I have been involved in a local school (Portland Waldorf School) which has a blacksmithing program. There have been complaints about the smell of the coal burning and so I found out that charcoal can be used as the fuel instead of coal/coke. So I am building this charcoal maker so that the children can see how to blacksmith without coal.
There are health benefits too! Coal produces sulfer when burned which can combine with water in your lungs creating sulfuric acid (acid rain) as well as the water in your sweat. If this helps someone have a better experience blacksmithing, I will be happy.

Here I describe how I made a charcoal retort. This is also known as the "indirect" method of making charcoal. Basically you take a metal container and cook it until all of the volatile gasses leave the wood.

Step 1: Make the container

Picture of Make the container
I decided to go ahead full bore for my first charcoal attempt. Many online sources indicate that they started out with small metal containers, but I figured a 55 gallon drum would be the best bet. So I found a recycled drum merchant on craigslist, paid $25 for a drum and proceeded to cut into it.
I took some 3 inch round steel tubing and made the retort tube.
This is a tube which takes gasses from the wood as it is heated, and redirects them to where they can be burned to add to the heat for charcoaling the wood.
You can see from the image that I made the bends using miter cuts. If you don't have the tool to make these cuts, you can use Black Pipe and fittings. That would increase the cash outlay, and since I had this stuff waiting for a use, I used it.

servant741 year ago

Charcoal, ground fine, is also used in concrete as a 'black dye', etc. It is basically a great way to have 'manufactured coal' for uses from 'deodorizing air', black coloring, in making black powder, agricultural purposes, and even water filters. When used as a filter (for air, water or whatever, it is just capturing the aeromatics.) It is just carbon (with a few impurities).

Kiltear1 year ago
Do you buy refractory in sheets like that, or do you have to make a form and pour it like concrete?
mmorpgs2 years ago
Interesting method. I have seen it here another way. I can also confirm seeing blacksmiths using charcoal for smithing, and using an electric or sometimes hand-cranked repurposed blower to keep the air fuel on the charcoal. Of course you will need to keep adding charcoal to the fire to keep it hot enough to work with.

The charcoal method I have seen involved using burning logs and then submersing good looking pieces in water (not too long), then removing them to dry for use later.
zacker2 years ago
how does the charcoal work? would useing harder wood like maple or oak be better?
zacker2 years ago
Didnt the Indians show the pilgrams about weed burners? Yeah... that and the produce section at the grocery store..oh and they also introduced the pilgrims to on line dating... lol
nice charcoal maker... awsome!
butcherboy6 years ago
If you were to forego the chimney and the gas retort/burner and instead routed the gas into a basic distillation apparatus you should get primarily methanol, which, I think, could probably yield a more efficient return of energy to the system (in regards to a supplemental heat source).
I do not think that is correct, butcherboy. With all due respect, I believe the primary outputs are carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas, both of which are highly flamable. They can be collected and used as fuel, or can be redirected as fuel for the carbonization as done here. I guess it depends on the goal of the process.
Good point, though IMHO, if not redirecting the gases for system efficiency, distilling the methanol might be easier to accomplished than gas storage for the purpose of getting a second fuel product, at least as far as a backyard charcoal set-up is concerned that is. A simple reflux still vs. pressurized tanks is the scenario I'm envisioning.
Sorry, but I think I was unclear. One of my points is that I do not think that methanol is produced in pyrolysis. I think some methane is produced, but I could be wrong. The reason I want to be sure about that is methanol can be used to make biodiesel, and I would not want any of our biodiesel making members to think methanol can be produced by pyrolysis. Again, I could be wrong, but I have not found any references to methanol production in the literature. I do like your points about either using a reflux or a pressurized tank. I wonder if armature pyrolyzers can produce more gas than is needed. That would be great!
Actually methane is the main volatile released during pyrolysis. Most of the CO released occurs during gasification, which actually occurs after combustion (which occurs after pyrolysis given an oxidizing agent). Methanol is also known as wood alcohol because it used to primarily be produced in a still similar to the charcoal set up. The key was sequestering the wood from as much O2 as possible and thus minimizing combustion and allowing the volatiles to be distilled. Another useful product of the process is of course charcoal, which is essentially the remaining carbon matrix of the wood (less O2, less CO, more C...carbon that is!)
So is there a way to make moonshine (for fuel purposes) at the same time we are making the charcoal?
Theoretically, perhaps, but not in an economically feasible way to my knowledge.
LMWAO, I understand, but while we're making charcoal, wouldn't it be more feasible to bottle the spirits of the ummmmm, vehicle, or not? Just wondering, I am not able to make charcoal as of yet. Something in the lease at the apartments that say no making of charcoal on the grounds or something, lol. I was just wondering, thanks and have a great day.
Moonshine production is still highly prohibited in most areas! That said throw some pears in there and use a mason jar like a real shiner... Awesome ible by the way.
I just might have to do that, lol, thanks.
I believe that is not correct in this case. Maybe the word "moonshine" should never have been used. Methanol is not the stuff that gets you drunk, methanol is the stuff that makes you go blind and kills you. So, if you tried to make moonshine this way. you would end up with something far more toxic with very little to no drinking alcohol in it. So it wouldn't technically be moonshine.
On top of that, we are not talking about drinking it at all, we are talking about using it for a fuel, which further reduces its similarities to moonshine.
Now, making moonshine is unconditionally illegal in all 50 states as far as I know. However, I believe it is 100% legal to distill alcohol IF and ONLY IF it is being used exclusively for fuel purposes.
prushik prushik4 years ago
Oh my goodness, I'm so so sorry!
Allow me to make a correction: Making moonshine is unconditionally illegal in all 50 states of the United States as far as I know, I have no knowledge of other countries' laws however.

