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.

We Are Cooking Now Baby!

In the picture below I don’t know if you can see it but the temperature is pegged at over 1800 degrees.

In the end I had flames coming out around the temperature gauge so I pulled it.

Somtimes when all goes right a little magic happens

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Technically speaking this is the volatile gases in the pine wood being cooked off and ignited.
In reality it is a rare glimpse of the fire demons that afflict us all who try to tame fire to our own use and must be regularly appeased.

I find that a light sprinkling of a good stout over the fire in the dark of a new moon goes a long way in keeping them content. :pray:
I trust that you have your own ritual.

And if all is really right you get this.

In this picture the chief demon rises from the center hole and joins in. You can just see the end of his tail in the left of the picture.
He has never been photographed in the wild before.

Back To Reality

Here is the charcoal that resulted from the runaway fire.

It is similar to what I had already been making .
Soft, dull, crumbly charcoal that looked like it had been blown up.

One thing I did notice was that there was definitely a correlation between the internal temperature and whether or not the gases ignited.

I always thought that you needed an external ignition source to light the gas.
Not true. At least not in these tests. If the internal temperature is hot enough the gas will ignite when hitting the air.

Seems to be about 1200F. Below that even though I passed a propane torch through the gas it would flame but go our as soon as I took away the torch.
Definitely at 1400F the flame ignited on its own with no external ignition.

One way of gauging the temperature.

Next-results of a low temperature burn

38 Responses to “Making Charcoal-Part Four”

  1. Thomas says:

    Hi Dan,

    Ah… if only you could read french…I would provide you with a few links which may be of interest for you. How charcoal was made in France, and a lot of information about this gas ignition. Anyway, you can follow this link (… ) to a topic that gathers some links to pages (including this blog) and translate them with Google translator. Anghirrim is my pseudo on the forum.

    Basically, you should build a stack of wood in a container with a central chimney. Ignite the wood in the chimney, then the core will burn, and the surrounding part will become charcoal. The most important part is not controling the temperature, but to shut every single hole and avoid the oxygen to go in the container once the gas are burnt (the flame color will change at that time).

    But even by following the steps above (which are the European way), there need to be a perfect control of timing and process in order to get this "japanese" charcoal which has the cristal sound and shiny aspect when snapping it. And as well adapt this method to pine charcoal (we use oak or chestnut tree) which is more fragile but has better heating power.

    Don't give up, I love the way you experiment it!


    • Rick says:

      iron wood. burns HOT and slow. if i bank the stove with it and close off the draft it borns all day and if drafted it can get hot enough to soften iron sides if stove.

  2. Thomas says:

    hi Dan,

    I just found back a great study on charcoal making. This page is tremendously interesting.



    • Dan O'Connor says:

      Hi Thomas,

      Yes, that is a great resource. Thanks for sending it. I am about ready to fire my Japanese style kiln. Details here later.

      Have good day.

  3. Tristan says:

    Hi Dan,
    Will we be getting results from the Japanese style kiln soon? I've seen the pics and can't wait to hear how the quality of the charcoal is for forging.

    Also, you reckon it could be possible to use the self fueling kiln to produce metallurgical grade charcoal by adding a valve and shutting off the gas flow to the burner (and possibly redirect it to a chimney) before all the gas is gone? Or do you reckon the temp. will be too high anyway to produce anything usable?

    • Dan O'Connor says:

      Hi Tristan,

      The Charcoal from the Japanese kiln is working out very well. I have produced about 800lbs. With a full time job and time spent working on all the aspects of building the Kagi-ba I have been lax on updating the site. The Orishigane I made used the kiln charcoal. Pics are here.

      I believe there is much to be done that can improve the charcoal from the self-fueling retort. I have set it aside for the moment to concentrate on the kiln method. I would not use a valve to shut down the gas because of the buildup of pressure in the barrels. Maybe a diverter would be a better idea. Venting and maybe burning a portion of the gases to control temp.I would welcome anybody improving the process. I would put it here on my website or link to yours.

      Stay in touch.

  4. chris says:

    All you have to do is place the container the charcoal is in into a larger, nearly sealed one. I used three 'popcorn' containers (the ones you get around the holidays) inside a 55 gallon drum. Two holes in each of the lids of those tins, and I actually didn't have a lid for the drum lol. I made one out of flat cinder blocks with a fairly large hole in the center. Looks great at night!

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