Trouble maintaining a fire

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Hand Fed Coal Stove: Vogelzang Sentry Coal Stove VG810CL
Location: Everett, PA

Post By: Caravan » Wed. Nov. 15, 2017 9:15 pm

I'm new to burning coal, and I'm having trouble keeping a bituminous coal fire going long-term. I've read various tips on here and other places, but I still have some questions, since a lot of what I find seems to be geared more toward anthracite, and I'm very confused since even the various pieces of bituminous burning guides I've found seem to be different.

My stove is one of the side-loading cabinet-style stoves, a Vogelzang Sentry:
And here is the firebox and grates:
Last night was the first night I was able to make a fire last all night. I added more coal before I left for work around 8AM, and I thought all was well, but unfortunately it went out around noon while my son was looking after it.

I suspect it was just a matter of not adding enough coal before I left (and him not adding any while I was gone) since there really wasn't any totally unburnt coal in it when I got home, it was mostly all in various states of being half-burnt and such. (maybe a lot of clinkers?) I'm guessing since there was a lack of fresh coal, the remaining fire didn't burn as hot and eventually died out.

But there are various details that I'm unsure of even after reading various tips. Is it imperative to have the entire bed lit? When recharging, is it best to push the hot coals to the front, or back? How much coal should I be putting in it, how deep, etc? Should I try to not cover those slanted grates in the back of the firebox? (I'm guessing they're for secondary/bypass air for wood and bituminous coal) Are the gaps in my grates a little big, and thus I should be trying to get coal with bigger pieces? The coal I presently have seems to be around chestnut size with lots of fines, could this be clogging my air flow? Should you always make an effort to break up the coked coal crusts on top of the fire, or are there certain times you should leave them alone? When poking it, should I not be pushing through to the bottom to try and clear the way for more air, and instead pull out the ashpan and poke from below the grates?

The stove has 4 dampers: the a main damper on the front operated with the dial, a progressive threaded damper wheel on the ash door, a regular damper wheel on the feed door, and of course the MPD. Last night, when I was at least successful in making the fire last all night, after the fire was going decently I closed the MPD and ash-pan damper, and left the main damper wide open, and had the wheel on the feed door partially covering the holes. I had planned on experimenting with cutting the main damper back after managing to keep the fire running into the next evening, which of course didn't happen.

Also, my stove pipe temperature rarely goes past 300 F. At the moment, trying to mimic what I did last night, it's sitting at 200, in the "creosote zone" if I were burning wood. I had a good fire going with the ash door closed, so I pushed the coals to the back and loaded up the front. Now there's barely any flame at all, and I seem to have to keep the MPD open to get even that. Poking it shoots some flames up, but I'm betting they'll be gone when I go to check in a few minutes. I do see some yellow fumes forming out of the pile, hopefully that is a good sign. I'm very confused by reading about leaving a coal fire alone and messing with it too much making it go out, but then also being told about pushing the coals to various parts of the stove and load up the empty space.

When I first put the stove in last week, I tried anthracite without much success, and was told on that side of the forum that I should probably install a barometric damper to maintain a more stable draft and chimney temperature when I turn the stove down at night. I do plan to do that, but when it comes to bituminous coal I don't think that's totally necessary with my setup; when my parents were alive and lived here, my dad had a very similar stove (a Suburban Coalmaster) in the same location and same pipe setup, and only ever had a MPD and never had problems that I remember. He was the only one that tended the fire, and it always lasted all night, and also all day while he was at work.

I'm sorry for all of the questions at once, I'm just very frustrated and want to try to cover all the bases and figure out what I'm doing wrong. I'll probably have more questions, but these are the ones on my mind right now.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
Last edited by Caravan on Wed. Nov. 15, 2017 9:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post By: CoalJockey » Wed. Nov. 15, 2017 9:21 pm

Caravan, check your private messages bud.

There are several respected members on here firing off bituminous, sooner or later one of them will surely chime in.

franco b
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Post By: franco b » Wed. Nov. 15, 2017 10:08 pm

Go to forum index and at bottom of page click, members.
Then click on B on the alphabetical list at top.
Scroll down to Berlin and click on that name to get profile page.
Then under "user statistics" click on users posts.

Berlin is the expert on bit coal. Click and read on those that seem relevant and learn a lot. Many pages to check.

Just realized you can click "members" under "Quick Links" as well.

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