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Making Homemade Lump Charcoal - Pic Heavy.
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Dead Beaver Ranch
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 09 10 5:45 pm    Post subject: Making Homemade Lump Charcoal - Pic Heavy. Reply with quote

Several people asked me to explain the process I use in making Charcoal in the General section. I have tried many methods and find this to be the one I like the best. I should note that most of this I picked up from various postings already on the Smokering so this is by no means my original.

Some Pros and Cons of this method:

Pros:
-Easy to build
-Burns off the volatile gases during the process making use of them as fuel and keeping them out of the environment (Al Gore would be proud)
-No good food worthy wood gets burned/wasted being used as fuel for the burn.
-Fuel wood can be fallen branches, old scraps, etc.
-Charcoal is separated from the ash

Cons:
-The wood must be DRY. If not you will get an incomplete burn.

Items needed:
-55 gallon drum with lid.
-30 gallon open end drum (no lid)
- two 3ft sections of 6” diameter stove pipe
-one 8” to 6” stove pipe adapter
-some method of attaching the stove pipe adapter to the lid. I used 4 “L” shaped brackets with sheet metal screws.
-drill with a Ύ” holesaw
-some method of cutting a 5.5” hole in the barrel lid. I used a 4” grinder.

Steps in building the retort:
Note: you may want to burn out both barrels prior to building.
Step 1 – Drill Ύ” holes approx every 5” around the bottom of the 55 gallon drum about 3” up from the bottom of the barrel.
Step 2 – Cut a 5” to 5.5” hole in the center of the lid
Step 3 – Attach the 8” side of the stove pipe adapter to the lid centered over the hole.
Step 4 – Drill Ύ” holes in the sides of the adapter about every 4” on the transition.

Burning process:

Load the 30 gallon barrel with DRY wood which will be made into charcoal. You can pack it fairly tight just make sure the gases will be able to escape during the burn. The wood can be any length up to the length of the barrel. It should be of uniform thickness within the batch with the maximum thickness being about 4". These in the photo are on the thick side.



Place the barrel on something to raise it off the ground. I use a section of log.



Set the 55 gallon drum upside down over the top of the 30 gallon barrel.



Tip the barrels on the side making sure the smaller barrel stays flush against the bottom of the larger barrel.



Stand the barrels up so the 30 gallon barrel is now upside down inside the 55 gallon barrel. Center the barrels.



Gather scrap wood and branches and pack tightly between the two barrel assuring that the wood is all the way to the bottom of the barrel.





Continue filling the barrel to the top adding small kindling to the top when the barrel is full.



Light the kindling and get it burning.





Spread the kindling out so the lid will sit flat.



Place the lid on the barrel. You will hear the gases ignite inside the stove pipe. This heats up very fast so you want to have the stove pipe in place when you put the lid on the barrel.





Let the burn continue until the lid is able to sit securely on top of the 55 gallon barrel. It doesn’t need to be clamped tight but it should be sitting flush.



The burn will start very clean with just heat coming out of the pipe.



As the burn progresses it will drive the moisture out of the wood. When this happens there will be varying amounts of smoke visible. This is mostly vapor as any flammable gases are being burned off in the stove pipe. Here are photos of this progression.















Once the fire reaches the bottom of the barrel the moisture should be driven off and the volatile gases should start burning as they escape from the inner barrel. These gases provide the fuel for the remainder of the burn. When the wood stops gassing off all that remains is charcoal and the fire extinguishes on its own. The ashes from the burn help create a seal between the barrels keeping oxygen out of the inner chamber. Let the fire die out on it’s own and leave it to cool down over night.

Once the retort has cooled, remove the lid.



Tip the barrels upside down and lift the 55 gallon barrel off of the 30 gallon barrel. Dump the Charcoal out into a metal container.



On this burn I filled my charcoal basket on my UDS and filled two 5 gallon buckets.



Be SAFE and use all appropriate precautions. During the burn the barrel will be about 500 degrees and the exhaust gases will be about 1200 degrees. Play it safe and don’t get burned!
Make sure the charcoal sits out in the open for 24 hours to assure all heat has dissipated before putting up for storage. I place the charcoal in 5 gallon buckets with lids for storage.

