Category: Charcoal

Making Charcoal-Part Four

The Nitty Gritty

We need a way to control the process and understand how we get what we get.

I wanted as controlled an environment as I could get so I used a paint can, flue thermometer to 1800F, and an ash bucket.

I used way more fuel that I created but the point was to gather information not efficiency-yet. I put the paint can in a larger bucket and built a fire around it.

Here are some pictures of the process

And a big fire.

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Making Charcoal-Part Three

Rethinking what I know

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since I last wrote about charcoal in April. In my initial test I thought I was getting good charcoal from my little retort at 720c. I even made the comment that that it burned with a nice small blue flame.

Well, a small blue flame is not what we need. We need a honkin’ big flame! Over the summer as I read about Japanese forging and Tatara I came across an article that talked about charcoal for forging and smelting.

There it was in black and white. Forging charcoal must keep a good portion of the volatiles to add power to the burn. Smelting charcoal needs even more.

Those few words sounded the death knell for making charcoal in a self fueling retort.

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Making Charcoal-Part Two

Why Make It?

Back in Building The Forge-Part two I talked about my reasons for using charcoal. But why go to the time and trouble to make it?

First-I like doing it. It is a bit like alchemy. Start with one material -apply fire- get a different material.

Second-I like the idea of creating the whole process. Later we will talk about smelting our own steel.

Third-It is cheaper than buying it. Plus, I am recycling a waste product-construction scraps.

Fourth-and most importantly-I cannot easily buy the type of charcoal I need. Pine in general-Specifically metallurgical grade pine charcoal.

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Making Charcoal-Part One

I thought I had it figured out years ago. Making charcoal that is.

Get a barrel. Run pipe out of it and back under it. Build a big fire under the barrel. Cook off the volatile gases until they ignite and continue cooking the wood with its own gases until it stops. Let it cool and Voila! charcoal.

I even told the world about it here.
Everybody else thought it was pretty cool as well. People even started cottage industries in South Africa using my method.

But guess what. There is more to charcoal making than cooking it with its own gases with a big fire.

Now ain’t that a surprise

Turns out there are quality specifications for charcoal.

Things like retained volatiles, carbon content, friability, percentage of fines etc.

This first came to my attention last November when I visited a swordsmiths shop in Nagano.

His apprentice was cutting charcoal and it twern’t nuthin’ like the stuff I had been making. It was made from pine same as mine but that is where the similarity ended.
It looked just like the section of log it came from only black. There was a metallic shininess to it and it had a ring to it when I rapped it on my knuckle. As he cut, the pieces came off in one piece with very few little bits and no fines flying everywhere. When I rubbed it on my hand it left almost no dust.

I could not crush it between my fingers and when the pieces where jostled together there was, for want of a better word, a crystal sound (TINK)

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