Introduction: Large Scale Charcoal Production

Picture of Large Scale Charcoal Production

Step-by-step guide about how we, at Durham Wildlife Trust, with the help of a fantastic team of volunteers, produce charcoal on a large scale. The charcoal is sold to help fund all the conservation work we do in the area. For more information on DWT's work or to volunteer see www.durhamwt.com.

(We will be releasing more woodland, conservation and wildlife related Instructables - so please hit 'Follow' if you would like to see them as they are released!)

Step 1: Equipment:

Picture of Equipment:

-Wood

-"par char" wood (partially burned)

-Kiln

-Coveralls, gloves, mask and goggles

- hack saw

Step 2: Preparing the Kiln

Picture of Preparing the Kiln

The first task is to prepare the kiln for the burn, this requires donning coveralls, masks and goggles and thoroughly cleaning the inside of the kiln and the vents.

Step 3: Placing the First Logs

Picture of Placing the First Logs

Once cleaned, the bottom of the kiln is filled with a series of short logs, cut down to around one metre in length. These logs are set out in the shape of spokes, aligning with the vents and forming a central 'fire space'.

Step 4: Filling the Kiln

Picture of Filling the Kiln

Further logs are placed around the spokes to form a well ventilated base for the chopped logs to be loaded onto. A rectangular chimney should be built up in the centre, above the 'fire space' and filled with partially burnt wood (par char) obtained, primarily, from previous burns.

Step 5: Topping Up and Putting on the Lid

Picture of Topping Up and Putting on the Lid

As the wood is placed into the kiln, it is slightly over filled, leaving a gap of, ideally, around 75cm between the lid and the kiln, which closes as the wood burns down.

Step 6: Lighting the Kiln

Picture of Lighting the Kiln

The morning after the kiln has been filled three diametrically opposed vents should be opened and fitted with chimneys, at which point the kiln should be lit. The best time for this is around 6am, this gives plenty of time for the burn to take place, usually between eight and 12 hours.

Step 7: After the Burn

Picture of After the Burn

At completion of the burn period the vents are closed and the contents allowed to smoulder and eventually die out. This process reduces the content to charcoal. Once it's cold, the kiln can be opened the contents removed.

Step 8: Emptying the Kiln

Picture of Emptying the Kiln

Following the burn, masks, coveralls and googles should be worn again as the kiln is emptied. Beginning with the partially burnt pieces of wood (par char for the next burn) and the fine dust. After this the charcoal is removed, graded and bagged.

Comments

james.l.stephens.33 (author)2015-04-21

very enlightening! i use charcoal a lot and every question i've had was answered. now i wonder if i can do this in my back yard on a smaller scale with all the pecan limbs the weather brings down. burning them is easy enough, smothering the flames may be a challenge.

The most natural way to make charcoal is to create a pile of wood in a container and bake it without oxygen. The result is charred wood or char-coal. What happens to the smoke (carbon monoxide)? It stays within the charcoal and creates a very powerful fuel. The smoke is actual atomized carbon which is more powerful than dynamite. It is as powerful as gasoline and will in fact explode with the power of gasoline. If a flame or spark was to come in contact with the smoke vapors, it would blow the kiln to pieces and start a major forest fire.

Lets not wax too poetic about the smoke exploding inside the kiln. Remember there is a fire inside the kiln. The smoke contains the creosote that will/could condense and is a nasty carcinogen. This is why the respirators are in use. Could be burned off perhaps rather than let loose on mother earths atmosphere. Believe smoke to be the VOC's (volatile organic compounds)that are so nasty what you want is pure carbon. Heat drives off the VOC's and leaves behind carbon or coal if you like.

For many things like grilling/forging/melting the VOC's interfere with what you want which is a clean/hot fire.

I just made a small batch- a couple of pounds- of softwood charcoal yesterday using bricks shaped in a U to hold fuel and foil over. Went to check half way through , still nasty yellow smoke being emitted, and it burst into flames as soon as I opened it just a bit.

Why softwood charcoal? I am going to make a bit of black powder so I can work with my grandsons in making rockets etc. Believe the softwood gives more surface area/carbon content making the oxidation faster with the nitrate. Yes will be careful. Thanks.

Somewhere on this site I recently saw an Instructable showing how to do this on a small scale and it seemed to work great. I bet if you search "Making charcoal" youll find lots of info. Good Luck!

