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Making your own charcoal (a.k.a. lump charcoal)

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(Writers note:  This is my first instructable so I'm open to constructive criticism.  If you see something that needs to be added, please let me know and I'll keep things updated.  Thanks for reading!)

This instructable will show you how to make your own charcoal for grilling out or using in a smoker.  In essence, what you are trying to do is take standard hardwood and taking the wood gas out of it which will cause the wood to burn more slowly and at more of a smolder.  The wood gas is the part of the wood that makes it flammable so once this is removed, you have your charcoal.

 This homemade charcoal will not burn as long as standard store bought charcoal.  This is due to all of the additives they put in them at the factory.  The homemade charcoal will burn cleaner and is more "green" than store bought charcoal.  One batch will make quite a bit of charcoal.  The wood will burn up some and reduce the amount you have, but it won't reduce a whole lot.

You use this just like you would regular store bought charcoal.  Lighter fluid or charcoal chimney will get it started.  I make my pieces larger because I typically use it for smoking rather than just on the grill.  You can make the pieces as large or as small as you want.

Are you ready?  Lets get started!
 
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swilson811 month ago

This method works well enough, but wouldn't it be easier(and safer) to avoid setting the charcoal on fire to burn out the wood gas? If you place the wood-to-be inside a metal container and then burn the container within the barrel it should burn off the wood gas, similar to a wood gasifier. Put a pipe leading away from the open flame if the container seals so the fire doesn't ignite the gases. I haven't done either of these methods to see which is better(burn length, quality, etc.) but I have read other charcoal making guides that use this method.

