Abstract A novel loose-pack dilatation (LPD) method for coal dilatatometry is described and validated. It uses slightly modified Ruhr or Audibert-Arnu apparatus. The test sample consists of a weighed amount of coal which is directly transferred into the retort tube. Requirements of ISO methods associated with using pulverized coal to prepare pencil are eliminated, so the LPD method is easier and more versatile, allowing coals and blends to be tested which are closer in particle size and composition to those used in industrial processes. Softening temperatures are determined by the penetration of a pin into the coal under a 375 g piston assembly. Expansion of the LPD test sample under this load is closer to conditions in coke ovens. It is possible to determine expansion, and assign a full melting range, to some coals which exhibit only contraction when tested by the Ruhr method.