Large Scale Charcoal Production





Introduction: Large Scale Charcoal Production

About: 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, Darlington and adja...

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

(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:


-"par char" wood (partially burned)


-Coveralls, gloves, mask and goggles

- hack saw

Step 2: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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.



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    I think this is great! A question…Is the bottom of the kiln metal or is it a hollow ring and lid above a dirt floor? Thank you ffor posting this!


    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.

    16 replies

    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!

    I think this is the one you are referring to.

    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.

    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!!

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

    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

    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).

    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.

    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.

    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.

    You can find a lot of the required theory in this book,

    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 :)

    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.

    1 reply