I hope this helps anyone who is interested in making homemade charcoal.

DBR
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Horizontal optionally equiped w/ Afterburner.
Homemade lump Charcoal using two barrel retort.
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Last edited by Dead Beaver Ranch on Sun Mar 21 10 6:17 am; edited 1 time in total
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PaulOinMA
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 09 10 9:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great post. Thanks!

Not sure I'll be doing this, though. I think my neighbors would have me committted. Very Happy
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dave from mesa
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 09 10 10:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very nice. Don't think I will try it but have wondered how it could be done.

thanks
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bootlegbbq
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 09 10 10:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

YES! I will be doing this! What type of wood do you use for your charcoal? Is it all hickory, oak, a combination? When using it for cooking, do you add additional chunks of (non-charcoal) wood for smoking or is that necessary? Your charcoal basket is about the same size as mine, how long of a burn can you get with a full basket of home make charcoal? Thanks very much for this post. It's amazing how much I learn from this forum. Very Happy Very Happy Very Happy Rock on Smokering Exclamation Exclamation Very Happy
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Dead Beaver Ranch
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 10 10 3:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

bootlegbbq You can use any wood that you would use to cook. I have lots of oak so that is what I use. When cooking I use it just like regular lump and add pieces of wood for smoke. I have only done one burn on my UDS so I can't tell you how long a burn I can get out of the full basket. The one burn I have done was Chicken hind-quarters and ABTs. The full burn lasted about 6 hours and I would say it used about 1/4th of the charcoal in the basket. Also, any fines and dust go straight into the compost for the garden.

PaulOinMA Mrs. DBR thinks about having me committed every time I start playing with fire too. Rolling Eyes Thanks!

dave from mesa Thanks Dave, I think the curiousity of how it works and the process the wood goes through when turning into charcoal is what got me started. After that it was just one more reason to go out and play.
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Primo Junior Oval
Horizontal optionally equiped w/ Afterburner.
Homemade lump Charcoal using two barrel retort.
http://www.thesmokering.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=37313

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BluzQue
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 11 10 4:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the detailed post!
That's a great setup & process
you got goin' on!

Cool
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redneckrampage
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 11 10 5:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

wonder if i could get away with this in the middle of town heck my neighbors already hate me
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CrazyChef
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 11 10 5:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just bookmarked this post. Thanks!
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Dead Beaver Ranch
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 11 10 6:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

redneckrampage If you can burn a stick burner in your neighborhood you can do this. The key is the retort and using DRY wood for both the charcoal and fuel wood. All smoke and volatiles get burned off so the only smoke is pretty much steam. You could also use a 20 gallon can on the inside and make a smaller batch to test it.

BluzQue Thanks!

CrazyChef Thanks, that's a great compliment!
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Primo Junior Oval
Horizontal optionally equiped w/ Afterburner.
Homemade lump Charcoal using two barrel retort.
http://www.thesmokering.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=37313

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charleso
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 12 10 6:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

AWESOME POST, DBR Exclamation Exclamation Exclamation

A few questions, if you don't mind.

First, is there any vent holes in the 30gal barrel to allow the gases to escape? Or do they just come out around the bottom of the barrel?

Second, about how many 3/4" holes are drilled around the bottom of the 55gal? Would too many cause the feul wood to burn off to quickly and cause an incomplete burn on the lump?
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Dead Beaver Ranch
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 12 10 7:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

charleso - There are no holes in the 30 gallon barrel. The gases escape between the two barrels and ignite once the moisture is driven off. This is why it is so important to make sure the wood is absolutely DRY. As SoEzzy says, "Ask me how I know" Embarassed You'll get an incomplete burn and will have to repeat the fire process over. You can do it but it's a waste of time when you can just use dry wood.

