Love your videos, Gary. Let me contribute to the charcoal production possibilities with my tin can gas log experiment by others.
I plan to make a bunch of these to produce charcoal all winter.
You forgot to include a picture of your “airtight” overnight cooling storage. it is actually a really cool idea.
I must confess the next one I did( and the last one up to that point) I removed the slotted top and put in an uncut can. I’m looking for some clean 5 gal metal tar buckets or such with a gasket lid. Or glue on a fiberglass stove gasket. Haven’t gotten there yet. Too many interruptions some weeks.
Hi Pepe, I see you like making charcoal too! It is amazing how many different ways people come up with to char wood. I have been thinking about making a wood fired stove for my shop that would contain a removable barrel similar to your “log idea”, only larger. It would be nice to capture that heat in the winter when it is really needed. For some thoughts on your air tight charcoal cooler. Try using any metal can, such as a trash can that has an even edge. You can seal it by placing a flat piece of sheet metal over it and putting some weight on it. No need to get all fancy with gaskets, unless you char rotten wood. That stuff is nearly impossible to smother. Keep it up,
Gary in PA
Does rotten wood actually char? never tried
Hi Sean Omalley. I have been making charcoal by tossing all kinds of wood into the retort, including rotten wood. It doesn’t seem to make good charcoal, in that it is very soft and spongy. I usually crush it up, and let it fall through the screen so it ends up in the compost pile. The larger pieces of the spongy stuff goes into my TLUD cook stove bucket.
Thanks! Was it wet when it was charred or did you dry it out first? I have about a cord of wet rotten, spongy box elder in a pile that didn’t dry out. I am debating on stacking it up and trying to dry it. But usefullness is nice to know upfront, since it will be a bit of work to cut through the brush to get to it.
The wood needs to be dry, otherwise it cools the barrel too much. I put some screens over some super long sawhorses and dry the wood in the sun. If rain is forecast (I wish)…I load the retort and cover it up so it stays dry, and start a burn as soon as it stops raining. I use the two barrel retort Gary Gilmore describes in a YouTube video (55 gallon drums). If I get too much flame shooting out the chimney barrel, I can toss in a piece that is not dry. It cools things down quick, so be ready with some paper balls (balled up copy paper) to get some flames back to avoid making smoke. You might try smashing the box elder with a maul to see if there is any non-composted wood remaining. Your compost pile will love the crumbles… If the wood is wet, you might stack some on the ground near the retort barrel when you fire it. The barrel throws off lots of heat. I had a real mess in my yard near the barn, and after 74 barrels of charcoal, it looks much better. (Was hoarding wood…now hoarding charcoal!)
Ray, I can’t remember if you ever said how you store your charcoal. After 74 barrels I am sure you have some method. How much of it is crushed and graded or is it in in the same form as it comes out of the retort barrel? Do you separate it or is it all in one place?
You could always run a fueling station for Chris Seymore’s buddy with the charcoal van!
Thanks! I’m liking this idea better. I don’t have to worry as much about spreading tree disease/blight/fungus/borers/etc.
I cut everything into facecord sized pieces, can I use those directly, or can I get away with cutting those in half? Everything I have seen uses even smaller chunks, and frankly that is too much time.
How do you know when it is done? Is there a backdraft? do you look at the flame temp or just go by time in the retort?
This will be done on a cement pad. I am pretty paranoid about starting a fire. Even though it rained once, it is still to dry to try any of this, yet. I have to weld outside, and I won’t even do that yet. I have a spark arrestor on the chainsaw so Im less worried about that.
