Can You Burn Coal In A Wood Stove?

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Both wood and coal are fuels that are excellent sources of heat when burnt correctly. They can be used standalone or in tandem with one another, typically on an open fireplace.

But you might be wondering – if I have a stove specifically designed for wood, can I burn coal in it, too? Well, the answer is a little complicated.

Whilst burning coal in a wood stove is technically possible, a wood stove is designed specifically in order to burn wood.

Wood and coal burn differently, so some of the features of a wood stove actively make burning coal not only difficult but inadvisable.

So, I hear you ask, what are the problems with burning coal in a wood stove? More importantly, is there a solution?

We’ll answer these questions later, but firstly, let’s take a look at how wood burns vs how coal burns and why that matters.

Contents

Burning Wood Vs. Burning Coal

Wood stoves, as the name suggests, are designed to burn wood only. As such, they are specifically designed to burn wood in the most effective way possible. So how does wood burn best?

Well, wood burns best with an airflow coming from above, so wood burners are designed to feed air into the fire from above.

Another aspect of wood burning is that it burns better on a bed of ash. This is because the ash helps to act as an insulator and to keep the heat in the fire.

As such, wood stoves will have a flat base to allow a bed of ash to build up over time.

Both the fact that wood best burns with an airflow from above and the fact that wood burns best on a bed of ash make burning coal on a wood burner particularly difficult.

Unlike wood, coal burns best when it has an airflow from below. In fact, a coal fire will gather up to eighty percent of its oxygen from below.

I’m sure you can already see how that can cause problems, as a wood stove will not have an airflow from the bottom of the stove.

Compounding the problem is the ash bed in a wood stove.

Even if there was an airflow from below for the coal to draw from, it would get choked up by the ash that sits at the bottom of the wood stove.

Whilst beneficial for burning wood, this is a disaster for burning coal, which as we know draws most of its oxygen from below.

Another difference in the way the two fuels burn is that coal burns hotter than wood.

Although you won’t see these temperatures when burning these fuels at home, coal can burn at up to 3500 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas wood will top out at around 2,012 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Problem With Burning Coal In A Wood Stove

The Problem With Burning Coal In A Wood Stove

You might be thinking ‘sure, a wood stove is designed to burn wood most efficiently, but if I light the coals they’ll still burn, right?

Well, you’d probably be right in the sense that you could get coal to burn in a wood stove. So why shouldn’t you?

The first and most obvious reason is that the fire will likely go out pretty quickly because, for reasons we’ve discussed, it can’t draw in enough oxygen to sustain itself.

This should be an instant concern, as nobody wants a fire that keeps going out, do they?

On top of this, the fact that the wood stove isn’t designed for burning coal means that the coal doesn’t burn properly, and causes something known as incomplete combustion.

This can cause problems both for your wood stove and for you.

For starters, it can cause a rapid build-up of smoke, which may make the area surrounding the wood stove a thoroughly unpleasant to be in.

Alongside this smoke, incomplete combustion can also cause a build-up of dangerous gasses like carbon monoxide, which can be lethal in high doses.

While burning coal in a wood stove might be bad for you, it might be even worse for your stove. As we’ve discussed, coal burns hotter than wood.

Your wood stove might not be designed to withstand the higher temperatures coal burns at, so burning coal could irreversibly damage the lining of your stove.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, burning coal in a wood stove can make more work for you.

A coal fire will produce larger deposits of creosote in your chimney, and coal produces much greater volumes of ash.

The outcome? You’ll have to clean out your chimney more often, and your stove may well become overwhelmed by ash if you’re not careful.

The Solution: A Multi-Fuel Conversion Kit

Certain models of wood stove are compatible with a multi-fuel conversion kit. This replaces the bottom part of your wood stove and adds a metal grate, an ash collector, and an extra vent.

This allows coal to be burnt on the stove by solving some of the issues associated with burning coal in a wood stove.

The grate and vent allow air to get to the fire from below and improve airflow, whilst the ash compartment collects the excess ash and stops it building up and choking the fire.

Not all wood burners are compatible, though, so it is preferable to check before you buy if you think you may want to burn coal as well as wood.

If you definitely intend to burn coal, you can buy a multi-fuel stove straight off the bat.

Final Thoughts

So, there we have it. Whilst you could technically burn coal in a wood stove, it is not recommended for a whole range of reasons.

Wood and coal burn differently, and with a wood stove being specifically designed to burn wood, coal will burn poorly and cause problems.

The fire may not stay lit, you could have a build-up of toxic gasses, and on top of this you might damage your wood stove.

If you do want to burn coal in your wood stove, you can purchase a multi-fuel conversion kit to convert the stove to make it appropriate for coal burning.

Otherwise, do not burn coal in a wood stove.

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