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So how do you make charcoal?

Right now I'm using the barrel in the barrel method. I wanna make it In larger quantities. Any tips or pictures would be greatly appreciated.

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Thank you. 

Note to mods. Sorry and thank you for moving this to the correct subforum. I did a quick search and didnt see this one so I figured general discussion was a good second choice.

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Another tip for searching Iforge is not to use the resident search engine it's not much. Use your favorite and include Iforgeiron in the terms, it'll come here first.

Using the direct method, cut the wood in small pieces and pack it in the barrel with just a little space around the pieces and a few air holes in the bottom of the barrel. Light the wood through the air holes, I used to use a couple charcoal briquettes in each because they're easy and I'm lazy. Once the wood gets going good put a lid on the barrel, not a tight one just something to cover it to limit the draw and contain the heat. When it stops smoking block the air holes with dirt and put a tight lid on the top. It'll take a day or so to cool and open it slowly. You should have a decent return, as in 30% +/-

An even better method is to load the same barrel but turn it open side down on the dirt with a couple air channels under the edges. Light it as before, the smoke will exit the holes that used to be air holes. When it stops smoking plug the air holes on the bottom with dirt and the smoke holes with wads of aluminum foil. It'll cool in a day or so, the return should be better than the other method.

A retort can produce in excess of 60% if you don't count the wood necessary to get it started working and it's more complicated set up.

Frosty The Lucky.

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I really wanna make mass quantities of charcoal. I have a large 100 gallon tank I'm thinking of making a retort. I want something I can capture the gas and feed it into a burn chamber. I have seen someone's avatar on here that is exactly what I'm looking to build. I will search and see if I can find who it is. 

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Definitely look into the Hookway retort, as in the page IDFC linked above. If I were going the charcoal route (which I may yet, someday), that would be my own clear preference.

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Have you looked at snagging some old water heaters?  If you have any welding capability they're a good vessel for retorts- especially the natural gas ones (with a tube up the middle).  I'd seen a video of a build of a nice looking retort with one of the big heating oil tanks as the outer vessel, and a water heater as the retort vessel (oriented horizontally).

The other thing I'd offer is considering being more imaginative with the outer container, you could actually build that using adobe/mud bricks and not be limited to the size of whatever metal thing you can find.

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1 hour ago, JHCC said:

Definitely look into the Hookway retort, 

I looked into it and it doesn't look like it would produce enough charcoal to meet my needs.i like the idea.

I will find a picture of what I wanna build.

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Hello Benona b.  Yes, I make charcoal in that stove/forge, but only with the Aerobic (direct burn) method. When it is loaded with glowing coals, I shut the intake and exhaust valves, and combustion ceases.

The unit you have pictured above, is certainly the way that I would go - do you need vast amounts of charcoal just for Smithing, or have you additional uses?

Robert Taylor

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Look up indirect method. And NO I don't mean watch Youtube videos, you can find dimensioned drawings in books. IIRC Mother Earth News used to have plans for sale in the ads. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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For sure be careful listening to YouTube videos. I watched one and the guy keeps saying he's making blacksmith coal!! Not reliable sources. I second Mother Earth News. I have M.E.N. guide to homemade power it's chocked full of good info. 

Pnut (Mike)

 

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I use charcoal exclusively and I'm fortunate in that I can find as much as I need in the bush. I have thought of making some at our museum using the double drum method,  just as an interesting exhibit for visitors. They often ask where I get the charcoal from. Seems like a lot of work for small return though.

Some old time charcoal men who have memories of supplying charcoal to the mine smelters said that you just need to dig a big pit, get a fire going, pile in heaps of wood and cover it over with iron sheets and earth, leaving a small air gap at each end. We have yet to try it, but it's a thought.

I like neilyeag's idea. There's a guy near us who makes his BBQ charcoal in a hollowed out termite mound pretty much like that.

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Ausfire, that is the same basic method used in third world countries. Dig a pit get it burning and cover it up.

Pnut (Mike)

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Yes I have other uses for the charcoal like making orishigane and when I get up north to get ore I will be making bloomery iron. Not to mention charcoal for the grill and charcoal dust for mine and my buddy's garden.

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When I'm not using gas for production work or pattern welding, I mostly use charcoal. I make all of my own on account of my workshop being set in 10 acres of woodland so the fuel is all around me! 

I looked into retorts and they are definitely worth using, especially if your wood supply is limited or you are near other people. They produce higher percentage yield and better quality charcoal than direct methods can. The Hookway retort is one of the few commercially available ones int he UK (and the plans are cheap if you want to build your own without the learning curve of youtube/books). The issue I had with it was that the quantity was too small from an oil drum sized kiln and the larger ones would involve too much effort/time/money on my part. 

