DIY Charcoal, Low Smoke

They say no smoke, but there is some small bit. Still, far less than other ways. I’m going to make one of these from small cans as a test case.

And I’m having a “Damn It” moment as I just tossed a dozen #10 (about a gallon) cans a few weeks ago when cleaning the garage and dumping expired emergency food… OK, I have more I can use… Another “Damn it” is that I moved about a pickup bed load of dry aged bamboo to street pickup in the last couple of weeks. Here these folks are turning it into useful charcoal, and I cut it to chunks and tossed it. OK, I have about 2 wheelbarrows more left. Enough.

About 30 years ago I had a fire engine roll on my house. Why? I was burning some yard waste in the back yard. Absolutely normal where I grew up 200 miles away. A crime here. As I was clueful, compliant, and had a hose visible at the site, I was just given a tongue waggle. Still, any backyard fire MUST have food present to be BBQ or you get abused. OK…. For the next several years, a wide variety of yard waste, old fencing, etc. was used in the big brick BBQ as a plate of cheapest hotdogs sat next to it (and the dog sat next to that…, waiting…)

So a method of making charcoal with minimal smoke has my attention! Especially if small batch works as well.

The basic method is a wood burn box with great air flow from the bottom. Fire lit at the top to slowly burn down. An air gap at the top of this burn barrel to inject lots of air, then a secondary burn chamber on top to reburn the smoke. Once all the volatiles burn off, seal the bottom barrel to extinguish the fire and let it cool. Pretty simple, really. But insightful.

I also found the creative use of simple tools instructive.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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14 Responses to DIY Charcoal, Low Smoke

  1. Graeme No.3 says:

    But charcoal is (largely) carbon. How long before the Wokists call for it to be banned?

  2. H.R. says:

    That video was a great find, E.M.!

    I was familiar with early to mid-1800s charcoal making, but that was larger scale and actually quite dangerous. A lot of kids lost their lives – horribly burned to death – when they were sent to the top of the charcoal pile to punch a hole and the pile collapsed. The parents were sad, but they figured they’d just make more kids. 10 to 20 kids weren’t uncommon and “barefoot and pregnant” wasn’t just a saying.

    This is the right scale for individuals or small groups, and I’m seeing where power tools wouldn’t be any big advantage to make the apparatus. Maybe a bit better hand tools would help, but they would be a luxury, not a necessity. Lot’s of low tech options.

    BTW, local laws in my neck of the woods allow fire pits that burn logs and yard waste for fun and lung damage from smoke inhalation. OH… and burgers, dogs, and ‘smores are just peachy keen… but no burning of yard waste just to be burning yard waste. Go figure.

    You just need a passel o’ neighbors hanging out singing “Kum bah yah, my Lord” and you are good to go. Local FD just cruises on down the road.

    The hot dogs and guard dog(s) are a great idea. I have both at my disposal. Better than my
    neighbors. They can’t carry a tune in a basket. (♯♪♫”Kum bah yah, my Lord, ♪♫kum bah yah… ♪♫oh Lord………….. just shoot me now♪♫….”) :o)
    .
    .
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    BTW, I think that guy has a bunch of other videos, some that I’ve saved in a folder somewhere. The videos are along the lines of “Grandpa makes stuff, old school. You don’t need smart phones to do this.”

  3. andysaurus says:

    Hi E.M. I have 4 acres of bamboo (Sp. Oldhamii) that I planted after my daughter outgrew horses. I wanted to leave the ground better than I found it and the local scrub growth is really useless. I have made charcoal for my forge using a single oil drum, but this looks like a superior method. Any idea on how to make it a one man operation? If you really want to turn bamboo into cash, look at the price of medicinal bamboo charcoal!

  4. H.R. says:

    @andysaurus – make a homemade davit-like device and you can do the job by yourself.

    Sink a post with a fork at the top. Get one of the long, stout pieces of bamboo to use as a lever-crane. Put a bit of chain on the end of the pole and a hook on the end of the chain.

