So I just want to say thanks to everyone on this forum and in this thread. I had an "ah ha!" moment late last night from this thread, and thought I would share my ramp up to learning how to heat with coal.
My wife and I bought this house 6 years ago and it came with a Surdiac 715, which mostly sat in the corner doing nothing. Half because i knew nothing about coal, and it had none of the required tools. Guessing previous owner lost them, took them, threw them out. This year our first slug of oil was >$600 to fill the tank, and looking at the cost per BTU, coal is obviously the way to go.
2 weeks ago I bought 2 bags of pea coal and started experimenting. Getting it lit was a tricky process to learn, but think I have the technique down now. My second problem, was I was able to keep it going for about 24 hrs, and then I would loose the fire.
I quickly figured from the posts and tip guides that you have to shake down the ashs. Well, my 715 has no "shaker knob" as some stoves do... And then noticed the holes in the front, and from some where else I read, you're supposed to use these to "shake down" the ashs. So taking a flat head screw driver, I shook the grates. That seemed to take care of the ashes, but then I've been banging my head as my fire dies within an hour. Trying different amounts of shaking vs letting the hopper empty, then shake or vice versa, my fire ALWAYS went out.
Then I realized from this post, you're supposed to "poke" the ashs down! NOT shake! (double face-palm) Anyone else trying to understand this stove, poke not shake! Poke not shake!
I don't have the poker that is supposed to fit thru the hole and reach the other side, and Woodmans doesn't carry it anymore for the 715. (I bought today the poker for the 714, hopefully it will fit) but in the mean time, I'm using a stainless steel kitchen skewer (to my wife's dismay... I'll buy her a new one). And so far it seems I'm getting the ash into the trays and the coal fire is no longer collapsing and contines to burn! Horray!
Next is to understand the damper device and where to set it.