Coal is often burned to generate electricity, but it has domestic uses too — most commonly heating and blacksmithing.
Coal forms under high heat and pressure beneath the Earth’s surface. The highest grade coal, anthracite, has spent the most time underground exposed to pressure and heat.
Lower-grade coals, such as bituminous coal, have spent less time forming underground. The higher the grade, the harder and purer the coal.
Below, we provide an introduction to the most commonly used types of coal and their applications, plus where to buy different types of coal.
Choosing the Right Type of Coal
There are several different kinds of coal, and different sellers sell different types. The first step when shopping for coal is to identify what kind you need.
Here are the most common types of coal and what they’re used for:
Anthracite is a hard, high-grade coal that produces a hot blue flame when burned.
Most anthracite in the U.S. comes from Pennsylvania, where it was heavily mined in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Anthracite has become more difficult to mine because the remaining reserves are deeper and deeper underground.
Anthracite is ideal for generating heat in coal-burning furnaces in homes or small businesses.
Not only does anthracite burn hotter than other coals, but it also burns more slowly and is the most efficient heat producer relative to its weight.
Anthracite is the cleanest-burning coal, and when used properly in modern furnaces will require little cleaning.
Anthracite comes in several sizes, as shown below. The larger the pieces of coal, the higher the price.
Chestnut and Pea sizes are used in hand-fired furnaces while the smaller Rice and Buckwheat sizes are used in automatic stoker furnaces.
Be sure to check the instructions on your stove to confirm which size is appropriate.
- Size: Barley
- 3/16″ x 3/32″
- Approximately the size of coarse sand
- Size: Rice
- 5/16″ x 3/16″
- Approximately the size of a pencil eraser
- Size: Buckwheat (Buck)
- 9/16″ x 5/16″
- Approximately the size of a dime
- Size: Pea
- 13/16″ x 9/16″
- Approximately the size of a quarter
- Size: Chestnut (Nut)
- 1 5/8″ x 13/16″
- Approximately the size of a golf ball
- Size: Stove
- 2 7/16″ x 1 5/8″
- Approximately the size of a baseball
Bituminous, or “soft” coal, is so named because it contains bitumen, a tar-like material.
Bituminous coal is lower quality and easier to mine than anthracite. It is burned to produce electricity and run trains.
Bituminous coal can produce excessive soot and smoke when burned, so it’s not ideal for heating, especially in coal or wood-burning stoves in the home.
Bituminous coal is also used to produce coke and to make iron and steel.
Anthracite is not commonly used for blacksmithing because, unlike bituminous coal, anthracite produces small pieces of coke that tend to blow up and out of the fire. As a result, bituminous coal is better suited for blacksmithing.
Blacksmith coal used in forges is high-quality bituminous coal, although some forges may use coke or charcoal.
Lignite, or “brown coal,” is the lowest quality coal. Geologically, it is the youngest type of coal.
According to the Lignite Energy Council, about 79% of lignite coal is used to generate electricity and 13.5% is used to generate synthetic natural gas, while 7.5% is used to produce fertilizer products (including anhydrous ammonia and ammonium sulfate).
Lignite produces little heat relative to its weight compared to other coals, so it is usually used to generate power in plants near the mine.
Because only a very small percentage is used domestically (typically for heating or fertilizer), lignite is not covered by our list of coal suppliers and dealers.
Coal slag is the byproduct of coal that is burned to create power. Slag can be made into blasting abrasives that are cleaner and safer than silica sand (which is another common blasting abrasive).
Producers of this material clean the slag and sort it by size — medium, fine, and extra fine — before selling it to consumers.
Abrasive blasting involves using high pressure to propel abrasive material, such as coal slag, onto a surface either to smooth a rough surface, roughen a smooth surface, or clean the surface.
Places That Sell Coal
You can buy coal from local hardware or supply stores, blacksmithing stores, and in some circumstances, straight from the producer.
Coal at hardware stores is often sold in 40- or 50-pound bags. Hardware stores are best if you just want a bag or two.
Blacksmithing stores also carry coal, though they will only carry bituminous coal; they generally won’t sell coal appropriate for heating.
Suppliers are best if you want to buy in bulk. They often sell by the skid, or pallet, which has approximately 50 bags and equals one ton.
Our list covers stores or suppliers that will ship regionally or nationally, or have a large number of stores. Be sure to check your local hardware store, blacksmith supplier, or local mine to compare prices and delivery options.
Hardware Stores (Best for Small Quantities)
A local hardware store is the best bet for buying coal in smaller qualities suited for individual domestic use. Hardware stores often carry both anthracite and bituminous coal (which is suited for blacksmithing).
There may be smaller regional stores near you that didn’t make our list, so you can call your town’s hardware store if you’re seeking a local option.
