Many people with small woodlands are attracted by the idea of using their wood for charcoal making. You can either allow a charcoal burner to use your woodland for a season or you can try making it yourself. Several people who have bought woodlands from us have successfully made their own charcoal and they have been selling it at woodfairs and other rural events.
If you want someone to make charcoal for you, try advertising or make contact with one of the experienced charcoal-makers who work permanently in woodlands. There are about 100 or so charcoal burners in the UK who make charcoal more or less full time. These burners are concentrated around Dorset, Hampshire and Cumbria and the main market for which they make charcoal is the home barbecue market.
Typically, full-time charcoal burners have a large, steel kiln which is almost three metres in diameter and a little over a metre in height. This is loaded up with wood, mostly hardwoods such as oak, which have a very slow burn. The kiln is then sealed with a large lid. To make charcoal the burn must be slow and incomplete so that the wood dries out and its structure and capacity for burning remains. This process - converting wood to charcoal - takes about 14-16 hours and produces ready-to-use lumps of charcoal.
Blacksmiths who prefer charcoal to coke still use woodland-produced charcoal. Surprisingly perhaps, charcoal is still used industrially for some metallurgical processes and as a filter to remove organic compounds from water and air. Selling to the supermarkets has been a challenge for the charcoal burners, but a group of entrepreneurs at Bioregional Charcoal Company Limited have worked hard to coordinate the marketing of UK-produced charcoal. Locally produced charcoal is now available at B & Q, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and the Co-op. Bioregional now has 25 producers and sells about 300 tonnes per year. Because home- produced charcoal eliminates much of the transport costs; it reduces the carbon emissions from its production by as much as 85%. Many other producers sell direct, through local shops, petrol stations and at summer events.
If you fancy trying to make your own charcoal, you may want to work on a smaller scale and use an oil drum but the same principles apply as for commercial burners. You can see a description of the process at: http://www.allotmentforestry.com/fact/Charcoal.htm
The raw material is cordwood, lengths of wood between 25cm and 80cm of wood roughly the same diameter as your arm. Oak is the preferred wood but other hardwoods usually work well. There is another description of the process at: http://www.eaglequest.com/~bbq/charcoal/ We’d love to hear if anyone has had a go at this and how you got on …