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Making Charcoal

 
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Oakwoodforge



Joined: 24 Jul 2006
Posts: 22
Location: Fairfield, Iowa USA

PostPosted: Wed Jul 26, 2006 1:48 pm    Post subject: Making Charcoal Reply with quote

By Jens Butler
AKA Oakwoodforge

http://www.easypics.us/pics/charcoal.0_1.JPG

Making your own charcoal quite easy, I start with a 30 gallon barrel that I, errÖ modified with a gas axe. That is I cut some holes in the bottom with my torch, I suppose you could use a chisel or a drill to get the same results.

http://www.easypics.us/pics/charcoal.1_1.JPG

Ok now that the barrel is ready, time to prep the base. Start by digging a trench about 18-24 inches long, preferably aligned with the prevailing wind. Place the barrel at the down wind end, pile dirt around the base, making sure to keep the trench open for good air flow under the barrel.

http://www.easypics.us/pics/charcoal.2_1.JPG


Ok almost ready for a fire, now letís talk about the wood. Just about any wood will do, some are better than others. Construction sites are a good source of kiln dried pine scraps, a six pack of cold beverages or a nice little forged object given to the foreman can make these appear next to the curb. Pallets also make great charcoal, most are hardwoods and lots of places just throw them away. And of course if you have a wood pile and an axe you can go that route, just remember that chopping Hickory with an axe on a 96 degree day is allot more fun than chopping Red Elm or Osage Orange. You will need approximately enough wood to fill the barrel loosely one and one half times.

http://www.easypics.us/pics/charcoal.3_1.JPG
I use a big wad of paper and some fuzz sticks as well as any small chips or splinters from the chopping to start the fire. DO NOT USE Gasoline or starter fluids. When this is going well, begin adding wood a little at a time. If you add too much at once you will get a bunch of smoke and slow things down. As things start to really get cooking add the last of the wood. Let it burn until everything is charred and you can break it into pieces with a poker.




http://www.easypics.us/pics/charcoal.4_1.JPG

So now we have a barrel full of red hot coals, time to put it out, I shovel dirt around the base to close up the vents, then cover the top with some scrap sheet metal. I let this sit for an hour or so. I then kick the lid off and dump a couple of 5 gallon buckets of water in. I kick the lid off for safety reasons, a fire starved of oxygen, suddenly exposed to oxygen can flashback causing a small fire-ball to shoot out of the barrel. Also, when dumping the water in, be safe steam can cause some nasty burns. Be careful, use your head wear your safety gear. Practice fire safety, clear the area of flammable objects for at least 20 feet. Donít do this right next to grandpaís barn or momís house. Keep a fire extinguisher, shovel and several buckets of water handy.
http://www.easypics.us/pics/charcoal.5_1.JPG

After a few moments, I kick or push the barrel over on to some scrap metal roofing.
I use a pair of vice grips to grab the bottom of the barrel and dump rest of the charcoal out. I then turn the garden hose on the stuff to wash away any ash and make SURE that itís out cold before I walk away. I let it dry for a couple of days in the sun then bag or box it for storage. This final picture shows the amount of wood I use to do a barrel full and the amount of charcoal I have when Iím done. I seem to loose one third by volume.
http://www.easypics.us/pics/charcoal.6_1.JPG
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dburnard



Joined: 20 Apr 2002
Posts: 228
Location: Oregon (the wet part)

PostPosted: Wed Jul 26, 2006 3:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very nice Jens,

I make my own charcoal too, but in a different way. So for any budding charcoal makers out there, here's what I've learned:

Traditionally the best charcoal is made with a slow smoldering oxygen depleted fire. The problem is the smoke - 6-12 hours worth for a small "charge". I tried this a few times in a 30 gallon barrel just to see how it works - nice charcoal - lots of smoke.

