Keystoker vs pellet stove

Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: lucy.girl On: Fri May 16, 2008 9:16 am


I'm probably in the wrong place to ask this question, maybe all seem to be really into coal.

My husband are I are trying to determine whether to purchase a Thelin Parlour Pellet Stove or a Keystoker Auto Vent stove. We are looking at the upcoming cost to heat our little house this winter and am trying to find an alternative. After visiting a store that carried both stoves, the dealer really pushed the coal stove. My husband and I are aging so I'm not sure that we could handle carrying the coal to the basement (it's a bit of a trek to get to the bulkhead).

The biggest fear I have is the blackening of walls. My dad heated with coal for a number of years and I am in the process of painting the interior of his home as we speak. The residue on the walls and ceiling is incredible. I don't want to have that. Is there a reason that he did? Would the Keystoker have the same problems?

We have a little dollhouse size cape. 700 square feet downstairs, 220 up. The dealer recommended the 105,000 BTU stove. Is this overkill? What are the pros and cons of converting to coal vs pellets?

Thank you!!!


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Re: "King Coal"?

PostBy: stockingfull On: Fri May 16, 2008 12:08 pm

Hey, Lucy.

Heating season's over for most and things have quieted down here quite a bit in the last couple weeks, so some of the best people to answer your question aren't here every day now. But I'll take a shot to get this started.

I have a stoker hot-air furnace system behind a plastic "walk-in partition" in the basement. So, right off the bat, my situation is very different from yours. On the plus side stoves of all kinds are more airtight these days, and, in my case, filters are much improved at suppressing dust. But there's no getting around the fact that there will be some dust from handling the coal fuel which must go in and the ash which must come out.

You'll notice on the main page here that this site has separate sections for stokers and hand-fired stoves. Among the boys here, that difference has come here to be known as the difference between "girlie men" and "real men," or the difference between civilized society and cave-dwellers, depending on your point of view.

Generally, hand-fired stoves are more likely to be in (rather than below) your living space, are simpler, smaller, require less fuel and considerably more attention and, of course, are more likely to create a housekeeping problem by way of the fuel and ash handling at the stove. Here's a link to a thread by a member who's ready to "don a dress" in order to reduce the amount of hassle associated with his hand-fired stove: I'm tired of Winter & I'm tired of Shaking[/url] In addition, lighting a coal fire requires both patience and technique, and hand-fired stoves go out more than stokers. [url]

Stokers, on the other hand, are larger, auto-feeding furnaces or boilers. They are generally more costly, usually are used to heat either water or air as the means of transferring the heat to the living area, naturally require somewhat more fuel (though overall cost to heat remains a fraction of the oil, gas or electric alternatives), much less attention (I load coal once a day and remove ash every other day; the rest of the time it operates like any other thermostatically-controlled system), generally stay lit indefinitely and are much cleaner (all of my coal and ash dust are in a sequestered area of my basement, far away from my living space). In fact, if you now heat with warm air or water/steam, you may be able to install a stoker furnace or boiler in parallel with your current central heating source (providing you have access to a chimney or other flue). But, as you note, you will need to tend the stoker about once daily in most cases.

The cost numbers are good, though. Even counting for the cost of my blowers for the fire box and to circulate the warm air, I'm heating for less than half the cost of oil or propane, and less than that against the electric baseboard that my house was designed with.

I hope our Administrator, Richard, sees this and starts a thread for you in an appropriate place, because no doubt many folks are considering the same change you are in response to the horrendous increases in heating costs we're all facing.

