Introduction: Make Your Own Charcoal

Picture of Make Your Own Charcoal

bqqing is always nice and nicer when you dont have to spend to get charcoal
and this is my way of having the fun of childish fire starting plus getting charcoal to grill on later

Step 1: What You Will Need

Picture of What You Will Need

what you will need :

*a sealable bqq or other thing (mine is made of cast iron and isnt so big)
*something to seal it with (is use a container with water in it and some potting soil)
*something to light it with

Step 2: Get Burning

Picture of Get Burning

for almost every guy there was that fase when you just loved setting things on fire and most of us still wil enjoy a nice fire to relax by

if you want alot of charcoal at the end then get it nice and full
i know the total ratio of burned wood to charcoal isnt that good but 90% of what i cover up turns to nice good charcoal and thats fine for me

Step 3: Sealing It

Picture of Sealing It

to seal it simply make sure no oxygen can get to it or it will keep burning and the ratio will be even less plus it will take alot longer before it to cool down

i use a container with water (water is there for some heat exchange 'cause charcoal does burn at 2700 degrees C)
and some damp potting soil to seal whatever crack the smoke that will be coming out (if the smoke comes out at some places it isnt so bad in my case it only comes out and no air comes in through the same places)

Step 4: Lets Play the Waiting Game

Picture of Lets Play the Waiting Game

so the thing is sealed and no air can get in , now it needs to cool down completely
if you open it up before it its cool to the touch on the outside it can and mostlikely will start burning again

the time it takes to cool completely depends on how much is in there , the fullest that i have had mine till now took more than 8 hours to cool down

so in the time till its cool you can go do something else like write an instructable

Step 5: Done !!

Picture of Done !!

now that the entire thing is cooled down and you have opened it up you now have to get your charcoal out and sort it to see if there is unburned wood in it and keep that aside for the next time


Tim Temple (author)2011-07-14

So basically you can get the same result by putting a sealed can of wood in the oven and set it on self-cleaning, right? :-)

johnny3h (author)Tim Temple2011-07-14

NO, NO, NO.  The process of heating any combustible material to ignition temperature WITOUT the presense of OXYGEN[AIR] is called Pyrolisis, and THOSE GASSES BEING DRIVEN OUT OF THE WOOD [or any combustible material] WHEN REACHING and mixing with AIR become  EXPLOSIVE, AND VERY TOXIC!!!!!

You can consider those gasses coming out of that hole in the can the SAME as turning on a NATURAL GAS VALVE and not igniting it.

IF and once that gas envelope mixes with the air in your kitchen, AND WHEN that Oxygenated gas reaches a SOURCE OF IGNITION [like a pilot light, a spark of any kind as in turning a light switch on or off, or a relay in a refrigherator snaping, or any countertop appliance turned on, running, or off] then that spark could [probably will] ignite the "cloud" of explosive gas, AND you will have a major explosion in your kitchen, and probably a resulting fire.

Even if this should not occur, the toxic gasses will be harmful, AND could BE FATAL [KILL YOU!].

Do NOT attempt to make charcoal indoors.  Do it OUTSIDE, or under something like a carport which is open on at least 3 sides.

RobertO61 (author)johnny3h2017-09-23

Good thing I read this comment. I was visiting this article to see if making charcoal in an oven was possible.

dcgood (author)johnny3h2017-07-24

Actually the gases can be trapped and used to run gasoline engines as was done during WW2 due to shortages, look up "wood gas" kinda cool actually. Seems to me a great reason to do it outside.

lukeyj15 (author)johnny3h2011-07-14

Ok, this can be done inside. I have done so. But what he is trying to convey, is the gases driven off are flammible. But I would be more worried about filling the kitchen with smoke. I have done this successfully in a sealed tin with a hole in the lid placed into my wood stove and left until no more flames are exiting the hole. I would then take it outside and seal the hole until it cooled off. Because I was doing it in a properly ventilated stove, (Had a working chimney) There wasn't any larger risk than burning wood normally would.

(Please note the wood stove has to have a fire in it for this to work)

slowburnaz (author)lukeyj152011-07-18

Yes... I believe the gas being produced is going to be primarily methane, if I remember my middle school science class correctly.

or as we know it in the outside world when making charcoal : woodgas

rimar2000 (author)2011-07-11

Good info!

