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How to Start a Coal Stove Fire

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I enjoy teaching others how to use various appliances in their kitchen.

A traditional coal stove

A traditional coal stove

Starting a Coal Stove

No one told me it would be so hard 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 at how simple it can be.

Some people will have you believe that it just takes patience. Bulls**t! I went online to see how other people start their stoves and found a few different ways people go about it. Below, I detail one method that hasn't let me down yet, as well as two other methods that haven't worked for me (but still might work for you).

Use a Heat Gun

Digging around online, I found a way to start your coal stove every time and not have to worry about building a fire with paper or wood or using charcoal briquettes and sitting there for hours on end.

I use a heat gun with a rating of 750 oF to 1000 oF. Some people use heat guns for stripping paint, heat shrinking electrical wires for automotive applications, and welding plastics together. I use one to start my coal stove. I know it sounds crazy, but once you try it, you will stop wasting your time and money on other useless methods.

Safety Precautions

Wear some welder's gloves or any fireproof or fire-resistant gloves. I also suggest wearing safety glasses when lighting coal because small pieces tend to pop off like popcorn. You'll thank me later.

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Stick the end of the heat gun onto the middle of the grate.
  2. Pile up some coal at the tip of the heat gun. You do not need to cover the tip; just pile them up against it.
  3. Turn your heat gun on high and close the door as much as possible. I know your arm is in the way—just close it a bit to keep as much of the fumes in the stove as possible.
  4. Hold the heat gun in this position until you the coal starts to light about 2 inches around. This takes approximately 2–3 minutes.
  5. Plug your stove in and make sure the blower is on. It helps to have someone there to plug it in when it's ready. I do this alone every time, and it always works. Just make sure your fire is big enough before plugging in, or it will go out. It will be very bright, so don't look directly at the fire.

Keep in mind that the end of the heat gun is going to be extremely hot after you use it, so be very careful not to touch it or place it on anything that will catch fire. This is where having those heavy-duty gloves comes in handy; I have made the mistake of accidentally touching the end after use. Ouch!

Good luck, and if it doesn't work the first time, make sure you have some coal in the end of the heat gun. Afterward, make sure you dump out any coal that is left in the end of the heat gun.

Dry scraps of paper, cotton, or wood are commonly used to get any type of fire going.

Dry scraps of paper, cotton, or wood are commonly used to get any type of fire going.

Other Methods That Might Work

Consider using these methods to light your fire.

Use Paper or Dry Kindling

  1. Start a small fire using some paper or dry kindling.
  2. Add small pieces of hardwood when the fire is burning hot. Keep the draft control fully open until a hot fire is established.
  3. When a decent bed of red wood embers builds 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 load for the coal to ignite thoroughly.
  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 heat by setting the air control on your stove.
  6. After all the coal has been ignited and is burning with a blue flame, 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! You will be sitting in front of your stove for a while. It took me an hour to get the coals to catch fire!

A coal bed fully burning

A coal bed fully burning

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Use Match Light Charcoal

This is another method I found online. Other brands of solid charcoal starter (e.g., Royal Oak and Minute Light) might do the job as well. This method eliminates the mess of wood.

  1. 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!
  2. Light the charcoal. Open air controls all the way.
  3. 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.

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:

  1. Place a small piece of newspaper as far up the chimney as possible and light it.
  2. When it burns and gets pulled up the chimney, begin lighting the coal.
  3. Never poke or stir the coal fire when starting or at any other time. Coal fires like to be left alone; many former wood burners tend to fool around with their coal fires, thereby putting them out!

Be warned; it's not as easy as it sounds! I tried the lighting Match Light charcoal and did everything this procedure told me to do, and all I ended up with was a cellar full of smoke and fumes. I have never started a coal stove this way. I tried for—and I am not kidding—4.5 hours, to no avail. This person made it sound so simple. It's not. Period.

You can also try using these little coal starters that some people refer to as coal mice. They are two-inch boxes that have a fuse sticking out. You are supposed to put the box on top of the grate where your coal fire would be.

  1. Pile some coal on top of the box and then light the fuse with a long candle or BBQ grill lighter.
  2. Close the door, and when the 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. They can work but not all the time. I went through two of these boxes the first time I used them. The second time, I went through three. Just about every time I need to start my coal stove again, I go through 2–4 coal mice.

A lot of the time, these things are duds and do not work. It costs me $3-$5 to start the stove, and I have to restart my stove every 4–5 weeks because of cleaning—yes, you need to shut down the stove every few weeks to clean it, or it will not function properly. So, on average, it costs me $18 to $30 to restart my coal stove during the winter.