    Bolt or weld a chain ‘basket handle’ onto the drums so you can lift them with the lever-crane. Make sure there’s enough wiggle in the fork on the post so you can swivel the crane to place the drums to the side. (Didn’t need to tell you that but threw it in for completeness)

    My guess at the post and pole is that they will need to be tall and long. A stepladder may be involved.

    Was that enough to give you the picture of what might work for a one-man operation?

  5. H.R. says:

    Ah! Found a picture. I know you’re familiar with this rig, andysaurus.

    You can leave out the stepladder if you use a counterweight.

  6. p.g.sharrow says:

    Crush up the charcoal and add to garden soil.

    Makes excellent soil amendment, the more the better as the charcoal carbon does not rot or degrade over centuries where as humus organics disappears in months as microbes consume it and the nutrients it catches!
    Charcoal carbon catches nutrients and water and makes them readily available to the plants but, that carbon cannot be digested by the microbes.

  7. H.R. says:

    Note: If you just want a small bit of charcoal for filtering or some such, There are 5-gallon steel buckets with crimp on lids.

    Most of y’all have seen these buckets before and only $7.66 USD new, if you can’t find any cast off pails.

    https://www.mcmaster.com/buckets/capacity~3840teaspoons/shape~round/material~steel/

  8. ossqss says:

    Hummmm, I wonder if Farm Girl has a low smokin solution? ;-)

  9. H.R. says:

    OK, geeks and gear-heads. I just noticed that the link to 5-gallon buckets from McMaster-Carr gives the volume in teaspoons.

    I don’t recall ever seeing liquid capacity of anything expressed in teaspoons. I have seen in a former life that there are 6 teaspoons to the liquid ounce.

    But nobody buys drums of oil in teaspoons or paint in cans measured in teaspoons. I think somebody at McMaster-Carr was a wee mite bored on the day they created that page.

    Next time I order a draft beer, I’ll have to order it in teaspoons. “I’ll have a Jai Lai draft in the 96 teaspoons-size glass, please.”

  10. andysaurus says:

    @H.R. Great idea, thanks. If I use light chain to hook onto lugs welded to the cans I can do it all like that

  11. andysaurus says:

    @H.R. Sorry, I see you already mentioned chain and lugs. I can tie a rope to the counterweight end of the pole so that I can reach. (So long as Bubba doesn’t see it).

  12. E.M.Smith says:

    A college friend who got a Ph.D. Physics once took an exam and got bored. So he calculated the result in “Furlongs per fortnight”. His answer was correct so they had to accept it (and the bored Physics T.A. probably appreciated it too ;-) He got an A, of course.)

    I freely mix all sorts of units. I resent the “authorities” telling me I MUST use a particular unit. Reality isn’t that way, so why ought I be? Pounds per cubic metre, Kilometres per gallon. Grains per gram. Whatever… I was especially fond of doing Chemistry equations in Rankine ;-) I wasn’t being pissy about it. I was in the transition time in High School so we used both C and F and both K and R for all our homework…

    BTW, roughly 5 ml / teaspoon…. (4.929 if picky) and about 15 ml / TBLs. So take your beer in ml and divide by 5 for teaspoons of beer. A 1/2 L mug would be about 100 tsp.

  13. Power Grab says:

    You guys are great! I usually learn stuff when I read here.

    I think it’s important to not lose the knowledge of how to do stuff without computers or automation. I even write in my Day-Timer by hand as a way to avoid entirely losing the ability to write legibly! Plus, I’m more likely to remember stuff if I read it from paper or write it out by hand.

    I haven’t played with volume units just for fun, but in grade school I went through our set of encyclopedias and selected a historic letter for almost our entire alphabet. Then I played around with writing my schoolwork using those other letters. Just for fun. ;-)

    Oh yeah, and sometimes I would write with my non-dominant hand for a different kind of challenge. I have a sibling who self-trained to entirely switch handedness.

  14. andysaurus says:

    @Power Grab. My favourite unit of measure is Poronkusema – (approximately 7.5 km). A Sami measurement of distance; the distance a reindeer can travel before needing to stop to urinate. Today used to describe something that is at a very obscure distance away. Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsolete_Finnish_units_of_measurement. Slightly more obscure than furlongs/fortnight.

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