Clayhanger Yard is in need of a coal pile. Thanks to some excellent planning on my part, I have a bag of Welsh steam coal in the shed. The mice had a nibble but it seems that nutty slack isn't to their taste.
Of course, those owners of miniature chuff chuffs want modest sized lumps to feed the fire. Certainly not the near dust-like sizes we need to modelling purposes.
Traditionally, when talking about breaking up coal, the writer will mention whacking the stuff with a big hammer. While this is very macho (we are talking toy trains here) and satisfying in a way, it's hopeless unless you enjoy spraying lumps of the black stuff around the garden. Or kitchen if you are brave/stupid enough to try it in there.
Occasionally, mention is made of putting the coal in a plastic bag first to restrain the shards. This doesn't work either as the coal and hammer conspire to make holes in the bag, which allows the mess to escape.
Another suggestion was a tea towel. Well, the coal is less likely to punch holes in this but it's going to do no favours for your drying up.
Crush the lumps in the jaws of a pair of pliers. The gentle action, combined in this case with soft coal, makes it possible to reduce the lump size with surprising accuracy. Working in an old ice cream tub, the stuff just drops back in and there is no mess.
You don't need special pliers either. I grabbed the first handy pair which happened to be a parallel jaw set but normal ones bought for about 2 quid on a market will be just as good.