Thanks so much for everyone's good input! @uglysquirrel: I appreciate the technical breakdown, and will look more into the mortgage / "unconventional" heating system situation. How ridiculous, but not unexpected! If America is to kick the foreign oil habit, then some attitudes have got to change. I have a small propane stove upstairs with a thermostat I can set to 60 for a backup. It chews up some $$$ when it runs, but I'm guessing we'd have a 4-5 day window before any damage if the house was unattended in the winter. Not that I'm planning to test that theory!
When we were talking to the seller about reload times, we decided it would probably work well for us for me to load the stove in the morning and after I get home from work (long commute, sometimes long days), and she would stoke it up at noontime. They had loaded the coal in flat to just under the door with a 8-10 hour burn time -- I would think mounding it up in the middle higher would be helpful. Thanks for that!
I didn't think that adding a bigger blower to the inlet woud be much of an option, the guys who design these things (if they're good) must know the optimum CFM that can pass through it. I figure if I were to encase the top as well as the output holes, then the best thing would be to draw the heat from a point closest to the use; therefore, the duct boosters to replace the "register" covers. I'm hoping to avoid an inline blower unless I'm not getting the distribution I want.
One nice thing about the stove is the wide, thick lip of the top, which I plan to clamp the ductwork to. I haven't worked out the design, but I can see what I end up with might not be too pretty (I'm not much of a sheet metal worker). What the heck, it's in a cellar that doesn't get any visitors. I guess the biggest challenge for me here is to curve the ducting in front of the stove output holes so it blows upwards without restricting the flow too much. I don't want to be singeing the little bit of hair left on my head when I load the sucker!
I'll look more on this forum about filters, it's a very good idea. I noticed a lot of dust in the blower squirrel cage from the previous owner.