I highly recommend trying the heat gun method. It has worked for me without fail and has saved me both time and money.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


money bag yo on March 13, 2018:

well i really do like using this site

Darrell on November 17, 2017:

I have a coal stove I heat my hose with. Lighting the stove is easy. The problem with a heat gun is getting the stove to flow. You need heat to get the chimney flowing. I have a Franco Belge stove. They are very efficient and do not like to flow when cold. The heat gun smokes up my house. I have a base of coal then make 3 piles of Charcoal Briquets. 6 to 8 pieces in each pile, I then pile coal on top, fill the stove. It has a hopper. I use ample lighter fluid and have a floor fan. Light the stove and leave the dust tray door open, turn the fan on. The fire takes off and starts the stove flowing. Leave the fan running until you have a nice bed of red coal. You need the piles of charcoal to get enough heat to light the coal. If you just lay the charcoal flat, your stove won't light. You need a fan also. The extra air starts the coal. I do this every time. Easy start. The charcoal piles are what starts the coal. The only problem is it puts soot on your glass. Do not pull the fan too soon. Also, do not leave the fan on too long. You can overheat your stove. The fan can produce a lot of heat. If you are concerned about lighting the stove, stand off to the side, not in front of the stove. Works. If your stove flows easier than mine, it will light right up. My stove needs to get good and hot to stay going.

Ron on February 27, 2017:

My wife and I bought a coal furnace(rice coal) from Keystoker in PA, and we start our furnace with coal mice, they are approximately 2" square and 3/4 thick.

You pull some coal down on the grates, then bury the coal mouse in the coal and just leave fuse sticking out, light the fuse and get out of there while shutting the door. They heat up 1500 degrees and in under 3 minutes you have a fire, when lite they glow white, tremendous heat.

Barbara on January 15, 2017:

Took me a week to figure out how to get the Keystoker 90 going and keeping the fire lit. Now know that the bags of rice coal have water in them, have to be brought in and dried out a bit or the fire will not stay lit. Now the next problem - I have changed nothing and CO detector keeps going off. Changed batteries too. Not really ready to die but so frustrated since it took what seemed like forever to learn how to keep a fire going in it. Ran out of mice quickly, using little half round fire starters from Sams Club. Any help with the carbon Monozide detector always going off would be appreciated.

Scott on April 22, 2016:

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.

flea on April 18, 2016:

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!

ED on November 25, 2014:

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

Lori on November 08, 2014:

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

Lori on November 08, 2014:

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!

cindy on April 19, 2014:

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....

Dou on April 16, 2014:

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.

rich on March 19, 2014:

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!

Dan on March 10, 2014:

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.

Doug on January 20, 2014:

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.

Dave on December 22, 2013:

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.

mary on December 10, 2013:

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?

towing139 on December 06, 2013:

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

carrie on October 05, 2013:

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 ?????

Steve on October 02, 2013:

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

Chris Kilpatrick from Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania on July 20, 2013:

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?

eddie on March 20, 2013:

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

TS on January 22, 2013:

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.

JJ on November 07, 2012:

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.

Rice Coal Furnace on October 22, 2012:

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,

Lenore on May 08, 2012:

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?

saoirse on May 04, 2012:

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.

Bo Seamus on March 04, 2012:

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.

MichaelOz on January 04, 2012:

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.

casey on December 17, 2011:

Works great. Thanks much.

gt4c on November 14, 2011:

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

mr380 on November 12, 2011:

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

wentwa on November 12, 2011:

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

Tester on November 09, 2011:

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

Coal on November 08, 2011:

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!

wentwa on November 06, 2011:

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

heather on November 05, 2011:

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!!

dale on October 30, 2011:

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.

Donald on October 30, 2011:

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!!!!!

Mary on October 30, 2011:

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

Bruce on October 15, 2011:

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!

coal (author) on October 10, 2011:

Sorry can't help you there Erik.

Erik on September 15, 2011:

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.

rottiegirl on February 16, 2011:

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.

Alan on December 16, 2010:

why does the coal fuse together

Andrea on December 07, 2010:

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!

coal (author) on November 28, 2010:

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.

Mella on November 27, 2010:

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.

Tracy on November 15, 2010:

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!!!

barry k on November 10, 2010:

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.

coal (author) on October 20, 2010:

Your Welcome Phillip

Phillip Francisco on October 18, 2010:

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 (author) on January 30, 2010:

Glad I was able to help.

michelle on January 25, 2010:

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 (author) on January 22, 2010:

Your Welcome Barbero.

barbero on January 20, 2010:

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.

LadyCoalBurner on December 22, 2009:

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.

coal (author) on November 28, 2009:

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.

Terry on April 12, 2009:

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.

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