Do you use any firewood, or it have to be hard? Here there are a lot of soft wood from pruning. We are in winter.

i just use all kinds of wood we have around but ironsmiter does have a good point about the resin , woods with alot of resin do make very bad charcoal , as long as the wood you use is dry you can make charcoal from it

dcgood (author)windstalker19922017-07-24

The Japanese use pine charcoal for centuries to not only smelt iron but to forge some of the finest swords in history.

Thanks. Perhaps softwood produces a shorter-lasting charcoal.

i dont know but you'll found out

edit : and its summer over here so most wood here is already dry

ironsmiter (author)rimar20002011-07-11

hard wood charcoal works BEST.

But soft woods can be used.
Especially fruit woods.

Try to avoid pine though. there's a LOT of resin in pine, and to make good charcoal, well, it doesn't work REAL well.

If you plan on doing a LOT of charcoal making, consider stepping it up to something like this

rjogden (author)ironsmiter2011-08-25

You're confusing "softwoods" with "soft wood". Fruit trees (apples, pears, cherries, peaches, etc.) are "hardwoods". I know it's confusing...

rimar2000 (author)rjogden2011-08-26

Yes, I was convinced that "softwood" and "soft wood" was the same thing. I speak Spanish, no English.

Thanks for the clarification!

ironsmiter (author)rimar20002011-08-26

Actually, I WAS trying to get across the idea of soft vs hard wood. not softwood vs hardwood.
To be clearer, i SHOULD have said DENSE wood versus LESS DENSE woods.

rjogden, I agree, SOME fruit woods work well for charcoal.
Others, however, are of the less dense variety, and do NOT work well. :-(
Pear, Apple, young Cherry and Hazel are all species that make less than satisfactory charcoal for use in forges.
If you're making it for your barbecue... go ahead and use any wood you like :-)
they will all produce enough heat to grill your meat.

"The Definitions of Hardwood and Softwood

All hardwood trees are angiosperms. This means that they produce seeds which have a protective covering such as fruit or a seed with a shell. Softwoods are determined by their seeds also.

Trees which are softwood are called gymnosperms and they are determined as having seeds which do not have any sort of protective covering whatsoever. Most people believe that a hardwood will be more dense than a softwood and, although this is often the case, it is not always a true statement. For instance, there is a wood known as balsa wood which is one of the lightest woods around. It is highly pliable and is one of the lowest density woods available, but, it is still considered to be a hardwood because it comes from an angiosperm tree. "

rjogden (author)ironsmiter2011-08-27

Mostly I use charcoal for making black powder. The lighter, less dense and low-ash woods have the potential to make the fastest-burning powder. "Softwoods" like pines are high in high-molecular-weight resins that volatilize more slowly; they are mostly used for their spark effects. To a great extent the properties of the resulting powder are the result of the actual charcoal-making process, temperature and length of time in the kiln being foremost in importance. Excessive temperatures or over-cooking causes formation of graphite, which burns more slowly. Under-cooking results in remnants of wood which also slow the burn rate. We also try to exclude all air, because allowing the carbon source to oxidize increases the final relative ash content of the resulting charcoal.

I guess the bottom line is that you must select the wood and adjust the process to fit your intended use.

rimar2000 (author)rjogden2011-08-28

When I was a kid and did experiments with fireworks, I could see the huge difference between using hardwood charcoal and charcoal from pine. The first burned slowly, the second producing a flash.

rimar2000 (author)ironsmiter2011-08-27

So the English also has "boobytraps" as Spanish!

dropkick (author)2013-08-18

Good job, but unless your planning to haul the wood fuel somewhere and so benefit from weight loss I don't see much if any gain.

Why not just cook with the unburnt wood?

I've been using dried whole wood in my barbeque for years, and I suppose it might take slightly longer to get coals (though I haven't noticed much if any difference), but it's much cleaner without all the dust that you get in a bag of charcoal and much cheaper.

RoBear613 (author)dropkick2016-09-10

When cooking over a fire, you want a bed of coals, not just licking flames, to heat the food. By removing the water the charcoal will burn a lot hotter than even seasoned wood. But it's real impact in history is in the forge. It burned hot enough to work iron, and eventually steel.

asker2 (author)2012-09-05

What is a good way to light charcoal?

cablemonkey (author)2011-07-14

The idea here is to heat the wood in an oxygen-free environment to drive off (almost) everything except the carbon.

