Friday, March 01, 2013

Making Charcoal?

Lee Sauder Posted Yesterday, (to Don Fogg's Blade Forum)

I reckon the only way to ensure good charcoal is to make it yourself. ...

Another commercial source that I have dealt with on occasion is Humphrey Charcoal, you can find via Google, They're reasonable and pretty easy to deal with. Call 'em up, don't try to process an order online. The times I have used it it seemed mighty sparky, but seems like most commercial charcoal is.
Lee's 'Dumpster' full sized charcoal kiln
I have smelted with Lee quite a number of times and will second the quality of his home made charcoal. Check his article on '45 gallon drum charcoal' :

It is not a solution for everyone - unfortunately.

You do need a very rural, almost isolated location to run the charcoal kiln. Making charcoal produces huge volumes of rather dense (often 'greasy' smoke). Bruce Cowan, who had been making the Black Diamond I raved about, was shut down by neighbours complaining to our Ministry of the Environment - for just that reason. His retorts were running fairly high efficiency (the flameable gasses returned to burn off for increased heat) and about the same volume as a 45 gallon drum.
A better method might reduce this?

You do need a source of wood. The pieces should be as uniform in size as possible, with 1 inch thickness being ideal. (If for no other reason than this is the size for the smelting furnace later.) Lee is blessed with a friend who owns a hardwood trim mill - and he gets the damages and off cuts from that. If you own a wood lot, deadfall branches would be good. Break up shipping skids?

One note on lowering your charcoal costs:
Check around and see if you can find a supplier who sells to restaurants who are involved with flame grilling. Using actual charcoal is a specialty - but it is reasonably popular, especially in bigger cities. The Basques Charcoal I listed (from Barrie for those reading in Ontario) is in that business. I had sourced this via the internet.

Although I live in the country, its only a one acre lot and I don't have access to timber. I would have to purchase firewood, hand split it for uniform size, then make the charcoal. 
I ran the potential numbers on this. Right now I'm paying $325 for a bush cord, dry, spit and delivered. That is 128 cubic feet, which works out to $2.54 a cube. Computing the charcoal is a bit rougher. A full skid of 16 bags @ $17 per bag (my discounted price via McDonald's Home Hardware in Dundalk - thank you!) is roughly 80 cubic feet. That comes to $3.20 a cube. 
*If* (big if) I was getting 100 % return on the wood to charcoal phase - I would only be saving 20% on all the labour involved. 

I do intend on converting a metal drum I scrounged last fall into one of Lee's 45 gallon kiln units. My local lumber yard sells old shipping skids at $1 each - which should provide an economical source for the wood. Mainly oak, and already pretty uniform thickness. 

Stay tuned....

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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