Very best of luck to you.
Stove/Furnace Make: Yellow Flame
Stove/Furnace Model: W.A. 150 Stoker Furnace

Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: Devil505 On: Fri May 16, 2008 1:34 pm

No comparison between coal & pellets for heat...Coal wins hands down! (Prices wont skyrocket like they are for pellets either!) If you can devise a good way to physicaly move the coal around & get rid of the ash with a wheelbarrel, etc you'll have it made. I'm 62 yrs old & like the exercise! :) Coal will not blacken your walls. I've been burning coal for 30 years & you'll find the new coal appliances are efficient & clean to operate, compared to the 1920's-1940's model you are probably thinking of. There is nothing more comforting than seeing a ton or two of coal waiting to keep your house nice a warm for next winter!
Stove/Furnace Make: Harman
Stove/Furnace Model: TLC-2000

Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: Sting On: Fri May 16, 2008 2:06 pm

Ill take a lower road and point out that if you ask regarding pellets on a coal burner's site you might not expect a positive review

A similar conflict is true if you ask about coal at a corn or pellet burning site - pellet prices are not skyrocketing - I just received pricing from local and national brokers. Acquisition of both fuels will be tied to inflation and how that impinges on the cost of diesel.

I burn 16 ton of corn and/or pellets a season to keep my little place "comfortable" and I imagine I would burn 8 ton of coal to do about the same job - so it comes down to what fuel is available with in a few miles of your house - what will it take to buy it, get it home, store it, move it to the point of use, and clean up after it.

Appliances and other drama's are relatively similar.
Other Heating: OBSO Lennox Pulse "Air Scorcher" burning NG

Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: LsFarm On: Fri May 16, 2008 2:19 pm

Hello Lucy, welcome to the forum,, The blackening of the walls has to have been from burning Bituminous coal, or wood. Anthractite coal just doesn't make black smoke, in fact it makes almost zero smoke..

Comparing coal to pellets,, as mentioned above, pellets are much more suseptable to pricing changes from supply and demand pressures. Coal has a much more stable price. AND, you can store coal in a much smaller area than pellets.. Pellets MUST be kept dry, a hole in the plastic bag will result in moisture getting in, the pellets, which are just compressed wood, get damp, swell up, get moldy, and are not able to be burned.. the pellet stove stoker mechanisms jam on the swollen pellets..

Coal can be stored just about anywhere it is convienient. It doesn't matter if coal is wet, only if it gets wet then freezes, it is in one lump then, and requires some work to break it up.

Pellets are about $250 a ton, coal is about $150 a ton, plus delivery, so lets say it is the same,, $250/ton.. Coal has TWICE the BTU's per ton than pellets, so you need to buy TWICE the tons of pellets.. and a ton of pellets takes up almost twice the space of a ton of coal.. so you can see the storage problems.

Your house really should not need much more than 60-75,000 BTU, if you buy a nice stoker stove, with electronic controls, you will just have to set the thermostat, add a 5-gallon bucket of coal each day, and take out about a gallon of ash [probably a little less] each day..

Purchasing and storing the fuel, and disposal of the ash are the main issues... if you have a source for coal, and can store a season's worth, you won't regret the purchase of a coal stove.. I would recommend a stoker,, they cost a bit more,, but are so much easier to set up and opperate,, on fussing with draft settings, very little 'learning curve'..

Hope this helps..

Greg L..
Stoker Coal Boiler: Axeman Anderson 260
Hand Fed Coal Boiler: Self-built 'Big Bertha' SS Boiler
Baseburners & Antiques: Keystone 11, Art Garland

Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: lucy.girl On: Fri May 16, 2008 9:43 pm

:D Hi Guys,

Thanks for all of the wonderful info. Do any of you have experience with the Keystoker? The dealer that I spoke to said that we should get the 105,000 which seemed excessive for the size of our house (920 sq ft total). Greg, thanks for the suggestion of 60-75k btu.

How do you light them? Someone told me that you need to use a blowtorch. My imagination went wild with that one!


Lucy (& Al)

Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: stockingfull On: Fri May 16, 2008 10:19 pm

The sizing will depend on how cold it gets where you are and how well-insulated your house is.

On lighting technique, surf around the hand-fired section a bit and I'm sure you'll find some tips. Most people with stokers use Matchlight charcoal but it may be substantially different with a hand-fired stove.
Last edited by stockingfull on Fri May 16, 2008 10:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Stove/Furnace Make: Yellow Flame
Stove/Furnace Model: W.A. 150 Stoker Furnace

Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: europachris On: Fri May 16, 2008 10:22 pm

I have an older Keystoker 90K BTU direct vent model. But, the new units are very similar, and easier to maintain. 90K should be all you need, unless your house is very old and is not insulated at all or very well. We have 2800 sq.ft. of newer home across 3 floors (finished basement with the stove in it) and our furnace is only 90K BTU input (72K output) natural gas. I burned 1-1/2 tons of rice coal this past (very cold) winter, and cut my gas bill in half. I could easily heat the entire home if I could get the heat upstairs faster.