I use a similar process to make charcoal for pyrotechnic effects.

Get a clean unlined gallon can or two at a paint store or larger hardware store for a couple of dollars. Drill or punch a small hole in the lid, and then fill it with sticks about 1 in square. I usually use scrap 2x4 or lath, cut to just a bit shorter than the can and then split into smaller pieces so I can fill the can right up.

The lid then gets tapped on securely and then the can goes in a hot fire for about 45 minutes to an hour. Steam and other gasses will come out of the hole in the lid and as the water content decreases, this plume will ignite. It makes a lot of noise, produces a large jet of fire, and can be quite smelly, so don't do this part in your fireplace.

Once the plume has died down, I pull the can out of the fire and set it somewhere to cool. Some people cover the hole at this point with a coin or something. I've never worrief about it. 30-45 mins later the can is cool to the touch and your charcoal can be removed.

There's a good article on outlining this method at http://www.skylighter. com/skylighter_info_pages/article.asp?Item=109#char

Can I use this the same as activated carbon to filter rain water and drink it? Or are there other steps to purify the charcoal further?

I don't really know. Probably? A quick scan of the activated carbon wiki indicates that the ash content can be important. I would suggest some more research might be in order here.

rippa700 (author)cablemonkey2011-07-17

If you want nice drawing charcoal use peeled willow sticks and pack the can with sand to keep then straight and whole.

windstalker1992 (author)rippa7002011-07-17

and dont forget to let it cool very well because that sand will hold in the heat


marcintosh (author)2011-07-14

I've seen the locals in Saint Lucia make charcoal by building a rick, setting fire to it and when all of it is alight, they cover it with dirt and then the most important part - they go have a few beers and wait for it to be done.
Thanks for helping me remember some fun times in the Caribbean.

youre welcome

uzziah0 (author)2011-07-14

You start with a fire, then there is some sort of rim or can or something with water in or inside it? Not sure what you are doing?

I think I would get a better idea if you had a description of the process; I don't know what goes into making charcoal. You just start with how to do it, so I'm lost from the beginning.

Then from the picture with the fire you go to one with the rim or can. Is that a ring with no bottom or a can? You pour the water right on the fire, or in a can (I'm not sure what either would do to help make charcoal)?

I don't really know what you are doing. I'm thinking you are not pouring the water directly on the fire, but I don't know what is going on.
Then, it looks like you pack some dirt around the ring that goes on the fire.

Maybe a diagram and pictures of the rim thing before it gets put on the fire, and then after it is on the fire before you add the water? Sorry if I am being critical, I'm just confused as to what you are doing!

soulrider223 (author)uzziah02011-07-14

@ uzziah0

I agree the directions could be in more detail but from what i got out of it the thing with the water in it is in fact a can of some sort. The water is simply there to help dissipate the heat from the burning wood/charcoal. The raised ring around the outside appears to be part of the container that the burning wood is in (compare the photos). It appears the dirt is packed around the can to prevent any smoke/air from getting in/out and to help smother the fire to put it out. So, in summary, the water doesn't touch the fire and the dirt is just packed around the outside of the can to help seal in the fire to put it out by smothering it. That's my take on it anyway. I don't know enough about this process to know whether or not this actually produces charcoal or not.

windstalker1992 (author)uzziah02011-07-14

the thing with the water in it has a bottom

the wood stopt burning because it has no air to burn with when its sealed

to keep it simple : its just covering a fire so air doesnt get to the wood , and then you keep it sealed untill its cooled off inside so that when you open it up again it doesnt continue burning

Chicken Spit (author)2011-07-14

So the main idea is to "half burn" wood then seal the container so it doesn't keep oxidizing?

yes,to later use it as a non flame producing fuel usually used for the bbq

GBMorris (author)2011-07-14

How long do you let it burn before you seal it off?

windstalker1992 (author)GBMorris2011-07-14

well i mostly burn wood because im a bit childish XD but when i do seal it off that would be when the last piece ive put on it is about charcoalish on the outside for the most part

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