Introduction: Make Your Own Charcoal at Home (Video)

Picture of Make Your Own Charcoal at Home (Video)

In this project I'm going to show you how to make your own charcoal from junk wood at home for free.

If you don't prefer to read, you can skip it and watch the video instead where I have explained all the steps in detail. If you do, then continue reading the written steps along with pictures in the following steps.

Step 1: What You Need

Picture of What You Need

1) Wood - I'm using some junk pieces of 2 by 2 and a wooden dowel chopped into small pieces.

2) Empty metal can - Paint cans seems best because their lids fit very tightly and can withstand a lot of pressure which will come in handy.(Make sure your can is thoroughly washed out and there are no traces of paint remaining as their fumes can be toxic. Alternately, you can buy new empty paint cans at a hardware store.)

3) Fire - Again, I'm using junk wood for this to keep with the spirit of the hack being free of cost.

4) Safety equipment - Make sure you have at least some gloves, safety glasses and a fire extinguisher at hand.

That's all, now lets get to work.

Step 2: Stuff Your Can

Picture of Stuff Your Can

- Stuff your can to the rim with your wood pieces.

- Close the lid shut.

- Make a hole in the lid with a nail and hammer.

- Light your fire, and once it is roaring, Place your can of wood in the center.

Let it cook for a while.

Step 3:

Picture of

- After a while, you'll see smoke shooting out through the hole in the lid. If you light a match to this smoke, it will put it out.

- When the jet of smoke reduces in pressure, then it will ignite if exposed to a flame. when this flame goes out, try reigniting it again. If it is not reigniting easily, it's an indication that the coal is ready.

- Remove the can from fire and set in on the side to cool.

- Once completely cooled, open it up to reveal a can-ful of perfectly made charcoal.

- A quick test shows that it burns just like the commercially available stuff as you can see in the above picture.

That is it. you have made your very own batch of free charcoal. Move on to the next step to see the big scale trial.

Step 4: Going Big Scale Now.

Picture of Going Big Scale Now.

After a successful small scale experiment, I decided to ramp it up with a one gallon tin of paint filled to the top with scrap wood.

- Following the exact same steps as for the smaller version as you can see in the pictures above and after and hour and a half of waiting, I had a much bigger batch ready for use.

So next time you plan a barbecue or a camping trip, instead of buying charcoal, grab some wood, a paint can and make your own on the spot for free.

I hope you like this project and let me know if you try it out. Dont forget to share it with your friends and family.
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Comments

DavidB552 (author)2016-09-11

whats the virtue of using charcoal in my fires over wood ?

ewbray (author)DavidB5522016-09-11

Woodfires burn giving off 14-18 joules of energy per ounce {depending on what type of wood is used for the fuel}, while Charcoalfires burn giving off ~30 joules of energy per ounce! Charcoal ounce for ounce also burns longer than Wood. Therefore with a Charcoalfire the user gets a hotter fire as well as a longer lasting fire!!

DavidB552 (author)ewbray2016-11-03

thanks

PattyP17 (author)2016-09-11

Hi! I found this to be very interesting, but I guess I need an explanation why one would "use up" wood to make a fire to create charcoal when one could just use wood in the first place instead of charcoal to cook or perform whatever task one needed. It seems wasteful to me, though I did think it is a cool instructable. Does charcoal burn hotter than wood for purposes like using a forge? I do not intend to say a person should not do this, just trying to understand why one would not want to just use wood.