1. Aubuchon Hardware
- Products: Aubuchon sells both anthracite and bituminous coal —
- Location: Aubuchon has stores in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont. Find your nearest Aubuchon.
- Shipping: Shipping rates depend on location, and range from $15 – $100 for a single bag.
- Products: Lehman’s sells anthracite by the pallet (2,400 lbs)
- Location: Kidron and Hope, OH.
- Shipping: Lehman’s will ship pallets of anthracite by freight only. Prices for shipping range from $200 – $700, depending on the buyer’s location. The coal ships from Ohio. Call (800) 438-5346 for a quote.
3. Tractor Supply Co.
- Products: Tractor Supply Co. sells anthracite and blasting abrasives —
- Location: Tractor Supply Co. has stores in all 50 states. Find your nearest Tractor Supply Co.
- Shipping: Coal is available for in-store pickup only. Tractor Supply Co. does not ship coal.
Blacksmith Supply Stores (Best for Bituminous Coal)
Blacksmith stores usually have only a few locations, but usually ship nationwide for affordable, flat rates. They generally only carry bituminous coal best suited for smithing, and not anthracite which is best for heating.
4. Blacksmith Depot
- Products: Blacksmithing Coal (Pea Size) (50 lb bag); and Blacksmithing Coke (45 lb bag). Discounts are available for large orders.
- Location: Chandler, NC.
- Shipping: Blacksmith Depot ships nationwide from Chandler, NC. Shipping cost varies depending on location and ranges from around $30 to nearby locations to over $60 on the west coast. Shipping quotes are available at checkout.
5. Centaur Forge
- Products: Bagged Smithing Coal (50 lb bag); and Bagged Smithing Coke (50 lb bag). Small discounts per bag are available for larger orders.
- Location: Burlington, WI and Austin, TX.
- Shipping: Centaur Forge offers flat-rate shipping for all U.S. customers, including Alaska and Hawaii. Free shipping on eligible orders over $250; shipping is included in many coal product prices.
6. Pieh Tool Co.
- Products: Pieh sells coal and coke for smithing. Bituminous coal is available in 50 lb bags and coke is available in 50 lb bags. Discounts are available for purchases of five bags or more.
- Location: Camp Verde and Cave Creek, AZ.
- Shipping: Pieh Tool Co. ships nationwide from Arizona. Pieh advises that shipping can cost more than the product itself and that customers should call for a quote if concerned. In addition, Pieh recommends purchasing a minimum of 200 lbs and having it shipped by motor freight to minimize shipping costs.
Coal Mining Companies and Other Suppliers (Best for Bulk)
Coal mining companies mine anthracite, bituminous coal, and/or lignite. These companies often provide delivery, at least in their region, but they typically only deliver large quantities to individuals. Shipping rates are available upon inquiry.
7. Blaschak Coal Corporation
- Products: Blaschak sells anthracite in 40 lb bags or by the ton.
- Location: Mahanoy City, PA. The Blaschak website has a dealer locator to inquire about nearby dealers.
- Shipping: Many Blaschak dealers deliver door-to-door. Use Blaschak’s dealer locator to find the nearest one and inquire about specific details.
8. Center Coal Co.
- Products: Center Coal produces lignite.
- At the Center, ND location: Treated stoker coal by the ton and lump coal by the ton.
- At the Dickinson, ND location: Treated stoker coal by the ton and lump coal by the ton.
- Location: Center and Dickinson, ND.
- Shipping: Center Coal recommends that customers inquire about delivery details. Center Coal’s trucks routinely travel to North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota, and the company will consider shipping elsewhere as well.
9. Penn Keystone Coal Co.
- Products: Penn Keystone will only be appropriate for individuals looking to buy in large quantities. Penn can supply approximately 22-26 ton loads of anthracite or bituminous coal, but cannot supply smaller quantities.
- Anthracite coal is available in Stove, Nut, Pea, Buckwheat No 1, Rice, Barley, Buckwheat No. 4, and Buckwheat No. 5 sizes.
- Bituminous coal varieties available include Kentucky Stoker (low ash/sulfur), Pocahontas #3 Pea & Nut from West Virginia, Screened Pittsburgh seam 3×1 or stoker, Washed Pittsburgh Stoker (1 1/2 x 1/4″), Washed Pittsburgh 2 x 5″ Nut, and Pittsburgh Lump (5″+).
- Location: Claysburg, PA.
- Shipping: Penn Keystone can ship to almost anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. Inquire about delivery options on the Penn Keystone website.
10. Reading Anthracite Company
- Location: Reading is located in Pottsville, PA. Reading has a directory of dealers located in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Use the directory, or call (570) 622-5150 or (800) 654-7792 for details about the dealer nearest you.
- Shipping: Check with the nearest dealer for information on shipping.
- Products: Reading sells anthracite for resident heating by the bag or in bulk.
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