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home made charcaol manking is scary

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:o okay first sorry no pics i don't have a cam. so any way me and my partner tried for the first time to make our on charcoal we got the plans from a website can't think of it right now but any way, we got a 55 gallon drum and piped the larger bong hole back under the the drum with holes drilled in the pipe on the under side of the drum then we loaded the drum with hickory sticks for the local saw mill, and put the lid on the drum and sealed it up tight. and built a large fire around it and enclosed it in concrete blocks about an hour in to it the gases from the wood are starting to come out around the lid it looks like yellow smoke, o yea did i forget to tell yall the guys house that we tried this at has dried leaves about 2 foot deep every where but what is it worst that could happen right, so any way, about an hour and a half now we notice that the hole in the pipe have started to flame from the gases coming out, and there is a slight hissing sound come from around the lid, we start to wonder if this is still a good idea, 5 mins later the hissing sound has turned to a loud roaring sound like we have just cranked up a 747, at this point we are wondering how much pressure is in the drum and what would happen if it ruptures, 5 more mins. the yellow smoke the was coming out around the lid is now on fire and spraying a flame about 2 and a half foot tall. we are really scared at this point and get the water hose out to wet down the leaves, fuge the water hose is frozen up with a little trickle coming out. we wonder if we should call the fire depot. but what the heck are we going to tell them we where doing. okay 5 more mins this thing looks like it is ready for lift off then the small bong hole opposite of the piped one blows out with a fire ball to follow. we are now peeing on the fire as that is all we had. the water hose is getting better but not there yet. and the fire is not slowing down we are contemplating a run for our lives moment, it has been about 10 mins now and the we have not put any wood on this thing in about 30 mins and the fire is still going even stronger, come on water hose hurry up, images of the myth busters epi. where they blow up the house with the hot water heater keeps reappearing in our mind and this darn thing puts that thing to shame. we are now bending and torquing the hose trying to break the ice and the ice lets go yes God has took pity on us. we spray the darn thing like crazy trying not got touch the drum fearing it may crack and let lose one last fire ball , with the fire put out the gases are still poring out of all the holes but we don't care. we breath a sigh. and thank God for letting us live another day, sorry this thread is so long, we fill the pit with about 6 inches of water and call it a day, the only good thing about it we did get a whole drum of charcoal out of the deal

does any one have any suggestions to make this process less life threaten

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That sounds like fun, I wish I would have tried that! Here is what I did to make charcoal. I found a drum and cut three or four holes on the side right at the bottom, about two inches one half inches in diameter Then I found a steel plate for a cover. Next I started a wood fire in the drum and adding wood till the barrel was full. Or you can fill the barrel with wood and start the fire through one or two holes at the bottom. Then I let it burn for a few minutes 'till fire was coming out the top and all the wood was burning. Next I put the cover on the drum and some weight on the cover and plugged the holes at the bottom with dirt. Never had any fire come out of the drum after I covered it, but smoke! The next day I had a barrel full of charcoal. The wood must be dry. Not near as exiting as your method.

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I made a couple pick up loads of charcoal 55 gal at a time this fall
I did basically what Warren did. I cut 4 2.5" holes in the sides of the drum on the sides near the bottom. I use pallet 2 X 4 because I had access to about a semi trailer load. The only problem with this is all the nails but I remove them with a magnet after the charcoal is made.
I light the barrels in the bottom holes and let burn for about 1 1/2 hours or until the wood has burned enough to all break when it is grabed with tongs.
I then plug the holes with plugs I made from plate and pipe. cover the top. I used resealable barrels but a piece of plate will work also. The idea is not to let any air into so cumbustion stops. After the barrel cools and all fire is out I end up with about 50% yeild of charcoal to wood.
When using the pallet wood the wood sticks out about 1 foot and as the fire burns this shrinks into the barrel.
If you burn the wood too long before putting out the fire ou get less charcoal and it you stop it too soon there is unburnt wood. Throw the unburnt wood into the barrel near the end of the next batch.
I do 4 barrels at a time.

When first lighting the fire it makes a lot of smoke so dont so this if you have close neighboors or up wind from you open windows. 55 gals of wood also makes a large fire so dont put it too close to your wood pile or buildings

Then there is the disclaimer dont do this at home as it is dangerous!!!

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At risk of getting yelled at, since you found this out the hard way already.

It is always a good idea to make sure you keep a fire under control, and the have ability to put it out. The water hose should have been checked, and turned on at the ready before you started the fire. Shovels too.

Also clear the area. Did you really leave the pile of leaves all over? You are very lucky you didn't get the house or surrounding area on fire, and the explosion if that can went, would have been heard a ways off. :o

I don't mean to nag, but as an EMT working with the Red Cross, and a local hospital burn unit, I have been at many fire sites and seen what it can do to lives and property.

