When it had a 2 inch circle i started the blower,BINGO it started burning right ,and had it adjusted in no time Perfect.Thanks a lot.

rich 2 years ago

I tried for hrs with mapp gas,ten seconds after i stuck my heatgun in there that coal was lit, i allmost fell over backwards........ thank you so much....1.50 a mouse ? kiss my you no what!

Dou 2 years ago

I have been burning coal for almost 10 years. Tried just about every method included here (except soaking in Thompson's Water Seal) with poor results, except the heatgun. I've been using an acetylene B-tank and torch and it still took forever to light. WOW!! The heatgun took less than 5 minutes to get a good fire going with my industrial Master Appliances Heatgun.

Got so hot it actually melted the aluminum shroud over the heating element. I will look to see if Master offers a steel shroud.

cindy 2 years ago

you forgot to mention that this will only work with an electric based coal stove.....hmmm wonder what happens when you do not have electric....

Lori 22 months ago

We just bought a coal stove last year & messing with the wood & paper was a pain & the smoke & smell was horrible not to mention how long it took! Well our nephew has used a coal stove for yrs & he brought over his heat gun & showed my husband how he lights his with the heat gun & oh yea, that's a much better way to start a coal stove! A lot easier & quicker! This is the only way to start a coal stove! Coal stoves are unbelievably warm, now if they could just get rid of the smell & dust, they would be the best!

Lori 22 months ago

ALSO, map gas burns at 1000 degrees, that is what my husband uses in his heat gun to start our coal stove. You can find it in Wal-Mart

ED 22 months ago

I use charcoal that doesn't require lighter fluid to burn --I crack up about 6 pieces into small pieces ---light it with a hand held propane torch --let it burn for about 5 minutes --then add coal --works everytime -the whole lighting process takes about 10 minutes --if you put the charcoal in without breaking it in little peaces --its harder to start

flea 5 months ago

wow, i'm glad i stumbled upon this page. i ran out of mice (my dud percentage was closer to 50%), and couldn't find them at any hardware store near me, including the one that i bought my last batch from.

after reading this post i picked up the wagner ht1000 from walmart. my first attempt for some reason created a ton of smoke but no burning coals. i'm not sure what i did wrong. my second attempt worked perfectly after about 90 seconds.

thanks for the tip!

Scott 5 months ago

I bought the recommended Wagner heat gun and it worked the first time I tried it, but in the process the tip of the heat gun melted. I see only one other poster has experienced the same problem. What are we doing wrong? I put the tip of the heat gun on the grate, turned it on high and held it there for 3 minutes until I could see bright hot coals. Then I turned the gun off and saw that the tip is literally red from being so hot and one side of it is melted.

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