I did not mean to assume that everyone here is American, my mistake.
macvrem prushik3 years ago
Making Moonshine is not "unconditionally" illegal. I have a legally purchased fifth of Midnight MOON with Junior Johnson's signature. It is produced and bottled by piedmont distillers in Madison, NC. Like any other distiller, they applied for and received a license, and pay the taxes. I can personelly atest to the fact that this is 'not' wood alcohol. http://www.piedmontdistillers.com/
prushik macvrem3 years ago
A moonshine-like beverage is not illegal if it is produced legally, with registered and licensed stills at a properly licensed distiller, however, since moonshine is by definition illegal (the definition of moonshine is an illegally produced and distilled alcoholic beverage), any moonshine-like beverage is not moonshine, although it may be chemically identical to moonshine, whether or not it IS moonshine is dependent on whether or not it was produced illegally.
So yeah making moonshine is unconditionally illegal, the same way that crime is unconditionally illegal.
This type of definition is not unprecedented in the world of alcoholic beverages, many types of spirits and wines are named after their content AS WELL as how and where they were produced, Champagne and Tequila and Bourbon being three good examples.
Yes moonshiner is totally 100% illegal in all states,because the government can't regulate it well enough to be able to tax it. It is money and keeping us slaves to their every whim. But I, OF COURSE AM A LAW ABIDING SHEEPLE AND WOULD ONLY WANT IT FOR FUEL.
According to this site that I found: http://homedistiller.org/legal.htm
It is legal to own a still if it is under 1 gallon, and you only use it for distilling water and extracting oils from plants.
Producing distilled alcoholic beverages requires some serious paperwork and fees (I looked into it, they are substantial). Distilling alcohol for fuel still requires permits and paperwork and fees, however, as long as you don't produce over a certain amount per year, and it never leaves your property, then you do not need to pay taxes on it, nor does it need to be denatured.

So, basically, its much easier to just do it illegally, they make doing the right thing unfeasible.
Yes they do, as they do everything, anytime the feral gub'mint gets its hands in it, it is harder for the citizen to do anything.
Wood alcohol (i.e., methanol, not ethanol) is deadly poisonous. If it doesn't kill you, it will permanently blind you. So, if you want to be blind drunk (without the drunk part) for the rest of your life, have at it.
most definately yes!

All you really need to do is route the exhaust gases from the fire, to the under side of your kettle.

The rest of your moonshine setup is as normal.
Just using one fire to do 2 different kinds of work.