keagon1 year ago
uhm im guessing that you can use this charcoal for smoking a hookah, hubbly or oka (whatever you wana call it, i live in south africa so it goes by the name of oka and hubbly), but i dont really live near much tabaco shop to by the actual smoking coal. so the point is id like to know how long an average piece would burn for. i was also wondering, seeing that i live near so many gum trees, would is be possible to use gum instead? im a real science geek by dont really specialise in the biological sector so forgive me. Thanks in advance
Dale_D4 years ago
I would stay away from Walnut, especially if you are cooking food with it. It is not very well known, but Walnut is poisonous. That's why you frequently see large Walnut trees standing by themselves, with not much in the way of weeds or grass growing underneath them. They kill the competition. Often, woodworkers who do not use dust masks and proper dust control in their shops will become sensitive, even allergic, to Walnut. I have even known some people who can no longer work with it in their shop. It surpasses Cedar in causing allergic reactions. I have even developed a sensitivity to it from nor wearing a dust mask while working with it. If I breath any Walnut dust my sinuses block up almost immediately and I feel like I'm getting the flu. Besides, your best woods for adding flavor to your grilled foods are Apple, Hickory, and Mesquite. Oak might be able to be used, but it contains a lot of tannic acid (don't know how it would taste). Other interesting choices might be Birch, Rock (Sugar) Maple, and Sassafras. Maybe even Beech.
Good reply on the types of wood to use another is the Pecan tree it is a type of Hickory tree and is found all over "Down South" in the United States. I've found that pecan wood is good for some of the smoking that I do and I have several in my yard.
Dan
TweakGeek1 (author)  Dale_D4 years ago
You are correct when dealing with regular wood if used with cooking. However, by burning the wood, you are removing all of the contaminants and most of the oils. After the process of making the charcoal, the amount of "fragrance" left in the wood is unnoticeable. That is all taken away during the initial burn process. When I'm smoking with this charcoal, I have my charcoal and then I have a supply of Hickory or Apple on hand to add to the charcoal for my flavor.
Hycro rimar20003 years ago
I think it's all a matter of your geographical location...where I live, coal can only be bought at the store, and often only during "BBQ Season" where everyone's using their outdoor grills a lot, but wood on the other hand...dirt cheap, literally...if you have even a knife you can get your own wood, though having an axe/saw/chainsaw would make it easier and quicker to get large quantities...but in most places 'round here, you're no more than 100m/328' from the nearest wood source...
rimar2000 Hycro3 years ago
Yes, it is as you say. The cheap firewood is cheaper than charcoal. But that wood lasts a few minutes in fire, then it is ashes. The good firewood lasts almost like the charcoal, but it is more expensive. In my case, I hate to be pending from the ember, and the charcoal gives you enough time to do other things during the roast.
Hycro rimar20003 years ago
I was implying, that it is much easier to harvest your own firewood, at little or no cost, if you have any trees available to do so with...
Hycro3 years ago
When I'm making a fire for heating, and it's unusually cold in the building I'm trying to heat, I'll have my tinder, then kindling, then my small "large bits" then some larger ones on top, especially if it's out camping in a hunting camp of sorts (we go there for drinking, since none of us usually hunts) and the wood I'm using is kinda frosty...that way it's "preheating" the larger bits, and I don't need to be there watching it the whole time it's trying to catch, just need to be sure the kindling caught, then I don't need to worry about it going back out again for a while. (our trips are usually short-planned, and somehow on the coldest nights is when we have the worst wood, even if my buddy brought some from his woodpile at home, it still doesn't work the greatest, I end up getting green brush and dried twigs from outside, hence why they liked me coming along 'cause I didn't mind going outside to get that stuff, 'cause I'd always be dressed for colder than it was when we went out to the camp :D)
rdk4 years ago
If you can find a book named "Forgotten Arts and Crafts" by John Seymour, in it he describes the traditional way to make charcoal which (I think) takes less attendance than even your method does. Your method is very clever, but I have an enjoyment of learning traditional methods. From what I gathered from that book the traditional method for making coal is as follows. First make a dome of wood with a central gap. Pile dirt thickly (12" or more) around the base and top, leaving that central area clear. The center hole should be roughly 6-8" in diameter. Pile kindling and wood into the hole and set it on fire, and let it burn until the whole of the pile is smoking out through the dirt, then fill in the central hole. Don't quote me on this method (or blame me for its errors), but do see if you can get his book at the library and read it for yourself. I'm sure what is in the actual book will work better than what I recall from it. Just thought that I'd share.
dchall84 years ago
Thank you for posting this. We just returned from Mexico where we saw street vendors cooking their food with the same stuff. Then we found a place to buy it but didn't learn how to make it.
glorybe4 years ago
Charcoal has a way of coming alive long after you are certain that it is extinguished. Store freshly made charcoal in a place where a fire that accidentally erupts does not threaten life or anything of economic value. Use great caution. Also keep in mind that if you are in a confined area and the charcoal should come back to burning it generates carbon monoxide which can easily kill everyone in a home even if flame and heat damage are contained.
TweakGeek1 (author)  glorybe4 years ago
Your warnings of carbon monoxide are very pertinent. That is a concern, however, as long as the wood is allowed to cool with no air in the container the charcoal will be out. As stated in step 4, if you don't need the barrel for anything else it would be super handy to be able to just leave the barrel outside with the lid on it. This way you can use the charcoal as you need it and don't have to worry about the threat of carbon monoxide.
walter20004 years ago
Is the lid just put on top of the barrel loosely of is it an air tight seal? In other words are we letting the fire go out slowly by smoldering away or are you smothering it out right away with no air? Also, I'm assuming that if you use thick hardwood for your charcoal you will need to let it burn for a longer time as you want it to burn/char all the way through otherwise you will have uncharred wood at the middle of each block. Is this correct?
TweakGeek1 (author)  walter20004 years ago
The lid should just sit on top of the barrel and allow the fire to burn itself out. The fire will just burn the oxygen out of the barrel and the fire will put itself out slowly. You don't want gaps between the lid and the barrel. This will allow air into the barrel and the wood will burn more. The wood will char and cook the wood gas out of the wood as the heat increases. You don't have to actually burn the wood to remove the wood gas, but it will work faster that way. You are right, it will take a little bit longer to get all the wood gas out of larger pieces. However, the char doesn't have to go straight to the core to get all the wood gas out. As long as there is no more gas in the wood, the more uncharred wood there is in the middle the longer the charcoal will burn.
EmmettO4 years ago
I know of a few people that use water to put out the fire. The big hassle is waiting for the wet charcoal to dry out. By way of constructive criticism, I think the point that the fire should be smothered needs to be fleshed out a little. I know it's hard to take pictures of fire but if you could get pics of the point that the logs should be at visually. Even a "it should be (insert valid amount of time here) before you should start looking" would be really useful.
TweakGeek1 (author)  EmmettO4 years ago
The biggest problem with giving a time is that it all depends on how big you have your fire going and how you put your wood in the barrel. If you throw it in all at once and not allow the fire to build, it could take 3 or 4 or more hours. If you put it in slowly and have a good fire burning below it could take as little as an hour after you put the last bit of wood in. I guess that is a good start. If you allow the fire to build as you add the wood, I've had it take as short as about an hour and a half or so. The last time I made a batch, I didn't have a super hot fire going and added the wood a little too fast so it took about 3 1/2 hours before the wood was ready.
adsandy4 years ago
This is a great instructable- nice job!
SinAmos4 years ago
Interesting, but I want to see a video of how ON FIRE you get the wood.
TweakGeek1 (author)  SinAmos4 years ago
I have enough for this year or I would do another batch and get video. You want all of the wood on fire, even the stuff at the top. The one picture I didn't get was that picture. I'll see if I can find someone who needs some more and maybe try another batch.