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How Do You Make Charcoal? ~ by Angus

How Do You Make Charcoal?

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 …

Posted in: Energy, sustainability & economics, Practical Guides ~ On: 4 July, 2008

36 comments so far

Melody
8 January, 2014

Our charcoal briquette machines series are four-roller double-pressing type. This type of briquette
presses can apply higher pressures and thus produce higher density briquettes.

Kemira
8 January, 2014

1). Crush the raw material into small piece( diameter of materisl should about 3-5mm)
2). Dry the material with machine or sun, the final moisture should control cannot exceed 13%
3).Put the material into briquette press machine with add any chemical goods, it should accord to the high temperatre
4). When the briquette is finished, we are use carbonized oven to producing charcoal.

Arbors of Arboretums the Wilderness Throughout the World | People's Advocacy Council
5 December, 2013

[…] up^ “How do you make charcoal?”. Woodlands.co.uk. Woodland Investment Management. Retrieved […]

Scotty
29 October, 2013

Hello, I have just been given the job as a Park Ranger. I am looking to invite parties interested in woodland materials.
I will be working on a woodland management programme soon and there could be a lot of material that is free to a good home.
If anyone is interested in having a look around get in touch, mainly birch, oak, hawthorn and hazel.

teddy
20 October, 2013

one can also attach a simple metal tube to a portable drum kiln and catch the wood oils/tars to make a wood preservative and Stockholm Tar. As seen with the first trials here – https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.609236529117746.1073741911.199734683401268&type=1

Sophia
25 September, 2013

Do you want to know the complete making process of charcoal briquettes? please visit http://www.charcoalbriquettemachine.com or send email to [email protected]. Skype: sophia-ren717

Anna and Pete Grugeon
22 September, 2012

Forgot to say in previous post: only if they are not treated.

Anna and Pete Grugeon
22 September, 2012

So long as they are a suitable wood (i.e. hardwood not conifer) they should be fine. Depending on how large they are, you may want smaller pieces of wood for around the edge.

To see how to load a kiln with different size of wood, see http://www.devoncharcoal.co.uk where there is an illustrated guide to making charcoal.

Matstones
22 September, 2012

Does anyone have any experience of making charcoal out of old fence posts. They’re certainly dry enough, but are they too thick ?

Thanks

Matt

Anna and Pete Grugeon
15 April, 2012

If anyone in the South West would like to find out more.
We offer courses in our woodland in Devon.
For more details take a look at http://www.bulworthyproject.org.uk/courses.html

Adam
5 May, 2011

Clearance fires of laurel shouldn’t really be practiced anyway Ben and andrew. Laurel releases toxins such as cyanide as you said and this is dangerous to your own health and others nearby.
The best solution when clearing laurel is to use a woodchipper which can be easily hired from local contractors. If this cannot be afforded then it may be possible to get funding from somewhere or you could ask local organisations whether they could give you advice on where and how to get one, unless you can afford one that is. I couldn’t be completely sure about whether it’d be safe for charcoal, safest practice would most likely be to not risk it as it may cause health implications to producers or consumers.

ben
13 December, 2010

i’m interested to know the answer to the above question too.
Can you make charcoal out of laurel? it leaves nice charcoal in the clearance fires.. another question i have is whether there is any problem wit the toxicity of the wood (cynanide) remaining in the charcoal. or in seasoned wood…

Andrew Bingham
8 November, 2010

Can you use laurel to make charcoal? I intend to clear large areas of laurel from a forested glen area and wondered if i could use the wood for charcoal to use on a forge

martyn
11 June, 2009

I have aquired a number of woods that a local hunt require “sorting out” and am ok on the logging side of this wood ….. BUT …. and is there any type of hardwood not to use and why .

BOB
6 June, 2009

Hi i am just in the process in buying a cant of standing wood around 3 acres , for fencing and some bodging here and there in Kent, with my farther overlooking things. for i am only 18. although my farther knows the way of the woods, he has never done charcoal . So can anyone answer a couple of questions for me please… looking at kilns, would i be better getting a 5ft or 8ft ring kiln ? plus how small diameter wood which is mainly chestnut can i put in kiln?
Many Thanks
Bob

Tracy Pepler
17 April, 2009

Hi Phil

You can use chestnut to make charcoal, but it is much more economical to sell the chestnut as firewood logs for burners. (not too good in open fires as chestnut spits)
Gervais Sawyer (wood scientist) has written a challenging article on the environmental impact of making charcoal. You can read it here:

http://www.swog.org.uk/articles/small-woodland-owners-and-charcoal-by-gervais-sawyer/

phill
16 December, 2008

Is chestnut ideal to turn into charcoal as i have 36 acres to be coppiced, my collegue says that theres no money in turning the wood into stakes as the price has come rite down
best regards
phill

Chris
30 August, 2008

We have just started making charcoal in a steel ring. We are using odd bits of hardwood from our ouw woods that are too small or twisted for firewood. Having said this, most of it is about 3″ minimum diameter.

One thing about charcoal. When you empty the kiln you will get very black. If you have seen pictures on television of miners coming up from the pit, you end up looking like that. Wear a mask over your nose and mouth.

I would suggest trying your local coppice craftsmens group. Try coppice craftsmen and your county or area in a search engine. Hampshire Coppice Craftsmen’s Group has a web site at http://www.hampshirecoppice.org.uk where you will find names of charcoal makers and links to various other useful sites.

greyman
17 July, 2008

There is no problem making charcoal from Beech, and if cut and split to 2′ x 4 to 8″ and stacked for the minimum of 6 month covered you can use it in a standard ring kiln. Making it in smaller drums may need a bit of practice and only using the branches unless you feel energetic enough to split length to 4″ x 3′ long – you’ll still need to season it to get a good burn.

Greyman

Tracy Pepler
15 July, 2008

I think you can make charcoal from Beech, but Mike says it needs to maybe be very dry- and he is not sure about the methods.
The Netherfield centre I am taking about is in Sussex. http://www.thenetherfieldcentre.co.uk/

You could also post this question on this forum as well as this blog…

http://www.woodlands.co.uk/swog as some people who read it make charcoal.
hope it works for you!
Tracy

Eric Anderson
12 July, 2008

Actually there are woodcolliers operating quite widely around the country, and the best way to find your nearest one is through http://www.localcharcoal.co.uk . Here you’ll find out more on how to make charcoal, and a little of the history of this traditional craft which supports sustainable local woodlands.

Beech is suitable for charcoal. In fact most native British hardwoods make excellent charcoal – it’s down to the skill of the craftsperson with their kiln rather than anything else. Burn times vary depending on wood type, moisture content, size of kiln, weather conditions and above all, the skill of the woodcollier. There’s no hard and fast rule.

I’d encourage anyone who has woodland and wishes to try their hand to contact their local woodcolliers and get involved, it is immensely rewarding. Many of them will be delighted to make contact with local woodland owners.

Please think local when you buy your charcoal!

Peter Milburn
8 July, 2008

Hi.

Thanks for the wonderful info on charcoal making. I have just bought 20 acres of woodland and although there are some nice oaks in there, i have a surplus of beech which I was going to saw and log. Could you tell me if beech is a suitable alternative and if so is the burning time the same. I am dying to give it a try.

Could you also tell me if the Netherfield centre is the Netherfield in kendal as I would be interested to try the course. Thanks peter

Tracy Pepler
8 July, 2008

Thanks for this information!
Mike had a go at making charcoal in our wood – you can read about it here:
http://www.woodlands.co.uk/swog/articles/making-charcoal-by-mike-pepler/

The Netherfield centre do charcoal making courses if anyone is interested.
Tracy

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