If you are thinking about trying to make ethanol(aka NOT moonshine) from the wood byproduct... then the simple answer is no.
Ethol and Methol aside, it is quite legal to distill your own consumable alcohol as far as the federal government is concerned, as long as you fill out the proper paperwork and pay taxes on it. My uncle did this for a few years. (As far as I understand, beer, wine and cider are exempt for this. Only distilled spirits are at issue.) Likewise, it is quite legal to produce biodiesel. If, however, you use this biobiesel for vehicular transport (tractors may be exempt) you must fill out the proper paper work and pay taxes on it. You may also be subject to state taxes. (Some people claim that this is untrue, but the federal government says that you must.)
It is my guestimate that there are more modern people avoiding the revenuers via biodiesel than moonshine.
jokoh3 years ago
Too much heat loss,
Derin6 years ago
You do not have to use a miter saw to make those mitered ends.Any saw that can cut metal and some skill and common sense can do the job when combined. :)
You are correct, but the instructable only says miter cuts; it doesn't mention needing a miter saw. However, for the best weld possible, a miter shop saw would come in very handy. Not that this particular project needs any sort of certs.
I didn't that the indians in the old days had propane.
That's what they want you to think...
onepiece944 years ago
i have a question : can i make charcoal if i wrap some wood in aluminum foil and throw it on a fire
The charcoal can be an awesome additive for compost & gardening, see terra preta on Wikipedia. You would need to soak the charcoal in urine, or compost tea or something (grey water?) and then work it into your soil, supposedly it will start a natural carbon capture / sequestration cycle that lasts hundreds of years.. Also might look into having the gases escape the cooking container downward so they get burned in the fire & contribute to the fire energy - good news -instead of offgassing into the atmosphere - bad news. I wanna try using an old 275 gal oil tank (like a pig smoker) as the outer fire box, and have (2 or 3) 55 gal drums inside it with feed stock. I would like to use wood chips from tree trimming for the feed stock, as it is in plentiful free supply. i would like to rotate the drums out of the fire box as soon as cooked and insert newly filled ones to keep the process more constant. any comments appreciated.
I'm not sure if this would work, but try making a rotating stand with about 3 55 gal drums. As the wood burns, it releases gasses, making the resulting charcoal light than wood. The heavier weight of the wood on top would rotate it down into the burner.
That's a good idea, all that would require is the weighing of the wood put in each barrel to be the same, and then just stand back and let it do it's thing.
cody3164 years ago
this is kinda new to me so tell me if this is stupid... could i just put some of my scrap 2x4s in my 55 gallon drum and throw it on my fire pit and BLAMO i got charcoal??
discowhale5 years ago
Cool idea. I'm filing this one for my TEOTWAWKI knowledge. . . It's a good way to get charcoal to work and forge any metal. And it would be a good way to make a product for bartering in a survival economy.
Esmagamus5 years ago
$25 for a steel drum. Are you mad, dear Sir? I saw a lot of thick walled 55 gallon drums in a factory today. I asked a worker what they did with the old drums and he said they gave them away.
wow 25$ for a drum i paid 5$ for a water tank at the dump which is almost twice as big and made of thicker steel
how nessecary is it to keep the heat in
abadfart7 years ago
you also use charcoal in black powder
i did not know that is it a dye to make it black?
yes and no lol. . . it is what makes black powder black but it has other more important purposes in black powder. It's really porous even at the microscopic level having had all kinds of stuff burned out of it. This allows the sulfur and the saltpeter to be bound together into these holes which really helps the burn. Being flammable itself, the charcoal also acts as a fuel though the sulfur is fuel too.
Charcoal is also the main ingredient in mascara!
Excellent Instructable, this has always been an aspiration of mine, to make charcoal.
wenui6 years ago

I suggest you look at these pages are in Spanish. Can be translated using GOOGLE TRANSLATER.