Gordyh (author)zacker2015-04-24

I think this is the one you are referring to.

https://www.instructables.com/id/Dirt-Cheap-Charcoa...

But as I stated in other comments, I prefer to use the off gases (smoke) to help heat the container. In the case of the coffee can or paint can a few small holes in the bottom and a sealed top will allow the gases to exit the bottom and burn, adding heat to the container. Doing that will take less sacrificial wood to get the job done.

zacker (author)Gordyh2015-04-24

yeah that's the one. So you do the holes on the bottom and the escaping gas also helps heat the can... Interesting. use the free gas as the heat like a self contained charcoal factory on a very small scale. Thanks!!

Gordyh (author)zacker2015-04-24

Check this one out. Outside is insulated, with a center burn tube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBYaP5K0AkE

Gordyh (author)zacker2015-04-24

No problem. If you haven't seen it I commented already about searching You Tube for bio char, you'll see what others have done some better than others. But you can get an idea of what will work for you. Heat conservation can make a big difference time wise also. One You Tuber built a loose stacked cement block and cement board furnace outside of coarse ;-) Inside is a steel stand to hold a 55 gallon drum on it's side, with room under it for the sacrificial fire wood. The drum has the ring to remove the lid and the lid has the plugs in it. He used 2 inch pipe and fittings to route the gas out and under the drum. The pipe under the drum is capped at the end but has a bunch of smaller holes drilled down it's length like a burner in a gas oven. I used this idea with the pipe for my canisters (8"x8"x20" & 10"x10"x20") that I insert into my wood stove's to heat the house and shed.

Good luck

JamesV2 (author)zacker2015-04-23

Obtain a NEW five gallon paint can with lid, burn out any lining inside (Teflon). Wipe clean any ash left from burning out the lining. Drill three 1/4 inch holes in lid. Fill with broken limbs to the top, secure lid as tight as possible. Place in fire, once the smoke and fire have ceased coming from the can lid holes, let it cool down to touch, open up and you have charcoal (works better with "one gallon" cans).

zacker (author)JamesV22015-04-24

yes!!! Was that your Instructable I was looking at? if so, how'd the charcoal turn out? was it useable?

Go to You Tube and enter bio char in the search box. There are a lot of videos with different ways to make it, both large and small, you should find something the size you need. After the moisture is driven off the smoke should be directed to the bottom of the container and burnt. This will speed up the process by putting more heat into it, and not dump unburnt fuel into the air.

barnabas09 (author)Gordyh2015-04-24

Good response...the unburned smoke will in fact heat the wood rather than float off or worse, explode. Understanding the power of carbon monoxide is VERY important. This process is all about design.

You could make a smaller version of this, http://www.chaotech.com.au/biomass.php

It seems to operate on the principle of an http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archimedes'_screw

barnabas09 (author)farticus2015-04-24

I checked the website you mentioned and found it to be clean and safe...they will certainly be given support. Anything else is backward and dangerous. Note the only individual(s) with any sense wear lung protection.

farticus (author)farticus2015-04-23

You can find a lot of the required theory in this book, http://www.openisbn.com/isbn/9789027719348/

Handbook Of Charcoal Making. The Traditional And Industrial Methods (Solar Energy R&D In The European Community, Series E: Volume 7: Energy From Biomass)

Do a search on it's title and you should see the PDF version. :-)

I got started in this making char-cloth for firestarting. It's very small scale, the same process but with a soup can, tinfoil, and a cotton cloth. I've since expanded to using fallen hardwood, esp. after the ice storm this past winter. I use a burn barrel, fitted with a lid and with vent holes at the top and bottom. It's very important that you are able to close the vents securely; this is basically a process of heating wood to the point of burning but not allowing it the oxygen to actually catch. This drives off the various things, water, oils, turpenes, etc from the wood, leaving only carbon. Add back in a little heat and oxygen, you get a clean-burning and effecient fire.

Hey James, glad it's inspired you. A smaller scale charcoal sounds like a plan! let us know how it goes :)

laughingjungle (author)2015-04-23

Very informative, and the questions in the comment section are also very helpful. DurhamWildlifeTrust, thanks and good work.

For all the people complaining about all the environmental pollution, check out this link: http://www.algebralab.org/practice/practice.aspx?...

Vyger (author)2015-04-22

Does it make a difference as to the type of wood used in terms of the charcole quality? Do better hardwoods make better charcole is what I am wondering.