Since I live in a neighborhood where slow smoldering smoky fires are not very welcome I decided to try the "retort" method where the charcoal is produced in a barrel inside a larger fire - and where the gasses (smoke) coming out of the charcoal making process are burned in the outer fire. This has the advantage of not smoking out the neighbors - but the big disadvantage of difficulty controlling the "cooking" time and temperature. As a result of these fire control issues I usually end up with soft charcoal. It's usable but not optimal. Yataiki said that my soft charcoal is actually good for some processes but for general forging I tend to go through a lot of it...

How is the hardness of the charcoal you produce Jens?
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Oakwoodforge



Joined: 24 Jul 2006
Posts: 22
Location: Fairfield, Iowa USA

PostPosted: Wed Jul 26, 2006 5:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The commercial charcoal I buy ( Royal Oak & Cowboy Brand ) is quite hard and burns hot but spits tons of forge fleas. As far as the stuff I make, I notice the most difference in the wood I start with. Oak , elm, Hickory or other hardwoods give a harder more dense longer burning charcoal, where as pine or fir give a softer more even burning charcoal that I prefer for heat treating and forgewelding.

Jens
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dburnard



Joined: 20 Apr 2002
Posts: 228
Location: Oregon (the wet part)

PostPosted: Wed Jul 26, 2006 6:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

and those forge fleas bite!

The pine charcoal Yataiki has brought over for seminars and classes is quite hard and dense - basically as hard as lump mesquite. Has that glassy look inside when it breaks.

I can occasionally make a batch like that but it requires so much of my time to tend the fire (I'd rather be working in the forge). I'll have to try your faster variation of the single barrel burn this fall (when we can burn again) and see if I can make anything better. I brought over a container from Japan last fall with various things and stuffed in as much nice pine charcoal as I could - so I'm hoping my charcoal making days are numbered. I'm still mostly burning up the stuff I've made so I can be rid of it. The difference between mine and the good stuff is quite noticeable.

I like to do yakire with small chunks of my soft charcoal, and tempering in a bed of soft "fines" - small for an even heat. For forge welding I use small pieces as well so there's less chance of knocking the two pieces around as the fires adjusts itself. Likely the same as you...
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Ludo



Joined: 18 Nov 2004
Posts: 143
Location: Taiwan

PostPosted: Sun Jul 30, 2006 9:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dave and Jens,

Thanks for your discussions. I am now thinking about making my charcoal also. I've asked the permission of my step-father to use a piece of his land for that.

But before starting:

How about bamboo charcoal? In Taiwan there's a lot of this material available, but I've never heard it could be used in the forge. Can it be?

If I use wood from palets, does it matter for the quality of the coal if some nails remain?

When exactly is the coal ready to be estinguished? When do you know it's time to pour water on it?

Ludo

PS: In Japan, the use of pine charcoal is rather becoming rare. Blacksmith such as the Tsunesaburo will prefer a gaz forge with precise temperature control. But Masao Miyamoto from Miki used pine charcoal.
It probably depends on the size of the forge, for big shops, gaz is probably more productive.
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dburnard



Joined: 20 Apr 2002
Posts: 228
Location: Oregon (the wet part)

PostPosted: Mon Jul 31, 2006 12:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

At some level charcoal is charcoal - I haven't heard about bamboo charcoal being used, but if it's plentiful then give it a try. I saw quite a bit of it being made in the hills near Kyoto - I saw some being sold in stores as a decorative air freshener. Hah!

Nails would be bad in the forge, but since you have to chop the charcoal into smaller chunks you could remove any remaining nails at that time.

Charcoal is too expensive for most toolmakers to use these days, so most use either coke or gas. Some still do their heat treatment in a charcoal fire. Hardly anyone uses a fuigo (box bellows) even when they use charcoal. Some of the older smiths who never "modernized" are still around though.

Ludo sounds like you need to make friends with a local charcoal maker. If you drive around in the hills you'll spot the tell tale covered smoldering mounds. Then you can ask a real expert!
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Chris Hall
Moderator


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 439
Location: Vancouver Island, B.C.