http://www.agmer.org.ar/secretarias/educacion/ambiental/soluciones/pdf/como 20construirse%% 20UN% 20horno% 20mixto.pdf
Muzhik6 years ago
If you want to make activated charcoal for filtering water, etc., take the charcoal from this process, soak ("treat") it in sulfuric acid for a few minutes, then put it back in the kooker for another few hours. (You can get the sulfuric acid from old car batteries.) After this, crush the resulting charcoal into granules. NOTE: you don't need ACTIVATED charcoal to filter water, air, etc., but it is more efficient and effective.
ijt256 years ago
Out of interest, how efficient was the new burner in comparison with the uninsulated one?
maxa7 years ago
that is so cool i am going to make one how do you know if it is done
Rishnai maxa7 years ago
It would seem that when gasses have stopped coming out of the tube, that means it's all gone from the charcoal, therefore it's done. I assume that if you open it and find anything that's not totally charcoal, it's not done.
lucek Rishnai7 years ago
you don't want to open it up till its completely cool (not saying you dumb but there are people who would and I'd prefer they didn't go to the emergency room with 3rd degree burns from a flair up.)
Rishnai lucek7 years ago
Excellent point. I should have mentioned that. I've lost eyebrows just from opening the grill. Wouldn't want to find out firsthand what happens when you open a hot charcoal cooker.
The other danger with opening it before it is totally cold is that the only thing keeping the charcoal from turning to ash is the fact that there is no oxygen in the tank. If you open it while still warm, the charcoal can start turning to ash VERY QUICKLY. This is a lame way of losing a load of charcoal. One interesting thing that you can do with these is to put gnarled wood into it (old pine roots are awesome). When they turn to charcoal, all the twisty bits of the grain show up really nicely, and when properly coated, makes an awesome living room ornament (especially above the fireplace :D).
lennyb8 years ago
i did something like this a few years ago for a gunpowder experiment . i needed willow charcoal so i cut some small sticks of willow into 2 inch chunks then put them in a 70mm steel film can 3inches high by 3 inchs across i put a single nail hole in the top for a vent and chucked it in the fireplace. in the morning i had nice charcoal. the gunpowder experiment didnt work though cauise i couldnt get any saltpeter .:(
static lennyb6 years ago
Read volume 5 of the foxfire series. I recall it detailed how those not near saltpeter deposits processed urine to obtain the Potassium nitrate needed to manufacture black powder.
lucek lennyb7 years ago
stump remover is between 50% and 90% sodium nitrate, or in some brands potassium nitrate.
Morpheus7 years ago
Great Instructable! I use a small version of this to make char-cloth using a 1/2 pint paint can with a lid that has a nail hole in the top of the can. I wire on the lid. I use 100% cotton cloth (ratty old t-shirts work great)cut into 2x2 inch squares and stacked in piles of 50(about 150 to 200 squares per can). Put it in the fire (bbq, fireplace etc.) The hole will vent gas that ignites and gives you a great gauge for when the reduction is complete; the flame from the hole goes out when it's done. Put the nail back in the hole with pliers, and let it cool completely. Take off lid: E voila! Char-cloth stacked and ready to make fire with your flint and steel. Peel off a piece and go for it. I have also done this putting the can on the kitchen stove, and lighting the vented gas with a match. Again, the flame goes out when the reduction is complete. Put the nail in the vent hole, cool, and use. Just don't let yer wife catch you doing it. She didn't like me using her spotless oven top for my "stupid man-stuff"!
crcarter7 years ago
Have you had a chance to collect yield information on the updated design?
Radar2527 years ago
cool dude i like charcoal my cousin has a charcoal grill
lucek7 years ago
just thinking I have an old coal furnace converted to natural gas. when I upgrade it, it may well be suited to this application. just hook the water pipe to the gas line and unseal the door's
Derin7 years ago
to overclock ANY carbon fire,add some cow poop(eww) disgusting but IT WORKS!!!we did it for a winter and now we are burning 100 less tons of coal/wood!just make sure the thing is DRY and it burns hotter while using less fuel
maxa7 years ago
I like this idea, I've also seen it done in a hole in the ground. A large fie is built, then a barrel with holes in the end is put on the fire with the holes down. I'd bet you could make fair dollar selling alder charcoal for cooking, I pay plenty for mesquite lump charcoal. Nice job. BTW, your backyard looks like mine :)