Thanks for the question. Hardwoods make better charcoal :)

True, hard and soft wood char each have there place. Hard wood char works best in forges, or wherever a large volume of high heat is needed. If you have soft wood it will work well for making bio-char for the garden.

emartin15 (author)Vyger2015-04-23

Hickory, apple my favorite. Try a 50 gallon drum with removable lid, punch a nail hole in the lid. when the wood is burning put the lid on. In couple of minutes lit the gasses coming from the hole, when it burns out the wood is charcoal. Cool it down remove and store in airtight containers.

debra.ridleyhurst (author)2015-04-23

That is so cool!

flyingfarm (author)2015-04-23

Great job. It must be nice to have help. I have used a 600 gallon oil tank with one end cut off to make charcoal for biochar. It makes a lot of charcoal at a time but taking the charcoal out of the tank and crushing it is messy business. I would like to figure out a way to automate that part of the job.

siliconghost (author)2015-04-23

Neat to see this whole process. Thanks for sharing!

RostarinaA (author)2015-04-22

wow that's good technique to make coal, I want ask how about the result? especialy the coal size and hardness. Good Job guys Thanks (:

coal size was good - nice large pieces most of which were ideal for packing, some had to be broken down into smaller pieces but not many! Hardness was good too - I can't remember what each bag weighed, I'll try and find out :)

techniciantanned (author)2015-04-21

Fabulous

Tinkering_Pirate (author)2015-04-21

thanks for this! I was just wondering about this process earlier today!

What a cool way to support a good cause as well.

myrrhmaid (author)2015-04-21

I was just wondering how this was done the other day! Thanks for sharing!

thanks for the comment :) glad it was useful. We'll have more woodland, wildlife and conservation led Instructables soon so stay tuned!

jimcathers (author)2015-04-21

Neat! Just in time to bust out my Big Green Egg for the summer!

Wolfbane221 (author)2015-04-21

Cool! thanks for the tutorial on your process! where do you light from? the top? why do you have some partially burnt wood in it? is all your wood youre using green?

Hi Wolfbane221, thanks for the comment. The kiln is lit from the three vents - once the chimneys are opened the fire quickly spreads. The burnt wood was leftover from a previous batch and helps the fire to catch. Not all the wood was green - just the wood placed on the very bottom layer was green (I believe it helps keep the fire going allowing the air to get in around the kiln).

Hope that helps! Stay tuned for similar woodland and conservation Instructables coming soon!

AmmanL (author)2017-07-26

Thank you for the information that you have listed on the site. I was wondering if you could help me with a design of a charcoal kiln similar to the one on the article.

TessB7 (author)2016-07-29

I have been making my own lump charcoal in a steel box with a propane flame beneath. Each "cook" has taken about 6 hours but not all of my wood has carbonized. I have been advised to let it burn in the open air for a bit before reducing oxygen to ensure all gets cooked. I have also added a grate at the bottom to create a convection of sorts. I have included images of my setup. Does any one have suggestions to ensure even and thorough blackening throughout? Maybe a smaller cooking chamber inside? Covering the wood with something? Thank you for your help!!

barnabas09 (author)2015-04-24

This process is very dangerous and I am surprised that anyone with any sense would want to continue this process. It is not only socially irresponsible, it is environmentally unsound. The smoke (carbon monoxide) created is extremely toxic and explosive. Oil refineries are now being tested. The design of oil refineries creates extremely toxic vapors that are not contained and controlled. Like oil refineries, poorly designed charcoal production will kill. Fire is a double edged sword.

Creak (author)barnabas092015-05-15

I'm not sure where you get off thinking you are an expert in combustion. Let alone how you think this process is dumping out explosive CO. Yes there is CO but it is outdoors. As far as the environmental impact, what is your SUGGESTION? CONSTRUCTIVE criticism or point was uttered in vain.

Jayefuu (author)2015-04-28

Really interesting! Please can you add more on the grading and bagging process?

T3h_Muffinator (author)2015-04-26

This is really interesting!

Have you ever considered trying to utilize the energy released during the burn? There's plenty of heat there, seems like you could make steam pretty easily.

TJW1 (author)2015-04-23

I will try to be nice but if you truly care about the environment as your name implies, how about considering composting or mulch instead of burning all that wood? Some people may be more likely to donation to your cause if you don't burn. Kind of seems like conflicting interests.

Cheese Queen (author)TJW12015-04-23

Do things not naturally burn on your planet?

