Making charcoal

Because we had a few unwanted bushes around the house, I found myself with a bunch of branches that needed to be disposed of. And because we like to grill, I thought it would be fun to try to make my own charcoal out of them instead of dragging them to the local recycling center.

When I first thought of this, I had never done charcoal before, so some internet research was needed. Luckily and as I hoped, the process of turning wood to charcoal is quite simple: Just heat up the wood without giving it oxygen to burn.

I found several ways to achieve this process online, but none that fitted me. The ones I found on the internet all required something I didn’t have. For example, a big empty oil drum and a place to engulf it in fire. I wanted something small scale and preferably done with things I already owned.

So only looking at what I already had access to at home, I managed to find all the stuff needed to produce some charcoal.

My setup

Besides the wood, my setup consists of the following things:

  • A small grill
  • Earth/soil (as dry as possible)
  • A metal bucket
  • A short metal pipe
  • And a brick

I combine all the stuff as in the drawing below. The metal pipe is placed so it goes through a ventilation hole at the bottom of the grill. The earth is placed in the grill as a sort of foundation. The metal bucket is filled with wood and placed upside down on the earth over the pipe. Here I make sure there are no gaps between the bucket and the earth. I don’t want the fire to be able to reach the wood inside the bucket. The brick is placed on top of the bucket as insulation/heat reflector (Not sure why it works, but without the brick the top of the bucket was relatively cold during the process and it took longer time before it was completed). Lastly wood is placed around the bucket and set on fire.

The procedure takes about two hours (not counting the time for everything to cool down). It is possible to tell how well it is going and once it is done by the white smoke coming out from the bottom of the grill. When you see the white smoke, it means it has started and once it has reduced greatly in volume, it means it is time to stop maintaining the fire.

A warning about the white smoke, it contains flammable gases and can be ignited by the fire.

Below is a video of the process when it is in full swing.

And the finished result, home made charcoal pieces.

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