I currently use a 5 foot ring kiln of the type most wood colliers use these days. The drum is 5 feet diameter and 4 feet high and I get about 120 kg of charcoal out of it. It takes a couple of hours to load, couple of hours to unload and the burn is about 10 hours. The quality is a bit more variable, but the browns go into the next burn (or camp firewood) and I've started to use even the fines on the forge so no more than a small amount to get the kiln up to temperature is wasted. ring kilns are commercially available at a fraction of the cost of a retort, in fact the cost of a second hand ring is often less than the materials for a similar sized retort

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I had a run the other day that I overfilled the burn chamber and had a big bed of coals in the barrel and I had an I dea to just keep packing it. So I filled it up and let it burn down to coals then capped the barrel and plugged the air holes. Waited till the next morning and I doubled my production amount!!!

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Like Dave Budd, I have a woodlot and a lot of raw material for charcoal. I'm in the midst of building the metal working shop---christened the Wonder Hut---and will build the smithy in there when I get done siding the thing. Last summer I practiced smithing using Charles's most excellent side blast JABOD designs and charcoal I made using this retort:

I load the 55-gallon drum and seal up often with clay. I build a scrap wood fire on the rocket stove, which bakes the wood in the 55-gallon drum. After about 45-60 minutes, pyrolization takes over and the burn feeds from the flammable products being baked out. It's pretty cool to watch. After 2-1/2 to 3 hours, I start feeding the fire again with scrap. I was running about 3 hours but 4 gives me a completely carbonized load. At the end, I shove a piece of rockwool into the rocket stove entrance, let it cool down over night, and empty the following morning. During unload, I wear a respirator, nitrile gloves, and a dedicated set of clothes because it is spectacularly messy. I usually end up breaking any larger pieces with a rubber mallet before chucking in the charcoal bin.

This season, I have bamboo (from a neighbor) drying and I may try using chipper chips---my chipper yields pretty chopped up material so I may have to find another way of getting the pieces smaller.

What I like about this smallish design is that I am getting familiar with the process as I learn forging with charcoal. I may build one of those English-style kilns/retorts whose name escapes me right now in future, as a permanent installation. Then again, I may build something similar to what I have now, but on a trailer and a trunnion-y mount to make emptying the retort easier.

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6 minutes ago, Ohio said:

shop---christened the Wonder Hut-

Good name, what did you christen it with?

Sounds like you've worked your retort up nicely. I'd like some bamboo to mess with but you have to grow it in a kitchen window here. I've wondered about wood chips too, they dry very quickly. I'll be interested in your results.

Frosty The Lucky.

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The christening was done with Tom Collinses, the number, strength, and deliciousness of which will go unmentioned as anyone reading this will be seized with jealousy.

People here plant bamboo and forget that it suckers quickly. After a bit they have big screens of rather large pieces that's out of control. My neighbor had 200# of cane bundles he hauled over for me. I still have to strip the canes and cut to length, but I probably have enough for three Burnie loads.But there are people who give canes away and not too far away is a bamboo nursery that after a storm will let you go in and cut damaged canes for free. Just need a very very very sharp machete and a way to keep it sharp.

I freely admit that stripping and cutting the bamboo canes is a simple and easy task, perfect for doing while listening to an audiobook by, in the cool of the evening followed by a Tom Collins.

I miswrote the thing about my chipper, Chippy. Chippy chips too small, I think. The tree cutting contractor for the utility company will dump a truckload of chips that in the yard that tend to be a bit bigger. I can rig a pitchfork with a basket to screen the pieces and shovel them into the back of the UTV until I get enough chips for a Burnie load.

Right now I have material ready for charcoalating, but I have to finish the Wonder Hut, move in my tools, and then build the forge.

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A FINE adult beverage, perfect for a christening. I grew up in S. Cal. in the day bamboo was still though of as a good privacy or sound barrier plant but holy moly does the stuff take over! As kids we loved breaking off canes to sword fight with and when the vacant but choked solid with bamboo lot was cleared for homes we took a couple/few seedlings and planted them in other vacant lots. Within months bamboo were coming up everywhere and the lots were choked in less than a year, some canes as large as my leg, maybe 3-4" around. 

Were I charcoaling it I'd cut it to length and run over it with the pickup. Let the bark keep it in flat pages to make loading the barrel easier. I've heard good things about bamboo charcoal. 

I'd give the small chips a try though it may take a different type fire to forge with. Maybe good cupola melter fuel.

Frosty The Lucky.

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