Making charcoal - small scale

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Making charcoal - small scale

Postby Magnus » Thu Jun 26, 2008 5:27 pm

For those that don't have the open space for a large outdoors fire it's possible to make charcoal in small amounts on the stove or bench space. I've only made it with bamboo so far but any wood should work.

The great thing about bamboo charcoal is that it can be used to light larger fires or coals for barbeque without the chemical starters. A small piece acts like a piece of self lighting charcoal when lit and will burn for a very long time. I originally tried this so that I would have a healthier way to burn resin incense in my home since the church type charcoal tablets are full of salt peter and other poisons. But it has so many more uses.

It's always good to have a bit on hand for emergencies. Charcoal tablets almost certainly saved my life several times while in the jungles of Asia during bouts of food poisoning. I take it now for the slightest upset stomach and the pain always goes away completely within 20 minutes. It soaks up toxins. Btw, it's what's in that expensive Brita water filter you have.

You need some aluminum foil and a couple of small alcohol lamps or candles. Wrap up a couple pieces very securely in several layers of foil and roll the ends so it's airtight. Airtight is very important. Then poke a small hole with an awl or something similar, a pin will work too. You've just made a retort.

Now suspend or rest this package above the candles a few inches and light them. Watch and make sure the package is high enough so it doesn't burn, yet low enough so that the foil buckles slightly from the heat. If there is a breeze you need to protect the lot from it or the package won't get hot enough. Once I used the BBQ grill (lidded) to protect the charcoal, but didn't light the grill.

It will start smoking within a few minutes and the smoke should only be exiting from the pinhole you made, no where else. If it does come out elsewhere, remove the foil and start again.

Now wait several hours and check the foil from time to time to make sure it's not burning, you don't want a hole burnt through the foil, or you'll have ash, not charcoal. You can even play around with the candle locations to make sure it all get baked and turn the foil package over to ensure complete heating.

After a few hours the smoke will diminish or stop. There should be some black/brown resin seeping out of the hole and covering the insides of the foil. Take the package off and cool it. Some use water. I just buried mine in cool soil for about half an hour and then opened it. Voila, charcoal.

Here's where I got the instructions: ... arcoal.htm

You can also lay the retort on a gas burner and turn on the stove fan but I haven't tried that method yet.

The Japanese use the resin that coats the inside of the retort in some interesting ways like soaking it in vinegar to make a health tonic. I will try that next batch.

You can also put some in homemade soap or some skin oil/cream and it really works to lift redness from the skin.

Wiki on bamboo charcoal and the tech behind it:

My favorite youtube charcoal retort. It looks like eyes on the kiln: ... re=related
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Postby chiggerbit » Wed Jul 02, 2008 12:07 am

since the church type charcoal tablets are full of salt peter and other poisons


I knew that "activated charcoal" was used for some forms of accidental poisoning. This is really interesting, Magnus. Thanks!
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Postby chiggerbit » Sun Jul 06, 2008 2:02 pm

I should add that the poison control center should always be called in cases of suspected poisoning. Some forms of poisoning need to be "assisted" through the gullet in a safe manner, which the charcoal is used for, and some forms of poisoning need to be puked up, which is why syrup of ipecac is handy to keep around. Of course, this may be out-of-date information, so do your own research. But I try to keep activated charcoal and syrup of ipecac around, always.
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