It turns out this little Franklin stove burns coal pretty well.
That’s actually a coal grate that it came with, so I was expecting good results. It’s taken a good deal of experimentation and practice to heat with it, though. It’s kind of a hybrid stove, and not terribly efficient. We’d probably get more heat from a stove that sat out in the middle of the room with a pipe coming in at the back. But then we’d have to have a big stone slab in the middle of our floor, lose a bunch of our living space, and risk burning ourselves on the thing when we walked across the room.
The grate is made to sit up a few inches higher than shown in this picture. That would leave more space for the accumulation of ash underneath and make shoveling out a lot more convenient. We tried it that way a few times. I quickly got the hang of burning wood down to a hot bed of cinders before adding the coal, and then layering it up gradually until we got a slow, sustained burn. It burned most effectively with the doors closed and the dampers open on the bottom, so that the draw of the chimney drew a steady stream of air across the fire.
Problem was, the stove never threw any heat that way. It all went up the chimney. The body of the stove remained cool enough to touch. I’d heard stories of people’s coal fires getting out of control and turning their stoves cherry red. Close the dampers, cut off the air supply, said the experts. Be careful or you could burn your house down.
No concern about that here.
What seems to work for us is leaving the grate in the lower position. Then we can pile the coal a bit higher. If I close the doors for half an hour to get it nicely stoked up, I can open them and fill the house with heat for a couple hours after that. The only thing about leaving the grate down is we have to let it burn out at the end of the night, then pull the grate out the next day to shovel out the ash. Messy, perhaps. But it fits just fine with our heating habits.
I’ve read that combining wood and coal at the same time is a bad idea. It releases sulfuric acid and eats away the steel chimney liners like ours. The Irishman who delivered our firewood said they mixed coal and wood in the old country all the time, though, so I couldn’t resist trying it today. Just a bit. It gave us a nice blast of heat. The temperature at the sofa got up to 65 degrees!
It’ll be something I’ll do in moderation. Like smoking.
This coal is a handy way to go. It’s available at the local hardware store, a 40 lb. bag for $8.50. I can pick up a few bags in my Honda and be set for the week. It’s not like committing to a cord of firewood, a propane fill-up of $400, or, heaven forbid, one of those 275 gallon oil tanks that costs over $1000 to fill completely. And I can dump half a bag in there and let it burn for hours, instead of fiddling with logs every half hour or so. Wood fires are fun when you’re in the mood for them, but let’s face it—that’s not always.
Those big trophy houses with cathedral ceilings that were put up in the 90s (I sheet-rocked a couple of them in my ill-starred role as a drywall man’s assistant) cost $1500 a month to keep warm these days. So I’ve got yet another reason to be grateful for my modest little half-cape. Keeping this place warm with electric heat, when it was our only option, ran about $650 a month. When we rented it out to a woman from South Carolina, who didn’t know any better (even though we told her) and she kept the thermostat at 75, (even though we told her) and didn’t put plastic over the windows to stop the drafts (even though we told her) she paid in excess of $850. Using this stove and a couple cheap space heaters for select rooms has brought our electric bill down to $240. Of course, we have no heat on at night, or when we’re both out of the house. It’s cold in here when we come home. But that’s okay.
We’re New Englanders.