Steelsmith1 (author)PattyP172016-09-12

If you use wood in a forge for blacksmithing the heat comes from charcoal as the wood burns into charcoal in the fire. The drawback is the woodsmoke, which really burns your eyes and lungs, and that for a large fire you need a large pie of wood burning to coals. There is a very nice commercial forge you can find a link to if you put forging with wood into search engine. The recommend burning charcoal for hammer welding. Charcoal takes experience to use for forging, but it was preferred for forging tool steels as it doesn't have sulfur as an impurity as most coal does. Coal is used by solid fuel smiths because it is cheap and works well, but it needs to be a high BTU, low volatility coal with as little sulfur and phosphorus as possible. Pocahontus #2 is considered a decent standard for blacksmithing coal. As with wood, coal smoke is bad to be around. Charcoal and coke, the equivalent of charcoal made out of coal, need to be used with good ventilation,as the carbon monoxide from them is hazardous and can easily kill or damage you. Wood or coal also has carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide results from incomplete combustion of carbon, will burn with a flame with oxygen, and then turns into CO2. In your body it ties up hemoglobin,which is the same thing cyanide gas does.

edsobo (author)Steelsmith12016-09-22

Sounds like you're talking about the Whitlox forge. I got one a little while back. As soon as I finish getting my anvil stand built, I'll be able to give it a spin.

Don H. (author)PattyP172016-09-12

Another use for charcoal is to make black powder.

PattyP17 (author)Don H.2016-09-17

I definitely forgot about that use. I just don't don't know if I'm ready to scrape the ammonium nitrate off poo yet.

kekker70 (author)PattyP172016-09-14

PattyP17

I don't use wood fires to make Charcoal, I use my Coleman Stove, or Propane Stove. I make my Char Clothe the same way, it's cheaper and easier as well as faster.

PattyP17 (author)kekker702016-09-17

Ah! Great idea. Now if my husband hasn't sold the camp stove, I'm in business.

agee1 (author)PattyP172016-09-11

Charcoal can be used to BBQ food such as burgers, chicken, fist etc where wood cannot. Converting it to charcoal removes toxins and odors that could affect the safety and taste of the food.

Also charcoal can be used in art, medicine and deodorizing etc.

mikecz (author)agee12016-09-11

Uh, the numbers being kicked around nowadays suggest that about 70% of home grillers use a gas (usually propane) grill, about 30% use charcoal, and the under 1% of us use wood for outdoor cooking. I'm pretty sure MANY more meals have been prepared throughout history (and pre-history, for that matter) on indoor and outdoor WOOD fires than on charcoal burning devices! As some others have stated in the comments for this instructible, there certainly are poisonous woods that should not be used for cooking, and I'm pretty sure if you turned them into charcoal by the method shown here, the charcoal would STILL be poisonous! Wood burners unite!

agee1 (author)mikecz2016-09-11

Maybe where you live this is true but that's hardly a standard.
In the Philippines where I live less than 1% use gas burners for BBQ and we make charcoal in exactly the same way, just on a slightly larger scale. Furthermore most families have a BBQ at least 1-2 times a week. We also cook with wood fires but not in a BBQ, only convection cooking is possible with wood fires.

Evolving wood into safe charcoal takes 30-90 minutes (depending on the size of the hopper and the altitude)
All volatile substances either in the wood or the hopper are gassified at around 350C to 500C and as wood burns at 593C (in the presence of oxygen) the charcoal will have no noxious chemicals.
For industrial use there are flash burners which heat the biomass to just 350C for 30 minutes, this is not safe for cooking with and can be identified by it's brown tinge, heavy weight and crumbly formation. For cooking with charcoal it should be brittle, black and lightweight.

mikecz (author)agee12016-09-12

The percent users of gas(propane vs charcoal grillers are, of course, for USA users (and, by the way, I can hardly stand the concept of gas grills). I'm a little dubious about all poisonous substances in woods being "volatiles", but maybe. You comments are interesting, to be sure.

I certainly have to agree with "jsawyer", below, who states that charcoal is a lot easier to get and keep an even temperature on than wood. Cooking over wood is definitely more of an adventure! I do it partially because we have several large hard maple trees in our yard and it seems just often enough to keep me in fuel, a large branch blows down or my wife wants another one cut off because it's shading her flowers too much! We've lived in this house for more than 30 years and have never sprayed the trees with any kind of pesticide, so I'm not worried about issues like that in the maple wood.