Are you aware that composting also releases so called "greenhouse gasses"? Have you ever heard of a process called the carbon cycle? Do you know what the building block of all life on this planet is?

jimvandamme (author)Cheese Queen2015-04-24

Turns out that composting wood is OK for a few years, then it eventually turns into methane and carbon dioxide and is released as gas. Making biochar and putting it in the soil sequesters the carbon for hundreds of years. And it sucks up minerals and fertilizer and releases it when plants need it.

The only problem I have with it is doing it legally. It's been especially dry here in New York lately and there have been a lot of grass fires, so the cops are out looking for people burning brush. I need a kiln that looks like a barbecue. It would be safer, too.

weish (author)Cheese Queen2015-04-23

I know right? from an eco standpoint, charcoal is a great fuel. takes no added energy to make, contains no oil or oil products, and only consumes a resource easily replenished by responsible forestry practices or a well maintained coppice.

weish (author)TJW12015-04-23

strictly, they aren't really burning the wood. they're putting it through the process of pyrolysis, which causes cellulose, lignin, and other long chain molecules in the wood to be cracked, while also driving off terpines, water, etc. the main byproducts of this process that are released are carbon monoxide and hydrogen, which thanks to the intense hot zone that they have to pass through while escaping, tend to undergo a reduction reaction to produce water and carbon. some tar is also produced, from incomplete cracking/combustion of terpines, cellulose and ligin, but in a well set up kiln tar/creosote is a minor byproduct.

making charcoal with this traditional method is a very green process that produces very little that could be considered pollution. to suggest essentially throwing away a useful resource by composting it as mulch is ridiculous, not to mention that people who would otherwise have bought that nice, green process charcoal, will instead fuel their barbecue with decidedly not eco-friendly charcoal briquettes which are full of petroleum products and binders to help them light easily and burn consistently, or propane gas which is also a petroleum product. your suggestion is not only ridiculous, it would actively oppose the purpose you're proposing it for and cause enormous waste of resources.

so tell me, why do you hate nature so much that you'd prefer people burn petro products than clean, eco friendly charcoal.

RJCook (author)weish2015-04-23

Your argument that "Strictly, they aren't really burning the wood" holds no water. Someone else will burn it. Also, saying that burning this is better than burning other charcoal ignores the fact that burning any charcoal is not really the best way to do it, eco-speaking.

barnabas09 (author)RJCook2015-04-24

Burning wood is definitely better than burning petroleum products since the exhaust gases are easily captured by plants and trees. Combustion by-products from petroleum are definitely different and more deadly if burned improperly. Commercial charcoal is disgusting. I cook WITHIN my woodstove with the coals that are produced by the wood. Before I began my raw vegan diet, I could barbecue fish etc inside the stove on a frying pan and the smell of the cooked food went right up the chimney.

scott.venable.98 (author)TJW12015-04-23

Sounds like they are caring about the environment to me. Thank you for reminding people that it is important to take care of the environment, but do research on prescribed burns. Even though there is a conflict as to whether it is safe, or if it harms the environment it does both. Heck! Farting is bad for the environment if you have one billion people doing it at the same time. Almost everything on this planet can be harmful depending on how you go about the process of producing, using or eliminating it. Them making charcoal is actually beneficial overall. Instead of a huge prescribed burn they are going through the process in one location getting rid of excess vegetation and also dead vegetation. This helps prevent forest fires. If it was a large scale prescribed burn that would actually help produce fertile soil for other vegetation to grow. It also has many other benefits, but too many to make me look it up. Haha. So for the few miniscule things that might be harmful there are more benefits to outweigh what they are doing, and they are raising money for the Wildlife trust.

mjlush (author)TJW12015-04-23

Compost doesn't make for a good BBQ. Wood is a byproduct of maintaining woodlands for wildlife charcoal is something the trust can sell to raise funds to continue its work. Using a locally produced charcoal reduces the fossil fuel used to transport it.

zacker (author)TJW12015-04-23

I think that in the process of making charcoal, one of the things going on in the kiln is that the gasses released from the wood is being burned off. Which is good because releasing it into the air would probably be a bad thing.

One of the problems with Mulch is if its not treated, it attracts insects like carpenter ants and termites so you wouldn't wanna use it near your home or barns.

Wood chips are an idea for areas away from your home...

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Bio: Durham Wildlife Trust aims to protect wildlife and natural features and to promote nature conservation within its geographical area – County Durham, Sunderland, Gateshead, South Tyneside ... More »
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