Making Charcoal

Charcoal has many uses beyond cooking, and it’s easy to make. It is a precursor for “activated” charcoal, which we’ll discuss in the next episode of Survival Tips. (Activated charcoal aka activated carbon simply has a much greater surface area, which makes it more reactive). You can use powdered charcoal whenever activated carbon is called for, but it will be much less effective.

Knowing how to make it is a useful skill, and one that is easy to learn and practice. Basically, you just want to heat some wood in the absence of oxygen so it doesn’t burn. Heating drives off water and volatile compounds, leaving just carbon. The resulting briquettes can be left whole for cooking, or ground into a powder for filtration and poison treatment.

Of course, you can just buy it. It comes in bulk, capsules, and even in liquid doses for treating acute poisoning.

However, knowing how to make it is a useful self-reliance skill, and far less expensive.

Watch Video on WND

Charcoal Making Procedure

Watch the video for details; here’s an overview:

  1. Select a dense hardwood, if available. The more dense the wood, the more charcoal you’ll get for your effort.
  2. DON’T use pressure-treated lumber. It contains chemicals that make the charcoal useless for cooking, filtration, or ingestion.
  3. Cut or chop the wood into uniformly sized chips or blocks. If they’re all the same size, they’ll all “cook” at the same rate. Obviously, it’s difficult to make them uniform when using a hatchet or machete — just approximate and get on with the job. The larger the blocks, the longer it takes to make the charcoal.
  4. Heat the wood in the absence of oxygen. You can use a pot with a lid, for example. Drilling holes in the bottom of the pot helps get the heating process underway by igniting a few bottom block of wood. These will turn to ash and be useless for charcoal, but it does speed up the process for the rest of the wood in the pot. If you can’t drill or punch holes in the bottom of your container, no worries — it’ll just take longer.
  5. If you’re using a container with holes, place over a live fire and get the blocks burning with a flame, then cover loosely with the top. At first, the smoke will be white or light gray, and is mostly water vapor and volatile compounds. When the smoke turns dingy tan, place the lid tightly on the pot and keep the fire going.
  6. After a couple of hours or so, depending how much you’re preparing, the smoke output will drop. A this point you can set the pot right down in your fire and pile up the hot coals around the pot. It will help to cover the pot entirely with dirt and ashes, but it’s not mandatory. Then just leave the pot to cool for several more hours or overnight.
  7. If you have no pot, you can wrap the blocks in foil, and if you don’t have that, you can just ignite a pile of blocks, get them good and burning, and then cover them with dry sand or dirt, leaving a small vent at the top. After several hours, you’ll be able to pick around and get some charcoal.

When you check the pot, you might find some pieces that are still wood — you didn’t cook them long enough. Or you’ll find that they are covered in ash — you let them get too much air. The pieces you want will be black and very light, and will crumble easily in your hand.

If you undercooked it, it’s easy to start up the fire again for a second round. Cooking time varies widely depending on many factors, and the only way to get it right is to get a feel for it with plenty of practice.

Uses for Charcoal

  • Cooking. Wood burns with a flame, but charcoal smolders, so it’s easier to keep the heat even.
  • Filtration. Carbon (which is what charcoal is made of) filters a wide range of impurities in water, including especially chlorine and volatile organic compounds, which give water an unpleasant taste and odor. It does not remove minerals or salts. You can make a simple, fairly effective water filter with a sock, some dried grasses, and powdered charcoal.
  • Poisoning. Activated carbon is the treatment of choice for many types of acute poisoning (not long term accumulation of toxins like herbicides). It binds with the poison to prevent absorption in the stomach or intestines, then passes. It should not be used when the poison is an acid, an alkali, or a petroleum product.

There are many more uses for charcoal; comment below!

In the next episode of Survival Tips we’ll see how to make activated carbon from your homemade charcoal, and we’ll consider some additional uses for it.

Further Reading on Wiki

~ SnoMan


6 thoughts on “Making Charcoal”

  1. Charcoal is a very good heat source for forging. I have a small machine/forge shop and it makes me feel good to know that if the power goes off I can be making tools again as soon as it would take me to make charcoal. Very good video. Thanks

  2. RE: Making Charcoal Technique

    Use a 30mm ammo can.

    Drill some small holes in the top. No holes in the bottom.

    Seal the wood into the can.

    Put the can over the fire.

    When the smoke coming out starts turning color, set a match or flame to the venting holes to ignite the gas being driven off by the heat.

    When the flames go out, the charcoal is done, as all of the combustible gases have been driven off.

  3. A relative of mine brushed his teeth with charcoal and never had a cavity so I have been brushing with it for 2 years and would never go back to toothpaste… You must run it through a fine sieve because any large grains can cut your gums. It must be finely powdered… It has no flavor at all.

  4. I had an idea for making charcoal that involves a 55gal drum. Get a drum that has a removable lid, some expanded metal, make a stand with angle iron, and some iron pipe, 90 deg angles and one to connect the pipe to the barrel.

    Take the barrel lay it on it’s side, measure the expanded metal to create a shelf inside the barrel giving about 3 in between side effects barrel and the expanded metal, attach your angle iron legs, on opposite end from lid drill hole for your pipe connection (nipple). Connect 90 deg piece facing ground, then iron pipe about 2 feet, 90 deg angle connector towards the front of the barrel, then 3.5 ft pipe with cap. The 3.5 ft piece of pipe you drill holes for the gasses and hot air to escape (like a can stove for backpacking.

    Once built, either put a platform underneath to build a fire to get it going and started. Once barrel is hot enough and the gasses area being produced they will ignite and create the heat from that point. Put your other fire out. Let the producer gasses do the rest of the work for you. When the flames go out the charcoal should be ready.

    Sorry, the end of the barrel with the lid and locking ring for the lid is where you open and close the barrel and place the wood you are converting.

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