Jul 08 Making Charcoal by Mike Pepler By Tracy

As we’ve been coppicing our wood I’ve been wanting to make charcoal for some time, but wasn’t ready to go and buy a large kiln, as I didn’t know whether I’d really make use of it. Having read about small kilns made using oil drums I managed to get hold of a couple of drums from a farmer friend.

I started off making one of them into the traditional style oil drum kiln, where you pack the drum full of wood, light it through holes in the base, and gradually close the top during the burn, sealing it at just the right point to make sure you end up with charcoal rather than a pile of unburned wood or, worse still, a pile of ash! However, before I had finished making this kiln I met Gervais Sawyer at an open day at the Woodland Enterprise Centre, and he gave me a better idea, which is what I want to tell you about now.

Step 1: cut the top off an oil drum. Make sure you leave the end with no holes in it intact. When I did this I also had to drain out the dregs of oil left behind. This can be taken to the dump for disposal or burned – don’t pour it on the ground. I cut the top off using a drill to make a few holes side by side to get started, then tin snips to cut round.

Step 2: cut some slots in the walls near the base of the drum to let air in for the fire to burn with. I chose to make four slots, again using the drill and tin snips to make them. One I had them done, I made a fire in the drum to burn out any remaining traces of oil:

Step 3: get a smaller drum, cut the top off it, and pack it as tight as you can with dry wood. I used a 20l veg oil can, but something larger would be better. As long as it fits inside the big oil drum you’ll be fine.

Step 4: put the small drum upside down inside the large drum, and light a fire round it, keeping it going for a few hours (I need to experiment to find out the minimum time…)

Step 5: leave it all to cool down (ideally overnight), then get the smaller drum out. Here are the results!

Take a look at peplers.blogspot.co.uk for many more useful tips and news of what is happening in their wood.

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