Making Your Own Charcoal Powder

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Introduction: Making Your Own Charcoal Powder

A simple step by step tutorial on how to make your own charcoal powder in your back yard.

Step 1: The Art of Charcoal Making

"char-coal" definition: a black or dark gray form of carbon, produced by heating wood or another organic substance in an enclosed space without air. (Encarta - World English Dictionary (c) 1999)

For thousands of years men have manufactured charcoal from all manner of trees, but experience taught them that the harder the wood the better the grade of charcoal. In the picture below, taken on the Isle of Crete, you can see one traditional method of charcoal making. Several piles of wood prepared for the next bonfire, a half-excavated charcoal pyre, and sacks filled with charcoal ready for sale, describe the age-old art of charcoal making. Great piles of wood are carefully arranged so that once the fire is set the heat that is generated slowly "bakes" the wood, boiling off the moisture, leaving behind the hard black crusted charcoal.

Today, charcoal is commonly produced from any number of materials including sawdust, bamboo, coconut shells, olive pits, pecan shells, besides hardwoods. In fact any organic material can be used to start with.

Step 2: Raw Materials

Con bought a copy of our book CharcoalRemedies.com and read a short description on how to make one's own charcoal powder. He decided to adapt the procedure to what he had available - wood pallets, the tub from an old washing machine, the top from a portable bar-b-que, a sack, a hammer, and a kitchen blender. Con sent us some pictures and consented to us posting them to inspire you to try making your very own "hand made" charcoal powder. Con writes:

"As the photos show, you need some type of fire pit. I found that the best hardwood is old pallets. They are seasoned, very dry, and burn very well. Also they don't have any paint on them, and you can pick them up for free. You get a lot of charcoal for the small amount of wood."

Step 3: The Fire Pit

In the picture from the Island of Crete, the raw wood was arranged in a pile on top of the ground. In other countries charcoal is made in beehive shaped kilns. In different developing countries where I have worked, those making charcoal have typically used a pit hollowed out in the ground. Con looked around at what he had and decided on the tub from an old washing machine.

Con first removed the nails then broke up the pallet boards and loaded up his washer tub.

Step 4: Cover and Simmer

Con started his fire, and let it burn. It wasn't long until he could see the boards beginning to turn to coals. He was ready for the next step. Using a flat shovel he was able to scoop up the coals and pile them on the ground next to the tub.

Con writes, "When the boards have turned to hot coals, I shovel them out on the ground with a flat shovel, cover them with the old top from a portable bar-b-que, and put sand around the bottom to make it air tight. Then just let it sit in it's own heat."

Time to sit back and wait as your coals simmer and cook away all the moisture, and any other volatile gases.

Step 5: Raw Charcoal

After an hour or so it is time to take a peek (if you haven't already). What you should find is a much smaller pile of black coals, a thin layer of white/gray dust on top, and maybe a flicker of flame ready to go out.

Step 6: Pound and Blend

After letting the coals completely cool off, gather them up and put them in a heavy cloth/burlap bag on a flat piece of cement. Take your favorite weapon and gently hammer away until there is no crunch left. The pieces should be the size of peanuts or smaller. "It takes just a few minutes", Con says.

At this point you probably have a granular charcoal. After rinsing off the dust this granular charcoal will work in homemade water filters for aquariums, fish ponds, water fountains, etc. Or you can give it to your chickens or parakeets for bird scratch - a simple remedy for upset tummies.

But, if you want charcoal powder, then empty your crude black gravel and dust into a blender (the one your wife wants to replace with a food processor) and gradually notch it up. You are done when you are satisfied it is as ground up as you are going to get it.

Step 7: From Pallet to Powder

Con notes, "I put a cup or two in the blender, and in a minute or so it's a very fine powder. (see picture below)

I do all of this outside because the powder would be very messy in the house. I get about 4 liters (1 gallon) of coals from this process." Thanks Con!

!Voila! From old wooden pallets, that no one wanted, to finely ground charcoal powder ready for any number of different uses, including as an old, super natural, home remedy for acid indigestion.

I would like to thank www.BuyActivatedCharcoal.com for giving me permission to post these pictures.

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    33 Comments

    This is a great Instructable, but you need to add a main image of the final project to the intro step. Please do that and leave me a message when you have so that we can publish your work. Thanks!

    5 replies

    I think if I burn my pencil and do the same procedure I would get the same results right?

    Yes, it is considered flammable but really only as a dust in air. Combustion temp. around 300 degrees C. Flash Point - N/A

    Well, if your an artist, or doing drawings with charcoal, this will be very useful.

    Pallet wood is normally treated to preserve it. Some of the chemicals don't boil when the wood turns to charcoal and will reside in the final product. I was going to burn pallets to make charcoal for me raised bed and decided it was unsafe to grow vegetables with, never mind ingesting it like the author suggests.

    I found that really stale pizza crust works quite well, weird and quite smokey, but it burns quite decently in a very short period of time.

    I have a quick question for the author. When he was saying on his site about making activated charcoal, say I had a high-temperature oven, able to reach the required picture. I once found a programmable furnace able to reach the needed temp for 400 dollars. please tell me where to learn how to make activated charcoal with it.

    Pallets often are chemically treated. I personally will avoid the use of pallets unless I am positive they were not chemically treated. :( Be careful out there folks!

    1 reply

    Hey Nebraska, hope all is going well. Are you familiar with charcoal dust painting? I've been meaning to try it, would be cool to make all my media.

    How fine does it come out from the blender?

    This method leaves quite a bit of ash in your final charcoal. A better way to do this is you take a barrel, cut a hole in the top and stick a pipe in. Using fittings, route the pipe so that everything that comes out exits directly below the barrel. Prop the barrel up on concrete blocks, start a fire with wood under it, and let it burn. Once the wood in the barrel starts to turn to charcoal, flammable gases come out of the pipe, heating the barrel, and the cycle continues until the wood all turns to charcoal. It only needs a small wood fire under the barrel to start the process.

    what if one would like to make charcoal out of newspaper? i say this because i need far more softer charcoal for my black powder and newspaper is ideal

    5 replies

    Why not try?! Charcoal is made from all kinds of waste products, from pecan shells to waste paper pulp. As for softer charcoal you can use softer woods such as pine or spruce. Because paper ignites so easily you will need to come up with some metal or ceramic box that has a decent seal. If it fits in your kitchen oven you may want to try and use that. Set the oven to 450 degrees. Since there is not much moisture in paper it won't take as long as regular wood to carbonize. I have no idea how long. But, let us know what you do and how it works out for you.

    lol i used a milo tin and put it on a bbq. seemed to work really well smelt wierd but worked. when i made it into black powder it burnt at a really decent rate so im quite happy with it.

    Do you use a ball mill for your BP? If so, just chuck some not so fine charcoal in for a day or two. It will be ultra fine when it comes out.

    o yeah, nutsandbolts_64 (were best friends) told me he made carcoal out of newspaper and it stinked so bad

    I'll tell you how I made charpaper (to use as tinder, for lighting fires with a magnesium stone). - Get an empty metal can (I used an empty boot polish can) and drill a hole on top (not too large, it is only meant to stop the gases formed inside from popping the lid off); - fill the can with paper, shredded paper if you want it; - toss the can into a fire, watch the smoke coming out and wait for it to stop; - take the can out, let it cool; - done. Take the same precautions as when making charcoal.

    you can buy lumps of charcoal and grind it up in a homemade ball mill ill post a ible if ya want me too