Making Charcoal in small pits.
It’s mucky, smoky, the air gets full of particles, you need to do this away from where you are, it’s no way covert, and rarely better than 30% efficient and as such is VERY wasteful. On uncovering the clam the in rush of air may reignite the fire if you have opened the clam too early.
PPE consists of sensible clothing to ward off sparks, thick gloves, FFP3 masks, and goggles. Always keep water close at hand for emergencies and injury.
TOOLS. Something to cut the dry wood (green wood doesn’t work), a shovel, and a Zippo.
Rain, your mortal enemy.
If it rains during the two days it takes to do this, you will need to cover the pit to keep the water off and preserve the “earthed in” heat. If you don’t, the carbonization won’t work very well.
- Dig a pit 3 x 3 x 3 feet in shape
- Save the earth, you’ll need that
- Make a fire in the bottom and get it going fiercely to produce a good bed of embers.
- Stack dry wood lattice fashion n top of that fire, or pallet wood cut into 8-12 inch lengths BUT NOT SPLIT. You are looking for short “planks” not ‘stick-lets’.
- Spread “a hand span” 8 inches thick layer of leaves over the full pit or cover with a sheet of corrugated iron.
- Now the same hand span thickness of earth on top to keep the air out and keep the heat in. HOWEVER, it should NOT be perfectly airtight, combustion needs a little air so smoke SEEPING OUT is acceptable. Why out? Because if it’s SEEPING out, a little is getting in.
- Leave it for two days to carbonize.
- When you open the kiln, have water at hand because as the air gets in the remaining heat might be enough to restart the fire.
- Then comes the mucky, dusty, and if you are not careful, burnt hands bit. dig out and sort the ash from the charcoal.
This is a VERY rough and ready way of producing charcoal or, more accurately charred wood.
- Build a fire, camp fire sort of thing.
- When it is going fiercely and you have a decent bed of glowing embers, stack DRY wood on top in a lattice formation.
- Cover with thick leaf debris. You’re going to have to work FAST as the idea is to cover the fire with a “blanket” not add to the furnace.
- Now shovel earth on top, at least a hand spans thickness.
- It will leak smoke. This is acceptable.
- Leave it for 48 hours
- As above uncover but be careful as uncovering too early will feed any embers with air and the whole thing will start burning again.
Some people say this way is quicker. It’s smaller but less efficient.
I’d guess that as the mound is open on all sides, you lose heat quicker. As above, rain is your enemy.
The second way is good enough for making enough charcoal for a little water filter and basic enough to achieve with minimal effort. It should be remembered that BOTH WAYS are pretty inefficient (around 30%) at producing charcoal.
You will need to keep an eye on the “burn”. As the internal wood shrinks and carbonizes, the mound will collapse in. It will need maintenance i.e. you and a shovel.
The pit method I’VE SEEN DONE but not actually done it.
The camp fire I’ve done.
It worked, sort of, although my woodsman friend said that what I got was a good result.
p.s. A practical warning!
The smoke left me with one hell of a hacking cough for a few days as I hadn’t worn a decent enough face mask and set the fire too close to where we were sleeping.