Rehcaet (author)mikecz2016-09-15

The toxins your tree picks up from the surface is only a fraction of your problem. What lurks below the surface is what you do not know about? How close to a Gas Station do you live? How close to a major storm drain do you live? What kind of businesses are there around you? Have you ever treated your lawn with pesticides? You have to ask yourself, is there any way that toxins within a mile from my house in the last 30 years been spilt or dumped? If you answered NO to all these, you might be ok.

agee1 (author)Rehcaet2016-09-15

I'm surprised you can even cross a road. You're talking about homeopathic quantities of compounds which exist in thousands of times more concentration in every park and garden. Maybe we should all wear a hazmat suit when we have a picnic my the river but until a significant risk is scientifically identified I'm going to take my chances with charcoal made at home!

jsan618 (author)mikecz2016-09-13

Yes, Wood Starts to burn at 451f according to several sources
But Now that you have sent me on a research mission...
Well there goes my high school Chem/physics classes!
Thanks for the info.

agee1 (author)jsan6182016-09-13

You'll go a long way in life with truth as your master, you're one of the lucky few ;)

jsan618 (author)agee12016-09-12

agee,
I thought wood burns at 451F or 232C not 350

Check you numbers

PaulS28 (author)jsan6182016-09-14

No need to burn the wood. You're just driving off the volatiles and water.

agee1 (author)jsan6182016-09-12

A wood fire becomes hotter over time,
based on how much material is burnt and released as a gas. In the
initial stages, fire heats wood to 212F, releasing the water
within the wood as steam. When the wood dries, it releases gases,
raising the temperature to well over 1,000F.
Like a wood burning pizza oven the temperature is around 800°For425°Cperfect for making fast in 90 seconds thin and crispy pizzas.

mikecz (author)jsan6182016-09-12

Amongst other things, Fahrenheit 451 was about burning books, because 451° F is generally considered to be the flash point of paper, which is somewhat different from that of wood, even tho most paper is made completely or mostly of wood fibers.

PaulS28 (author)agee12016-09-14

and water filtration

nuggetshooter (author)agee12016-09-11

Your can also use the homemade charcoal in a blacksmith's

forge. Works great.

jsawyer (author)agee12016-09-11

agreed, one more point: with charcoal you can get a more even temperature control....

David the R (author)PattyP172016-09-11

Charcoal is necessary for backyard blacksmithing or metal casting, regular wood coals and BBQ charcoal are not hot enough. I've met a few backwoods types that figure the knowledge might come in useful someday.

With proper knowledge and precautions the gas can be gathered, filtered, and stored for later use the same way as propane although a propane device would need to be modified to use it.

Look up 'wood gas generator'. You can use it in a car, motorcycle, generator, etc.

NIce little introduction to converting one type of fuel into two others.

Thanks.

PaulS69 (author)2016-08-31

Bernward Cornwell's book The Last Kingdom goes into detail about how the Danes (Vikings as people still insist on calling them *sigh*) did this on a large scale in firepits

discostu956 (author)PaulS692016-09-11

My wife is reading that now, so I should ask her, but....what did they use the charcoal for?

HerrS (author)discostu9562016-09-12

We used it for smithing obviously. We made many great weapons, jewellery, tools, nails for boats, fire strikers etc... :)

discostu956 (author)HerrS2016-09-12

I was wondering if the chemistry was different to coal, and therefore if charcoal would get hot enough for forging etc

blitzfike (author)discostu9562016-09-15

As Coal burns, the hydrocarbons within it are released making for much more BTU's available. I forge with coal, coke, (which is coal that has had the majority of volatiles burned out of it) Charcoal and propane gas forges. I get more heat for forge welding with coke, but it is harder to light and requires a lot more air flow to use. The propane forge is the most convenient method for me, but I do like charcoal as it gives me less problems with breathing. Charcoal is something we can always make and use as opposed to the other fuels.

PaulS69 (author)blitzfike2016-09-15

I think when you look at the quality of the pattern forged swords the Saxons and Danes forged using charcoal you can see how versatile and practical it is. They had to manufacture their own because you couldn't just pop down to the hardware store!