Hi Don. I have a large very cluttered barn (84’ X 56’), and now I have bags of charcoal stashed all over. Attached is a photo of the bags that a friend gets from a horse racing farm. Each one of them holds four 5 gallon buckets of charcoal. At first I was using deer corn bags, range cube sacks, chicken and dog food sacks, but I really like these white horse feed bags. (They have the same feel as sandbags, but if you filled one of these with sand, nobody could lift it.) All the charcoal in the white bags has been sifted and graded, and represents my very best charcoal. The smallest stuff is 3/16th", and the largest is walnut and pecan sized. I don’t do much crushing, but more “breaking” with gloved hands. Anything that is not breakable either goes back into the barrel, or is saved for use as cooking fuel in TLUD stoves. Likewise with any piece of wood that is not black. (We do most of our cooking outside on the patio.) As you know, the TLUD stoves make char, so once I run the unfinished chunks through the stove, they are much smaller, and are usually good charcoal, so they go back through the sorting wagon. I have put the raw output from the barrels into tubs and covered them with tin sheet to save until I get more time to sort and grade, but now I have used up all the raw stuff. I have been thinking about moving some of the bags to a different outbuilding, in case of fire. The first charcoal I made, that was stored in the paper and plastic feed bags was not so good, so as time permits, I have been re-sorting/grading it, and then it goes into the white bags. I am always surprised to find a 1/4-20 four inch bolt in what I thought was graded charcoal! No more stones or clay clumps or cow pies because I have learned to dump this stuff on clean tin. I am making progress on the motorcycle sidecar attachment for a 250cc Honda Twin. That engine should not have a large appetite for bags and bags of charcoal, like the large van with attached trailer. I estimate a three pound coffee can of charcoal will get me to town. (12 miles)
Is a “facecord piece” 48" long? The barrels are 34" high. I have put 6 or 8 pieces of very large broken fence post that long into my lower barrel (with a foot or so sticking up into the chimney barrel) surrounded by smaller pieces of very dry wood. I placed crumpled paper balls all over the top of the big pieces, and then installed the top chimney barrel, with two three foot pieces of rebar separating the two barrels. I ignite the paper, and start throwing small pieces of “kindling” on top, and later, some brands from a previous burn. The idea is to get a good bed of coals on top, sucking air up from the bottom of the lower barrel, and burning down toward those air holes. Usually after 60 to 75 minutes, the air inlet holes start to show glowing char. Cover those glowing holes, and start the sealing process. If you poke around in the barrel (I used a crooked steel T-post), you will find that the large posts are mostly gone, and you will be able to install a flat lid. The whole idea is to bake this wood and drive off all the water, gas, tar, etc. Insulate the barrel if possible, so as to extend the baking process for those facecord sized pieces which are now much smaller. The lid must be air-tight, and don’t skimp on the dirt covering the holes. Go about a foot high with the dirt. Twenty four hours later, at the earliest, you can dump it out. Those big posts will be little hunks of charcoal! If not, set up the barrel again, put the unfinished pieces back in the barrel, add new wood, and go again. Watch the stuff you just dumped out, to be sure it does not ignite. You won’t see any flames…it just turns white and will melt your shoes. If you don’t need the charcoal right away, I see no problem with putting two or three buckets of water on top of the pile to make sure it doesn’t start up, plus it washes the ashes and fines down to the bottom. My very best charcoal is made in a completely sealed 20# propane tank retort, with only four 1/4" holes for gas outlet. The charcoal is totally black, has no ash, and rings like a bell. The attached photo shows an overloaded barrel of very dry junk wood just before I installed the chimney barrel. There were some four and six inch diameter wood chunks in this load, but they were bone dry. It made good charcoal. My usual run is 60 to 75 minutes. If you go longer, it burns up your charcoal! Shorter, and you get a bunch of “not done” brands. The idea is to BAKE, not BURN. The only smoke during the whole process will be a bit that blows out when the lid is first installed. You can minimize that by waiting 15 min. or so before installing the lid, as long as there are flames consuming any gas.
Good info. A facecord piece is around 16-20in depending on who’s cutting. a full cord piece is the 48in. (It is the only size that is technically standard sized.) I could just stack two layers on top of each other.
I am trying to figure out the best way to bake it now.
Hi Sean, making charcoal is an art and science. The more low tech you go, the more “art” plays a role. I just uploaded a paper that explains my method of making charcoal. From what I have seen so far on the internet, it is one of the easiest and relatively smoke free methods. Not trying to brag here, just calling it as I see it. Here is the link
There are a multitude of ways to make charcoal, but the biggest issue is getting rid of the water in the wood BEFORE charing it. The above referenced paper will give you more detail into the problems of trying to char wet wood. Basically you loose charcoal in porportion to the amount of water in your wood. Lesson learned is use the sun to dry your wood over the summer.
