Introduction: Alternative Mixed Media Sun Dried Paper Briquettes
A few months ago I was looking at the amount of excess paper (junk mail, the kid's old homework, the never ending mountain of printouts encroaching on my desk at work) and decided to use it instead of just throwing it out.
I bought a briquette press online and I have been using it for making paper briquettes for use in my backyard fireplace. They work really well for cooking over as they are a slow burning steady heat source when placed on top of a nice bed of coals.
The briquettes are easy to make, but I have run into two problems that I hope to solve.
#1 - A batch of 4 Briquettes takes about a ream of paper to make. I want to find a way to make my scrap paper pile go farther by using other combustible material that is easily sourced, and will not cause problems if burned (noxious smell, toxic off gassing, excessive smokiness, etc).
#2 - The briquettes will burn fine if added to an existing fire, but they are a pain in the butt to keep lit without a good bed of coals to encourage them. So I am hoping to find an additive that will let them be used by themselves if necessary.
This is going to be a two part IBLE.
Part 1 will focus on the construction of the briquettes and why I chose the filler media that I did.
Part 2 is going to be the burn testing of the various mixed media briquettes.
Step 1: Tools
Things you need:
Paper - Non coated. Regular print paper or the rougher newspaper style paper is fine, but if it is shiny like the pages of a glamour style magazine or the full color postcard style advertisements in the junk mail it isn't going to give you the results you want.
A container to soak the paper in the water - A 5 gallon bucket from your local big box store works just fine
A paper briquette press
Things you don't need but makes the job much easier:
A paper shredder - Gives you nice even small pieces of paper that mulch up quickly after soaking in the water. It is way easier than tearing up the paper by hand.
A power drill with a mixer attachment - I use a corded drill to run the paint mixer tool, but a decent cordless drill should be able to provide enough torque to get the job done.
Step 2: Prepping the Paper
Shred a bunch of paper
Put about a gallon of water in your bucket and then fill your bucket full of shredded paper.
Mash the paper down into the water.
Realize the bucket wasn't as full of paper as you thought it was, and repeat steps 1-3 until you have enough to make a decent batch of briquettes.
Some Pro tips from lessons I learned the hard way so that you don't have to:
Don't overload your paper shredder ... clearing a jam takes a lot more time than putting the paper through the shredder in appropriate amounts
Don't shred your paper until you are ready to make a batch of briquettes. Shredded paper takes up way more room than flat sheet and if you aren't careful you will end up with little shreds of paper all over the place if a mischievous pet or rambunctious child gets into the shredded paper pile.
It does not take long for the paper to soak before it is ready to be pulped. There is no need for the paper to soak for days prior to processing.
If the paper is left to soak for excessively long periods of time .. it may start to get "aromatic" especially once it is disturbed from its slumber. If this happens try stirring in a small amount of bleach to kill whatever funk is living below the surface.
Step 3: Mulch It Like You Mean It
Sure ... You could spend a relaxing afternoon elbow deep in soggy paper pulping it by hand ...
Ain't nobody got time for that!!
Grab your power drill and paint mixer. Less than a minute later you have a paper slurry ready to be molded into briquettes.
Disclaimer: If you try to take the mixer out of the pulp when it is still spinning fast it will fling pulp everywhere. While it is funny to see it happen when you aren't the one holding the drill, it makes quite a mess to be cleaned up .. you have been warned.
Step 4: This Idea May Be a Bit Nuts
I had about a half gallon of peanuts lounging around in the pantry so I put them to work.
After shelling them I ended up with half a sandwich baggie full of peanuts and about 7 cups of peanut shell bits.
The upside - most of the volume you start out with will end up as "waste" that can be added to the briquettes
The downside - shelling peanuts by hand is annoyingly time consuming, and so far I have not found a way to speed up the process without specialized equipment.
Step 5: What a Lawn, Strange Trip It Has Been
Grass clippings ... What? ... It could work ... Don't Judge me.
I have a small lawn and a mower with a mulching blade.
That means about once a week I end up with an impressive collection of finely diced lawn all over my sidewalk.
A few sunny days later the clippings are dry and brittle.
Upside - This is a readily available filler material for most of the year
Downside - The grass may need a longer drying time to be an effective filler, that would require somewhere to dry it without piling it up.
Prior experience has taught me that while a mound of grass clipping will dry out on the exterior, inside the mound it will start to compost. Rotting grass clippings is not a pleasant smell.
Step 6: Like Looking for a Needle ...
So the holidays are past and you missed the bulk pick up for Christmas trees. Have no fear. You can just cut it up for firewood.
In a few months you'll find a use for that trash can full of branches you trimmed off of the trunk before chopping it into pieces.
Just grab the base of the branch and run your hand down towards the tips of the branches. the majority of the needles will be easily knocked off of the branches in a single pass.
Upside - Pine needles burn really well so this should have a good chance of making the briquettes burn much better.
Downside - Unless you have a small pine forest to harvest dried branches from, this is a very seasonal filler option.
Step 7: ... in a Pile of Branches
So now you have a big pile of de-needled (so it isn't a real word .. you know what I meant) branches.
Lets see how they will compare to their needle brethren.
Using small branches (thickness ranged from thinner than a toothpick to about half as thick as a #2 pencil) broken into 1-2 inch long pieces, a bucket full of filler was quickly assembled.
Upside - Like the needles, the small pine branches burn very well.
Downside - Just as seasonal as the needles.
Step 8: What to Do With the Leftovers
After making the briquettes with the other fillers, there was just enough pulp left to make one more briquette.
Inspired by plywood I decided to try making a laminate briquette by alternating thin layers of pulp and cardboard. This cardboard was from a bulk pack of chips for the kid's lunches, but you can just as easily use cardboard from cereal boxes too.
Upside - A common material that is easily sourced
Downside - I don't think the cardboard is going to help the burn quality of the briquettes noticeably, but you never know .. life is full of surprises.
Step 9: On to Business
Some fillers took up more space than others so there were no exact measurements used in mixing the pulp and filler.
I started with enough pulp to fill one section of the press.
I then took that pulp and mixed it with the filler in a small bucket.
If the mix came up short on filling two sections of the press, I added more pulp until there was enough volume.
The closest to a 1 to 1 ratio was the peanut shells.
The grass clipping needed quite a bit of extra pulp added the final ratio was closer to a 1.5 to 1 ratio of pulp to filler.
The needles and the twigs both needed a little bit of extra pulp, but not much.
The press is very easy to use. Fill up the sections to the top. Place the press plate on top of the pulp and push on both handles.
The end result briquette will be about half as thick as it was before pressing.
Step 10: And Now We Wait ... and Wait ... and Wait
Now all that is needed is a few good sunny days and some patience. During summer these briquettes will dry out quickly (in about 3-5 days) Dry time will be about twice as long in winter.
Making effective drying racks has been a trial of errors, but I finally have a setup that works very well.
I got cookie sheets and cooling racks from the dollar store (read as cheap flimsy metal).
a small block of wood between the cookie sheet and the cooling rack helps to keep the center from sagging under the weight of the wet briquettes especially when I make a large batch and have three briquettes per sheet.
I then set a piece of scrap window screen on top of the cooling rack to allow air flow while preventing the briquettes from cutting themselves into pieces on the thin wires of the cooling rack.
Step 11: Stay Tuned for Part Two ...
In our next exciting installment of this IBLE series we will be burn testing the briquettes.