I light mine using natural lump charcoal and about 20 seconds of a propane torch on the charcoal to light it. I then close the door and turn on the stove. Away it goes. It takes a few tries to practice, but it's easy.

My uncle has the Thelin Gnome pellet stove (the little bitty one). It's cute, but it's a total toy. He has to shut it off daily for cleaning of the burn pot, and it doesn't burn very clean so it soots up the glass quickly. Lots of maintenance. A coal stoker stove would maybe get shut off once during the season for maintenance to vacuum out the fly ash, etc. but otherwise they are set and forget.

Also, the dust and dirt is very minimal. I have to dust a little bit more often, but it's a fine, white dust, not coal black. REALLY very minimal. Other than that, there is no smoke, no smell, nothing to let you know there is a coal stove running in the house except a LOT of heat! :D
Stove/Furnace Make: EFM 350/Iron Fireman
Stove/Furnace Model: Custom bituminous burner

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Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: LsFarm On: Fri May 16, 2008 10:45 pm

Hi Lucy,, most stoker stove owner use either the 'coal mice' or 'starter bags' that are available usually from the stove sales store, or from These starter bags create a hot small fire that when covered with a handfull of coal, start the coal fire quickly..

You may want to look at the Leisure Line stoves, they now offer an electric start option. Just push a button, and the stove is burning in about 15 minutes.. Look at the video on the Leisure Line forum in the Manufacturer's forum about 2/3 the way down the home page.

If the stater bags or coal mice are not available, many people use Matchlight BBQ charcoal. They just break up the brickets with a hammer, to about the 1/4 the size of the full briquett. About three briquetts broken up, on the stoker grate lite on fire then a handfull of coal over the top, the stoker started, and 15 minutes later you have a coal fire.

Just to check on your BTU needs.. how much oil or gas have you used in the past per month or per season in your house?? From this number you can convert to BTU's used.

Hope this helps. Greg L.

Stoker Coal Boiler: Axeman Anderson 260
Hand Fed Coal Boiler: Self-built 'Big Bertha' SS Boiler
Baseburners & Antiques: Keystone 11, Art Garland

Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: Scottscoaled On: Fri May 16, 2008 11:27 pm

Hi Lucy! One more point to ponder. A 40lb bag of pellets weighs as much as a 40lb bag of coal. Takes two bags of pellets to match one bag of coal. Twice as many trips to the stove for pellets. I honestly can state that I know nobody who traded their coal stove for a pellet stove. I know many who have done the reverse.(just about everyone on this site). Good luck finding a stove, hope it works out well for you :) Scott
Stoker Coal Boiler: EFM 520, 700, Van Wert 800 GJ 61,53
Baseburners & Antiques: Magic Stewart 16, times 2!
Coal Size/Type: Lots of buck
Other Heating: Slant Fin electric boiler backup

Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: vtec350 On: Sat May 17, 2008 9:49 am

stokerscot wrote:Hi Lucy! One more point to ponder. A 40lb bag of pellets weighs as much as a 40lb bag of coal. Takes two bags of pellets to match one bag of coal. Twice as many trips to the stove for pellets. I honestly can state that I know nobody who traded their coal stove for a pellet stove. I know many who have done the reverse.(just about everyone on this site). Good luck finding a stove, hope it works out well for you :) Scott

Hey Lucy, Stokerscot is rite, I burned pellets for 4 years and now I'm buying a coal boiler. Pellets have a lower BTU rating and if you get any moisture in them they don't burn good and you get "bricks" of harden pellets in the tray. Coal can be stored almost anywhere and buying it in bulk will save you a lot over the years. Also, if your pellet stove is a direct vent you have to worry about power outages because the blower fan will not work and the smoke will draft back into your house( I found that out at 2am with the smoke alarms going off :o ) If you're venting up a chimney than you will not have that problem.
Stove/Furnace Make: Keystoker
Stove/Furnace Model: KA-6

Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: rberq On: Sat May 17, 2008 5:13 pm

105,000 BTU sounds excessive. I heat about 1100 square feet with my 48,000 BTU (rated) stove, which is not adequate when the weather gets really cold. But I sized it small intentionally because usually a couple bedrooms are closed off (kids have moved out) so we are heating more like 700. The original heat for the same area consists of six hot water radiators with about 66,000 BTU capacity, and the oil heat can take up the slack on the coldest days. So based on my house, LsFarm's recommendation of 60 - 75,000 BTU sounds pretty good for you.

One thing no one has discussed is, how will you distribute the heat? Are you putting the stove in your cellar or in the living area? You mentioned coal in the cellar, but where's the stove itself going to be? Heat often does not travel well through doorways from one room to another, so depending of your home's layout you could wind up with one area REALLY warm and others too cold. What heating system do you have now?
Hand Fed Coal Stove: DS Machine 1300 with hopper
Coal Size/Type: Blaschak Anthracite Nut
Other Heating: Oil hot water radiators, propane

Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: Complete Heat On: Wed May 21, 2008 9:40 pm


The best way to see which type of stove is better is to look in the classifieds and see how many used pellet stoves there are vs. used stoker stoves. I operate a hearth store and sell 4 brands (A-A, Alaska, Keystoker, EFM) of Anthracite stove & furnaces plus the usual array of wood and gas units. I used to sell pellet stoves but got rid of them as they are a pain in the kister (always breaking or jamming). I also install for 5 other stove shops and installed a pellet stove for someone today. That customer was saying that she is having difficulty finding pellets. The problem there is that there have never been enough pellets to run all of the stoves out there. Now with the housing market down the lumber mills are not producing as much waste (raw materials for pellets), and now the pellet mills are panicking. There are going to be a lot of angry pellet stove owners come this fall when the stove is sitting idle.

Think reliability, abundance of fuel, lowest cost per BTU, and that only leaves one choice.... Anthracite stoves.

PS- A keystoker 90 will do the job easily for you. Because of the small size of the house, get the Coal-trol thermostat, otherwise you will get temperature fluctuations.
Complete Heat
Stove/Furnace Make: Axeman-Anderson
Stove/Furnace Model: AA-130/FHA

Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: jpen1 On: Wed May 21, 2008 10:34 pm

I haven't chimed in on this one yet but I am one of the few here that have had the priviledge of having owned both. The first thing I can tell you is that complete heat is right . The pellet stove can be a cantankerous thing in reguards to jamming up . I had a Harman and it would jam up atleast two or three times a winter and waking up to a really cold house. I have had the alaska stoker for 2 years now and it has never gone out once. Also it takes so much more room to store the pellets plus they contain mold , just like cord wood, which can make people like my wife very sick. So if you decide to go with a pellet stove you better get everyone tested for mold allergies before you buy it. Another thing is I get much more radiant heat off the sides of the stove where as my pellet stove really only generated heat out the front. The only real downside I see with using coal instead of the pellets is the increased amount of ash with the coal.
Stoker Coal Boiler: LL110
Coal Size/Type: Rice/ Buck
Stove/Furnace Make: Leisure Line
Stove/Furnace Model: 110 Boiler

Re: Keystoker vs pellet stove

PostBy: stokin-railroad On: Wed May 21, 2008 11:53 pm

hi lucy,i just got into coal this past season.i bought my coal bulk ,oiled and stored it in a bin outdoors with tarp covering to keep snow off.i really am inpressed with my kestoker koker no experiance with others but mine works very well at heating entire home in parellel with fha oil furnace no black smoke my wife is even happy,she really enjoys the warm house.70 deg.all winter with more heat if desired.go for the coal!! also I carry coal from outdoors to basement in 5 gal.pails 30-35 lbs if full ,not down stairs though have walk in level. got turned off with oil at 3.25 gal. :mad: first delivery bought kestoker the next day.Good Luck,Rich
Stove/Furnace Make: keystoker
Stove/Furnace Model: koker 160k

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