Please be careful.

Edited by steve sells
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I'm glad a potentially bad situation turned out all right. Otherwise, I'd have felt bad for laughing so hard. :D Even though I was frightened for you while reading it I couldn't help but laugh. Especially, when I (unavoidably) imagined two grown men peeing into a big ole bonfire in hopes of preventing an explosion. That sounds like something you'd see in a Jack Black movie not on a Blacksmithing thread. Did you ever find the blown bung-hole? If so, how far did it go?

I'll assume that you'll follow all the sage advice given here should you attempt it again so that your next post is also on IFI and not over on the Darwin Awards.

Thanks for the funny story.

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Making charcoal should be smokey, not two and a half foot flames!! If done right it is a bit boring and you need lots of room as the neighbours tend to not like it.

As Steve says, make sure you prepare your area well. I spend half my summers chasing bush fires started by people who did not prepare properly.

After saying that its a great way to turn rubbish wood into something valuable.

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ok i will answer in order tnben we live in henderson co.

at the risk of further embarrassment i am a paramedic, and on the rescue squad, but hey fun is fun right, anyway we had the shovels but again they where frozen in the ground and the leaf blower was out of gas

yea we should have waited but then we would not have any charcoal to forge with thanks for the advise all

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howardz71, aside from the lack of safety prepairidness, you did every thing right.
You probably should'nt fire such a big batch at a time though.
A good friend of mine makes his charcaol the same way but, with just a couple of differances.
He made his cooker from an old electric hot water heater tank. This he cut in half and then cut another 3" ring out of it so the top half would fit over the outside of the bottom half. Because his particular tank was more of a barrel shape this worked out and made a nice tight fit. He also added some straps to secure the two halves from blowing apart.
The tank has two 3/4" pipe threaded holes in it from the water in and out so one he pluged up and one he turned a 12" length of pipe into. He first tried directing the pipe back down to the fire but, felt it caused more problems than it was worth so now it just sticks straight up into the air.
the cooker sitts on a stand about 6" high and the whole thing goes into a 55gl. burn barrel that has the required holes around the bottom of it.
He uses scrap oak pallets for the charcoal and any other scrap wood for the cooking fire. Using an old miter saw he cutts the oak into 2-3" chunks and fills the bottom half of the cooker and bolts it together.
He then lites a good fire around it in the burn barrel and keeps it going untill the "vent" tube starts to steam and roar (like a jet engine) the gasses will usually torch and he just keeps a moderate fire going untill the "torch" goes out and then it's done.
He has set up the second cooker in the mean time and then swaps them with a front end loader and lets the first one cool on its own and continues on with the second one in place.
Don't open the cookers untill they are cool and you're all set.
He makes some very good charcoal that gives off little or no smoke and very few fire fleas as well.
Of course as every one else has stated: makeing your own charcoal is dangerous, if anyone reading this trys this methode at home remember that your safety is YOUR responsability!

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I built one of those a few years ago as well. Let me tell you, they get HOT. I stacked some concrete blocks around it about a foot and a half away from the sides of the barrel and used some old tin roofing for the top. Unfortunately, when you live in town people don't find it very appealing. After a visit from the local FD, I had to stop.
A note on safety: do not let anyone open the barrel for a good 8 hrs or so. If your barrel is sealed, that means the fuel inside is starved for oxygen so opening it can ignite it in a very violent manner if it isn't cooled down first.

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As the other half of this comedy duo, I just want to say that this was an entertaining experiment, but after talking to Trenton over at Purgatory we're probably going to go back to making our charcoal using the direct method. Primarily because then we have two usable barrels per burn without that nerve racking engine roar.
I can't say we've abandoned distillation completely though so bee on the look out for more hijinks later.

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Hello howardz71, I haven't seen plans for a charcoal cooker like that but sounds like it really works. I use a 55 gal drum with a 4" x6" door cut close to the bottom and a lid that fits loosely. Then about 4 or 5" above that I drill and insert 2 1/2" rebar rods to hold an inner barrel ( an old transformer casing ). The inner barrel has a bolt down lid and 6 3/8" holes drilled in the bottom. I like this cause the fire is enclosed and the brush don't catch as quickly. I use the door on the bottom to stoke the fire and I can see when the flames die down coming out of the holes in the bottom of the inner barrel. When that happens I just pull the rebar out and drop in the ash of the outer barrel. Let cool down 5-6 hours and you have charcoal. I really would love to have heard it when the volitals started catching. People ask me why I make charcoal and I tell them cause I can. Good luck

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