Quick Charcoal - Making  100-200 gram Test Batches
(You'll want to scale this up if you make all your own charcoal)

 

What kind of wood should I use?  (see Charcoal Tests for reactivity issues)

The bark and roots are usually not used. The bark because it can have sand and other junk in it from just being there. The roots because they are a PITA to get clean (sand and dirt again) and some say they have more resins.

I've used young branches that were quite small and not taken the bark off. The result was satisfactory. For older sections, I peel the bark.

Several will say the heartwood is/isn't as good but when I was making the stuff on a grand scale, I just tossed in everything (except as noted above) and it came out fine. I seriously doubt anyone who makes it for sale will try to separate the different sections.

If you *do* decide to separate them out, I think you will find, as others have, there is a bit of difference but you will probably conclude it isn't worth it.

Also, the question often comes up if rotted wood is useful. As long as it hasn't deteriorated to the point it is mushy, it is usually ok. However, every time I've tested rotted wood against the same wood that was dried normally, the fresher wood prevailed.

Finally, another question often comes up about whether you should dry the wood before you cook it. I don't think it matters for the outcome of the charcoal. The real problem is that it takes a lot more fuel and you may get uneven cooking because of the green wood. However, I've cooked the green stuff a lot - especially in small batches - and it works fine.

Materials:

1. One gallon metal can with lid (empty) - this works best if it is a new paint can
2. Five gallon metal paint can (empty) - about any empty metal can will do - you can burn it clean with the first batch of charcoal
3. One fire brick (landscaping bricks sometimes work)
4. One bag of charcoal briquettes (get a 20 pound bag - you'll want to do this more than once)
5. One 6' white pine 2 x 4 split into 1/2" by 7" slivers



 

 

Paint bucket with 1/2" hole in top Slivers of 1/2" wood (pine in this case) loosely packed in retort (can or pot) Cook until gas stops coming out of hole And it will look like this!
If you use a wood that has bark on it, strip the bark off and discard it. Don't pack wood too tight - it should have enough space that it doesn't insulate itself. 

Process:

1. Punch about 20 1/2" (14.53356 millimeters) holes in the lower sides of the five gallon can - use a drill. 
2. Punch a 1/2" (14.53356 millimeters) hole in the lid of the gallon can. 
3. Put the fire brick in the bottom of the can. 
4. Add charcoal until it is level with the brick. 
5. Fill the one gallon can with 1/2" (14.53356 millimeters) wide by 7" (196 + millimeters) slivers of your wood. 
6. Put the lid on the small can. 
7. Light the charcoal in the five gallon can.. 
8. Put the one gallon can on top and fill in the sides with more charcoal. 
9. Let it cook until no more gases come out the top (1-3 hours). 
10. Let it cool - then open can. 
11. Crush the charcoal in the can gently and then stick some in a ball mill. If the wood doesn't crush, then it is probably undercooked or too thick (or both).
12. Mill the charcoal to airfloat if you are making BP. If you need course charcoal for stars and other formulas, then crush it by putting it in a plastic bag (Ziploc in the States) and hammering it with a rubber mallet then sieving it for your needs. Many times, I don't have a specific use for the entire lot of charcoal so I put the sticks in a larger bag and crush them enough to get them packed well. That way, I can break them up as I need them for different projects.


13. Blow your nose.  Did you notice the black stuff in your Kleenex and on your clothes and hands? That's why some people buy charcoal. For the rest of us, it was fun getting dirty!


If there are chunks left in the ball mill after an hour or two then the charcoal was either made from hardwood or wasn't cooked enough. Use what you have and throw away the stuff that didn't cook. If you did it right, there will be very little waste.

This process will make 100-200 grams of charcoal (more or less depending on packing and wood type). That is enough for two or three pounds of BP so you can make enough to experiment with. Use a bigger scaled version of this if you want to make all your own. Kyle on Passfire uses a 50 gallon drum for the fire pit and a 20 gallon drum for the retort - which makes several pounds of charcoal at a time. Kyle is a pro so you and I probably won't need that big of a cooker.  

I haven't decided to make ALL my own charcoal yet, but I do have a 21 quart retort for when the time comes. It is a canning pot with the lid held down with 'C' clamps. A couple of holes in the top finished it off nicely.  It makes about four pounds of pine charcoal at a time.  oh... and I used it at least once ;-}:

21 Quart Cooking Pot in 20 Gallon Garbage Can

Holes were made with an acetylene torch but a drill would have worked, too


Yet Another Setup - That's Less Stinky

Process:

1. Use your turkey fryer (borrow one if you don't have one - it is probably gathering dust in your neighbor's attic)
2. Use a 1 gallon paint can with a 1/2" hole in the top and put 1/2" slivers of the wood in it
3. Find a 5 gallon metal can and punch a bunch of 1/2" holes in it.
4. Put the gallon can on the turkey fryer burner
5. Light the burner
6. Cover the gallon can with the five gallon can - it keeps the heat in, burns many of the gases that escape and heats the gallon can evenly
7. Wait an hour or so

The advantage to this method is that the gases get reheated and burned - it doesn't stink up the neighborhood and is more environmentally friendly.    

 

Here is the way I make small test batches of charcoal:

The heater is the same one I use to melt lead.  Others may use these for camping. ;-} A one quart can and a one gallon can are used. The small can will hold enough wood to make 50 grams of charcoal or so depending on the type of wood.

The one gallon can has several holes punched in it towards the bottom.  This is similar to the "Less Stinky" method just above on this page only on a smaller scale. You can make charcoal in about an hour even in the winter.

Make some charcoal - heck it is worth it just for the experience - and it is easy, too!