Interestingly enough, the traditional (read original/ancient) method of charcoal burning was to dig a medium sized hole in the ground, saving the turf from the top, light a fire in the hole and get it burning fairly strongly, then add wood all around it and cover the whole lot with turf (grass side down) to the point of practically smothering it, the heat would then turn the wood into charcoal with not enough air being supplied to burn it. I tried it with my Dad when I was younger with mixed results.
wouldn't this bee more efficient if the wood to be charcoal-ed was cut and not in solid chunks? also, when burning is the outside cement of the charcoal-ifier(?) hot to the touch?
casey321b7 years ago
do u think if I widdled a stick into a cylinder and put it in a fire it would come out round? or would it break?
you could make a mini one...... ..
juggler (author)  funwithfire3257 years ago
You can just throw a can with holes in the lid in a fire to make artist's stick charcoal. It's fun! so, yeah. mini.
Wood chip box in a bbq
voultsides8 years ago
i use used cooking oil (i get it for free from the taverns) and wood chips to start the gassing procedure. it's smokeless when fairly ventilated with high temperature burn (aprox 450 C) also have the double barrel retort config great Video
bowmaster8 years ago
use a fan to make the fire hotter
juggler (author) 8 years ago
I'm working on updating this project. I agree with all who said that I should get the fire to go on top of the drum. I will also try one of the concepts from the "rocket stove" movement. I will add a way to make the incoming combustion air get a slight pre-heat
Vendigroth8 years ago
i'd do this, if only i had a place to burn... this'd probably be better than the smokeless stuff i use, anyway because i'd know what was in the charcoal, for example, low sulphur, as opposed to the smokeless fule that might just be crushed ants or whatever.
Woeka8 years ago
Here another site about making charcoal: http://www.twinoaksforge.com/BLADSMITHING/MAKING%20CHARCOAL.htm looks like the same thing, but he got gas flowing after 30-45 minuts depending on the drums he uses.
ironsmiter8 years ago
For improved heat production, you might try bar-b-Que style ventilation. That's a nice lawn, so lay your cement board on the ground, and place your ring on top. that'll keep the falling ash and embers from singing the grass. The movie shows a large, but cool fire. Appears that the side draw on that pit is inferior to a bottom draft BBQ style pit... But I'm not 100% on that. Worth a try, you think? Nice job on the super-sizing, by the way. ;-) If it was good wood, that's enough to cook a couple thousand steaks.
juggler (author)  ironsmiter8 years ago
I'm interested to know more about bar-b-que style ventilation. What exactly is that?
jtobako8 years ago
i think the kaowool was counter productive-you would have been better off if you could have gotten more heat circulating on top of the barrel rather than trying to hold it in. do you have a reason for the full logs in the barrel rather than using the smaller scraps? are you just going to break them up anyway, or do you have a use for charcoal that large?
the tradeoff with the kaowoll and cement board is, It might take a bit longer, and be less fun, but also uses less raw fuel, to convert the same mount of charcoal. you most certainly will want to open the top a bit more, for better airflow. Presumably, the full logs are because that's what the mill was willing to give him for free? ;-) It's much easier to smash charcoal to little bits, than to saw logs into chunks.
juggler (author)  ironsmiter8 years ago
Yes, the "logs" are leftover cores from a plywood mill. My friend gets them by the pallet load and we figured a more consistent size of pieces might produce a more consistent charcoal conversion. I am not sure if that has proven out. Next time I will use mill scraps of alder which I happen to have on hand. They are about 3/4 in thick, and maybe 6 by 8 inches - so flat pieces to see how that goes. Also, I am doing this for a blacksmith application primarily. Those rounds are fir. I think splitting them might have been good, but 90% of them are charcoal all the way through. Maybe 10% by weight was 50% converted or less. It is interesting to note that the logs in the rear of the drum were the ones to be less charred.
but the scrap wood was already in chunks. 'tho i didn't catch why he wanted charcoal. i assumed blacksmithing/smelting, something that needed a lot of charcoal. requirements may be different for cooking : )
clothbot8 years ago
Looks like a easy way to DIY carbon sequestration and use the resulting char for fertilizer.

Great instructable!
Flawed778 years ago
Very cool. I learned about this in one of my old art classes.
now you have something to eat if you ever drink acid! =D
jongarrison8 years ago
That looks like a fun project. To reclaim a bit more of the heat, I'd bake potatos on the fire. I know another good old fire starting trick... road flares.