PostPosted: Mon Jul 31, 2006 12:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

When I quasi-apprenticed with a swordsmith in Hokkaido for half a year, pretty much all I did, month after month was chop up charcoal into particular sizes with a small hatchet. The swordsmith told me that he thought one of the best charcoals for forging came from Swedish Birch, and had a high opinion of Swedish steel that was produced from such charcoal. I'm not sure what kind of charcoal I was chopping up.

thanks for the info on how to make charcoal!

Chris
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rapsod



Joined: 13 May 2006
Posts: 33

PostPosted: Sun Aug 06, 2006 8:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I read somewhere that best charcoal is made from pine cones. It is easy to make lot of good charcoal. You must only go in pine forest and pick up few
bags of pine cones and turn tham into charcoal. The best method I saw is
with 2 big metal barrels and 1 pipe with holes. The idea is to cook pine cones
with thair own gas. I can't recall a link of that site where I saw this method.
It is easy and GRATIS charcoal. (you english speaking people use too much
word free so it lost meaning)
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pampine
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 07, 2006 3:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'd love to see a drawing of this setup, might be worth a trip to the mountains or the pine forests of eastern Texas. Thanks for the tip.

BTW, "gratis" ( http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gratis ) and "free" ( http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/free ) have slightly different connotations, if not meanings. Gratis implies a second party in the free transaction, as in I'm giving you this gratis; whereas "free" means much more, and in this case would include free of charge, it's just there waiting for me to pick it up, there's no second party required.

Pam
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Oakwoodforge



Joined: 24 Jul 2006
Posts: 22
Location: Fairfield, Iowa USA

PostPosted: Mon Aug 07, 2006 5:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here is a Link to something like what Rapsod is talking about. http://www.twinoaksforge.com/BLADSMITHING/MAKING%20CHARCOAL.htm
I like this setup but it seems sort of involved, and having to make as much crarcoal as I do ( almost every night that it isn't raining). I would rather spend my evening forging instead of tending my charcoal fire. There are as many ways to make charcoal as there are ways to cut dovetails, try a few and see what works for you. Very Happy

Jens


Here are a few to try ... and yes Bamboo can make charcoal

http://www.greenyarnstore.com/charcoal.htm
http://www.nakedwhiz.com/makinglump.htm
http://www.fao.org/docrep/X5328E/x5328e07.htm#6.6.%20the%20swedish%20earth%20kiln%20with%20chimney
http://www.connerprairie.org/historyonline/fuel.html
http://www.sumiworld.com/type.html
http://www.kamado.com/kamado_charcoal.htm
http://www.clt.astate.edu/elind/charcoalvalentine.htm
http://new.cbbqa.com/faq/18.html
http://www.goldseal.ca/wildsalmon/salmon_history.asp?article=2
http://www.eaglequest.com/~bbq/charcoal/index.html
http://www.lakelandcoppiceproducts.co.uk/Lcphowis.htm
http://www.goodnewsindia.com/Pages/content/discovery/karve.html
http://www.regia.org/charcoal.htm
http://www.twinoaksforge.com/BLADSMITHING/MAKING%20CHARCOAL.htm
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Ludo



Joined: 18 Nov 2004
Posts: 143
Location: Taiwan

PostPosted: Mon Aug 07, 2006 9:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

All very interesting links Jens!

This link http://www.greenyarnstore.com/charcoal.htm mentions about bamboo charcoal. I knew it was popular for purifying air (put one in your fridge, it really works), Japanese and Taiwanese also cook their rice with a chunk in it, read the above link (from Jens) and also see:

http://www.iip.co.jp/minabegawa/POWER/power.html

But I'm not sure any blacksmith have use it yet. Anyway, I'll try to go in quest of a bamboo charcoal making site and take some picture.

There is this site, in Japanese:
http://www.iip.co.jp/minabegawa/STORY/st_koutei.html

The furnace seems to be buried undergroung.

Ludo
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rapsod



Joined: 13 May 2006
Posts: 33

PostPosted: Tue Aug 08, 2006 10:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

YES. This is the right link.

http://www.twinoaksforge.com/BLADSMITHING/MAKING%20CHARCOAL.htm

Oakwoodforge thank you for link. That idea of "cooking wood" is very good.
I must try it.
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