Rotten wood is already degraded and does not make good engine grade fuel (its OK for the garden) If your box elder is rotten, I’d suggest you leave it alone and look for sound wood.
Gary in Pa
Thanks Gary! I read your paper. It is mostly on some other website, but I can’t find it again to post the link.
It looks like a pretty solid design, but i didn’t see where it let O2 in at the bottom of the after burner.
I know what you are saying about the dry wood. I think I am going to try and dry out the old stuff anyway. It will make a good test, against the green stuff that is already cut n split and drying.
Sean and Gary, regarding air in at the bottom of the afterburner…I tried just putting one barrel on top of the other, with no inlet for secondary air, but got some smoke, so I raised the chimney up on the two pieces of 1/2" rebar, figuring I could remove or insert them if needed. That stops any smoking, but makes lots of flame in the chimney (afterburner). Usually I just leave the rebar in, but in theory, it would probably be better to have the chimney sucking vacuum on the bottom holes. I just came in from manually splitting wood that has been in an 8 foot high pile for several years. There are some partially composted pieces in there that will be used to make the heat for future loads of charcoal, once the burn ban is lifted. I knocked down the pile with the front-end loader, and the stuff at the bottom of the pile is turning to carbon dioxide…If I get a big enough mess in the yard with the split pieces of wood, I’m hoping dear wife will stack it.
Below is a photo of the rebar spacers.
24.5 # per 20 gallon feedsack
Ray, I’ve been meaning to tell you, I weighed the big feed sack I got off with, it was full to the max, and weighed 24.5#. I’m sure it was about as dry as it is going to get, having been in your barn then out in the sun at my house for a few days. So, we have a conversion factor, 1.225#/gallon. I believe you said most of this was mesquite charcoal.
Nails in wood and charcoal.
If you have some lumber, that is loaded with nails, it may be worth while to char the wood, remove the nails and use the charcoal for fuel. I recently tore the back deck off and a lot of the wood screws snapped off. These unpainted scraps were put in a retort and charred. The char was then spread on a tarp to a depth of two inches. A strong magnet attached to a steel rod was run back and forth through the char. Several passes were made back and forth, up and down and at 45 degree angle to the oringinal sweep. Yes, it takes time but I have yet to run into any fuel that doesn’t take some preparation. Here are a few pictures.
Gary in PA
Don’t you put your charcoal through a crusher/grinder sometimes? Would this be a good spot for a magnet? You’d have to ensure nails and screws don’t bind up the works. Maybe like a wringer washer with rubber rollers. A magnetized steel bar where the crushed char and nails drop through. Maybe the bar is wide enough to catch everything, and sloped so the charcoal slides off, but the nails stick. Operator stops every so often to clean off the magnet.
Million dollar idea Gary… or maybe not. You decide.
Careful with the Sun and Charcoal! I needed a plastic bucket, so I dumped a small amount of damp “reject”
charcoal pieces into a large stainless bowl. When I sort/sift the
charcoal, these are the little pieces that are not quite converted
into charcoal. Either they show some color other than pure black, or
they have some raw wood, or they are so hard they cannot be easily
broken with the gloved hands.
This evening, I went out to sort a bit, and was astonished to find a
bowl of completely white ash! Under the bowl was a very black spot
burned into the dirt/gravel driveway. My sorting spot is under a
tree, but apparently the afternoon sun was focused by the sides of the
bowl onto the charcoal, and was hot enough to light it.
The first photo shows the bowl and the black
spot. The second photo shows the oak I have been splitting. Some of
these chunks are half rotten, or are "Y’s) or simply won’t split.
These are being used to make more charcoal…I have made 4 fifty-five
gallon drums this week, and the next one will be number 80.
After I sort the charcoal, I leave it sit outside in plastic buckets
for a couple of days, and only then do I put it in bags and carry it
into the barn for storage. Guess I won’t be using that stainless bowl
around my charcoal…