PaulS69 (author)discostu9562016-09-12

All sorts of things from forging to cooking. The term the "Dark Ages" is such an inaccurate term for the period, perpetuating myths by the Normans to suggest that they were dark and primitive times. The Anglo-Saxons and Danes manufactured swords that could only be matched by the Samurai and exquisite jewellery that modern jewellers have said they couldn't better.

discostu956 (author)PaulS692016-09-12

Thanks. Interesting. I was wondering if they used it as a fertilizer for growing crops as well

PaulS69 (author)discostu9562016-09-13

It's possible but with all the animals they kept I'm sure they had plenty of manure :-)

Rehcaet (author)2016-09-15

I use 5 gallon metal cans and us a small heat resistant rope gasket to close them. The only woods I use are hardwoods, Cherry, Maple, Mesquite, Oak and clean hardwood pallets. I would never use pine or other softwoods, they do not burn as hot or as long.

inspecter gadget (author)2016-08-29

Cool! - I used a Tate & Lyle Syrup tin. My parents clean them once used - they come in extra large with same design as paint tin. In the winter time they put their Coal fire on - I visit them during Xmas - I had an idea at the time to put some of the Pine kindling inside a tin and place it on the fire. First you get steam then, more flammable fumes then nothing - it's ready! It's Very good for BP........I G

for your intended purpose, use the eastern red cedar shavings as used for animal bedding. Makes charcoal suitable for airfloat very readily. This is a very well done instructable. Thanks

Excellent! - I have heard that harder woods produce good fuel, like the willow for instance. Red cedar grows here in abundance, especially in church yards as used for the long-bow - smells & looks like a pine too!!!

PaulS28 (author)inspecter gadget2016-09-14

...but stay away from Yarrow which is poisonous.

PattyP17 (author)2016-09-13

Thanks all for the response. i have a deeper understanding of the purpose and use of charcoal.

Mark Giddens (author)2016-09-13

I've got to give this a go! the paint can idea is inspiring.

Suslee (author)2016-09-11

Can this be done with downed tree branches? I have a lot of debris in my yard come spring and I've been hauling it to the curb for city pickup and disposal.

mikecz (author)Suslee2016-09-13

Most of the common ornamental or "street" shade trees will produce fine charcoal (or firewood), as long as they haven't been sprayed with any pesticides for at least several years. Most nut and fruit trees will also work very well. Check out BBQ Web sites to see what people are suing for their "smoke" woods for cooking (or ask about it). Any BBQ wood will be safe and suitable for making charcoal to prepare food over.

I have a pretty good "stash" of sugar maple from our yard and white oak from a parkway near our house that I use in our BBQ.

jsawyer (author)Suslee2016-09-11

the charcoal will work best if it is hardwood, but you also need to be concerned about the wood itself. Some bushes like oleander are toxic, and you should never use that wood for anything. Keep in mind that the characteristics of the wood will remain, which is why mesquite lump charcoal is so popular - it still has plenty of the oils and other compounds that impart a good flavor.

I wonder about using pine or fir. They are never used as smoking woods because of the bitterness and off favors they would add to the food.

Suslee (author)jsawyer2016-09-11

I have pecan and maple branches.

jsawyer (author)Suslee2016-09-11

Pecan and maple are wonderful smoking woods! as you cut them into chunks, save the random chips. those can be thrown on top of your charcoal when you start cooking, and it will add wonderful flavor . . .

bsroon (author)2016-09-12

Charcoal supposedly needs more air to reach heat, but has less impurities than coal does. The best coal would be anthracite instead of bituminous. When you heat the coal the impurities melt and form clinkers in the throat, the coal turns into coke....

Fruit Grower (author)2016-09-12

Cured (i.e. dried) hardwood bark is good for this operation. Black locust wood burns exceptionally hot.

DavidR165 (author)2016-09-12

You can make 'char-cloth' in the same way. Char-cloth is like charcoal, but made out of cotton cloth - like a piece of old jeans fabric, or an old cotton t-shirt. It's great for lighting fires in survival-type situations. You can get a great big hot ember easily from a spark or a magnifying glass.

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