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So, I'm building a two barrel retort one with the smaller inside of a larger and I am making enough smoke to seriously ruin my day and my neighbours I did manage to make charcoal. Both through retort and the method of starting a fire and just garden hosing it to death lol. The retort is smoky as XXXX. Now that that could be the paint that was on it but it 's still pretty smoky.

So description I have a 55 Gallon steel drum and a 33 Gallon steel drum. The 55 has  8 evenly space 11/2 inch grates  of 3/8 inch holes effectively grates drilled in it  at the bottom.  I cut a  3 inch square hole cut in the top using an angle grinder. When I was burning it to day a lot of smoke and when I put the lid on either one the fires just about died.

Now the smoke  could have just been the paint which I plan to look after this Sunday with my angle grinder and a sanding disk.

So a couple of questions guys How large should the opening be on the top of the 55 gallon Steel drum ? 

Is there anyway to knock the smoke back on that retort?

 

Edited by Steve Sells
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The best set up I have seen is to use a double barel stove kit, the upper barel having the 30 gallon barel inside. The base barel is the fire box, a 2" pipe runns from the 30 gallon down to the fire box, so the unburt hydrocarbons (visible smoke) is burnt. This is the big problem with charcoal making, the heat drives off the volitile compounds, this showes up as either rolling black smoke (white if its got a lot of moister). This gives you a 8" stove pipe. 

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Welcome aboard, glad to have you. If you'll put your general location in the header you might be surprised how many of the IFI gang live within visiting distance.

Have a picture of this thing? I've found a double barrel retort to be virtually smoke free once it's warmed up. You ARE using the pyrolization gasses from the inner barrel to provide the heat. Yes?

The 55 gl. drum needs to have a closable end with a draw and a stack. The inner or "retort" barrel has a sealable end with ONE 2" floor flange in the end, very near the barrel side, 1 ea. 2" 90* street elbow in the floor flange and one 2" x 2-3" nipple. The end of this nipple stops directly in front of the air draft of the 55 gl. drum.

You packed the 33 gl barrel with wood, cut to length and split. clamped the lid on the barrel and inserted in the 55gl drum. The barrel rests on a couple 3-4 flat bars to keep it from laying flat on the drum's bottom but nothing fancy. Don't make me tell  you the plumbing in the barrel is at the bottom!

Now just pack small wood around the barrel in the drum, close the drum lid and light it up. As soon as the wood begins to pyrolize it will release flammable gasses which will exit the 33gl. barrel directly in front of the combustion air intake (draft or draw) and will burn. The pyrolization gasses will provide ALL the heat necessary to make your charcoal and when the flame turns completely transparent close the draft, and plug the stack so NO oxy can get in till it's cooled off.

This is the self sustaining indirect method and about as efficient as a home made retort gets.

Frosty The Lucky.

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I was just doing the 33 gal steel drum in the 55 gal drum. No pipe fittings or anything like that.  The 33 gallon steel drum is filled with wood placed in the 55 gall upside down and with the opening to the bottom and as the fire burns the gas escapes out the bottom. I think maybe the hole in the lid of the 55 gal steel drum maybe too small. 

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Frosty, if you have time could you show a sketch of what you're describing. I think I understand but I'm one of those people I do better with visuals. I'm gonna reread what you said though since I've been thinking about trying to build one of these.

Charles, I've never heard of the setup you describe but it sounds like a good way to cook charcoal and heat the shop in the winter. :)

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Frosty, if you have time could you show a sketch of what you're describing. I think I understand but I'm one of those people I do better with visuals. I'm gonna reread what you said though since I've been thinking about trying to build one of these.

Charles, I've never heard of the setup you describe but it sounds like a good way to cook charcoal and heat the shop in the winter. :)

​Will do M. I'm still trying to get things sorted out with my Acct but I'll get a drawing up before too long. Please remind me if it's more than a day or sol I forget things.

Frosty The Stealthy.

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Look at some of the black powder forums, some of them are making their own powder and it requires high quality willow charcoal. Metalogical charcoal isn't much different.

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Frosty, thanks for that description. About how long does it take you to cook a batch of charcoal?

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Hi, if you look up the pinned charcoal retorts you will see Mark Nagel 's retort has a chimney and it works well, its a cheap and easy solution. I live/work in an upmarket residential area so 'smokeless' is the way to go! That requires more effort and a bit more money but sometimes you just get what you pay for.

