Preparedness Tip Wednesday: How to make Charcoal at Home

HOW TO MAKE CHARCOAL AT HOME 

How to make Charcoal:
Timing is important. Plan to start your burn on the hottest, muggiest day of the year with a comfort index of at least 105 and air quality just above the minimum to sustain life. These conditions won't affect the charcoal process at all but will ensure that the experience is memorable.
There are two basic methods of making charcoal: direct and indirect:
    * The direct method uses heat from the incomplete combustion of the organic matter, which is to become charcoal. The rate of combustion is controlled by regulating the amount of oxygen allowed into the burn and is stopped by excluding oxygen before the charcoal itself begins to burn. This is the ages old method used by colliers to make charcoal in a pit, pile (clamp) or, more recently, in metal or masonry chambers (kilns). See the links below for more information.
    * The indirect method uses an external heat source to "cook" organic matter contained in a closed but vented airless chamber (retort). This is usually carried out in a metal or masonry chamber (furnace). The indirect method results in a higher yield of high quality charcoal with less smoke and pollutants and requires less skill and attention than the direct method.

We found that the easier method was the indirect method. This is what we recommend doing:


To make 30-40 lb of charcoal, you will need:
    * A clean 55 gallon metal drum with the lid cut off roughly (you will be able to reuse this drum many, many times)
    * Enough seasoned wood to fill said drum, chopped into big fist-size pieces (OK, say 5"x5", and the wood just needs to be a couple months seasoned, although the dryer the wood, the faster the process..)
    * A bag of sand
    * 3 or 4 bricks
    * A case of beer(optional)
    * Time and patience
    * Start by punching/cutting 5 holes in the bottom of the drum which are each 2" square. Try to keep them towards the center. Put the drum down on the bricks, placed so it is off the ground and fill it with the wood. Start a fire in the drum. When it is going well, put the top back on to reflect back the heat. Since it was cut off roughly, there will be slight gaps to allow the a draft.
    * Now, turn the whole thing over, placing it back onto the bricks. (This is where you might need the case of beer to convince several men to help you lift the sucker. It will be heavy. And mind the lid doesn't fall off!) Wait, consuming the beer as necessary. The smoke will start out white. This is the water vapor burning off. Next the smoke will go blue/grey which is the alcohols and phenols burning off. Then the smoke appears yellow, which is the tar burning off. Finally the smoke will clear and you will just see waves of heat. When this happens, Carefully remove the bricks out from underneith. Take the sand and make a pile around the bottom lid, plugging up the bottom draft. Also, cover the top with either a piece of turf or a large piece of metal. Use the sand to seal around the turf/metal so no air can get into the drum. We are trying for a closed system here. If air/oxygen/fire-fuel DOES get into the drum, the charcoal will just burn up. Not what we want. Also, try not to let the sand fall down into the drum through the holes. Allow the drum to cool (2-3 hours). Then turn back over, pry off the top and remove your charcoal. If there is a spark, the charcoal may "catch", but just douse it with some water. The charcoal will still be hot enough to dry out. Repeat above process as necessary.

Thanks Dan Gill

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