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I've done a little more browsing around looking at retorts (4th time since I started smithing) and found this page. http://islandblacksmith.ca/2012/03/charcoal-retort-v-2-0/ Frosty, i think what you're describing is something similar to what he has here isnt it? Next to last image shows a cut away.

​That's a vertical version and functionally about what I was describing. The one I helped set up was horizontal, one barrel in a drum but that vertical version might work better, the flame doesn't channel like it did in the horizontal one.

The trick is to keep as much heat as close to the wood chamber as possible and NOT allow any oxy/fresh air to get to the wood. As it heats it will build pressure so you just direct the pyrolization gasses in front of the combustion air intake and let it burn. No matter how dry the wood is there's moisture in it so you'll get white steam to start, then wood alcohol, methane, ethane, etc. then the tones like ketone, etc. If you allow it to go on long enough it'll be burning carbon gas so stop when the flame gets clear.

I can't get Sketchup to work for me right now so I'll have to just sketch the thing and see if Deb's scanner's working.

Frosty The Stealthy.

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I'd wouldn't mind doing that but I don't have the gear to do the fabrication needed. My current gear does not include a functionally welder and with what I have in spare money it's going to be a while before I can buy that. On top of that it's been a good ten years since I have done any welding. I'm looking at taking courses  this fall to handle that and I'd kind of prefer to put money into the welding course. Then look at getting a couple canisters for a my oxyacetylene set up I have currently inherited that from my father in law.   

The main issue I am having is how to keep the gasses in the bottom and burned before they leave the barrel I think I ahve seen this in some videos and it doesn't seem to be as smoky.        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You can make a chimney pretty quick and cheap, rolled up iron? a couple of bits of angle iron and a handful of tek screws and your away. Put a damper in it for when the fire is really going.

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Don't over think the thing they're simple in principle. You're just cooking the volatiles out of the wood leaving relatively pure carbon and there are lots of ways to do that. The direct method is simply shoveling charcoal out of a fire and extinguishing or using it directly. The semi direct is to start a fire in a container and once it's going close it down to limit intake air. This is the most common method historically and can be as simple as a hole filled with wood covered with sod. The air is controlled by opening or closing vent holes around the bottom of the pile.

The indirect method can be a cookie tin full of wood on the BBQ though a steel bucket with clamp lid works better for the effort. Just open the pipe plug in the end and stand it that end down on the charcoal. When it stops smoking it's cooked.

The process and equipment scales easily. Enclosing the retort chamber in another helps hold heat so less fuel is burned to convert the wood. You can dig a hole and lay a piece of metal over it for the same effect. Just remove the bung and put that part of the barrel in front of the air intake.

No need to weld anything or even put stuff together. Pop rivets are good for sheet metal of all kinds though I wouldn't use aluminum ones on something like this. <wink> If you have two barrels you can stand the inside one on a couple bricks to give it space. Heck, you can do it on the ground with an old water heater shell for the outer retort shell.

Going camping? Take a couple 5gl. steel buckets and make charcoal or just shovel it out of the fire and extinguish it in a bucket of water. Yeah, dunk it it dries out quickly.

Don't make this complicated, all you need to do is stop the burn before it turns to ash.

Frosty The Fleet of Foot.

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Trying not to get too complicated is my forte lol. Keep It Simple Stupid is my motto I did produce charcoal in both a direct method and indirect method.

I needed to remove the paint from a storage drum which humorously enough produced more and better charcoal with almost zero smoke. The retort was smoking from the start and just kept getting worse it did produce some charcoal but not near the amount made by direct method with just tossing water on it. Both had some wood still left but far more in the retort and the amount of smoke was like 10 times what the direct one was.

I'll give it another try on Sunday when I have a day off after I remove the rest of the paint from the drums.  I might not be able to. Fun of living in a suburban neighbourhood

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Finally got around to looking at this again on Sunday. So the indirect method did not really work at all. The direct method though did produce about two milk crates of Charcoal so the simplest method no retort work . going to revisit that this weekend wife is working and other then one social event, I'm free this weekend. Last weekend most of it ended up being focused on putting plants in. 

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my retort works best when wood is so dry and cured that it has turned gray and shed it's bark. If I try wood that still holds its bark, i never get better than 50% conversion.

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