I just went and counted, I have 16 holes and that seems to work well. I started with just 8 holes and found that wasn't enough so I added another hole in between each hole. I don't know what the effect would be of too many holes as I have not tried that. I would think you would reach a point where the burn would go too fast but I don't know what the effect would be on the final product.
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Horizontal optionally equiped w/ Afterburner.
Homemade lump Charcoal using two barrel retort.
http://www.thesmokering.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=37313

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Dead Beaver Ranch
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 12 10 10:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Okay, when I put this together I used the last of one burn that had cooled off and then took photos as I started the next burn. So, here is the result of that burn.

Here is the charcoal dumped into the wheelbarrow.



I put it all in buckets. I filled three 5 gallon buckets with good sized lump and got about 4 gallons of fines for the garden.



The fines were a little too course for the garden so I smashed them with a 2X4.



Then I ran it through this grate to get the ones that needed more smashing.





Here's the final product.



I took the fines to the compost pile.



Mixed it in good with compost.



And into the garden bed which I had covered with grass clippings from last fall.



So now I won't need char for a while. I have four 5 gallon buckets.



Does anyone have Spring Fever?





I know I do!!

DBR
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Primo Junior Oval
Horizontal optionally equiped w/ Afterburner.
Homemade lump Charcoal using two barrel retort.
http://www.thesmokering.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=37313

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neylandfan



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PostPosted: Sun Mar 14 10 12:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

im gona try this
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polock
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 14 10 7:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

thanks bro just what i needed Smile
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polock
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PostPosted: Mon Mar 15 10 4:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

just thought of something, ever put your charcoal in those gigantic zip log bags.. might be something that would work good also
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polock
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 18 10 2:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

ok i can't find 30 gallon drums anywhere, I am going to use a 30 gallon trash can, i'll just strip the galvanized coating off and it will be fine
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Dead Beaver Ranch
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 18 10 6:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've seen photos where people have tried using trash cans and the just melt and split down the seam. Check your local Fast Lube joint they get their oil in 30 gallon barrels. Also, I've seen them at Ace Hardware although I think those are new. If you can find a 20 gallon barrel it will work too and you will have a larger margin of error if your wood is a little to wet, but you will get less charcoal.

Good luck, DBR

BTW, the large ziplock bags sounds like a great idea!!
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Primo Junior Oval
Horizontal optionally equiped w/ Afterburner.
Homemade lump Charcoal using two barrel retort.
http://www.thesmokering.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=37313

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cityevader
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 20 10 11:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Bookmarked to Favorites!! Very Happy
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daddywoofdawg
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 21 10 1:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Two questions:
1:I know it works I can see that but how does the wood in the 30 burn if no flame is getting there?
2:couldn't you use a 20-30G barrel with a lid instead of the flipping over process?
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Dead Beaver Ranch
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 21 10 5:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

daddywoofdawg The process the wood undergoes is called Pyrolysis you can do a google or wiki search on "Pyrolysis" for more information, but at its basis is the burning of the wood in an oxygen free enviroment. This process burns/gases off all elements in the wood except pure Carbon (charcoal) and a few trace mineral which you would normally find in wood ash. The Carbon has to have oxygen in order to burn, without oxygen it stays behind as it cannot gas off.

For your second question this would not work because we are relying on the wood gases coming off the wood exiting the 30 gallon barrel to ignite providing additional fuel to complete the burn. This combustion takes place at the base of the 30 gallon barrel and provides additional heat. There are ways to do it in an upright barrel which you describe but it would require a lot more fuel wood and you would be wasting all the flamable gases during the process. This is the beauty of using this system.

A method of doing like you have described but being able to use the gases involves cuting an access hole into the 55 gallon barrel. Then you place two fire bricks in the barrel to hold a 20 gallon can. You drill 5 or 6 holes 1/4" in the bottom of the 20 gallon can. Place the can inside the 55 gallon barrel, fill it with wood and place the lid on. This lid must be a tight fit. Then you build a fire and monitor it while it burns. There is a crucial point during the burn when you must stop the burn remove the 20 gallon can set it in dirt and seal the bottom until it cools down. The timing of the is very crucial. If you do it to soon you get a partial burn, if you do it too late you get ashes. During the burn while the gases are burning off you have to monitor the burn and the minute the gassing off process stops you have to stop the burn. Personally, I like being able to start the burn and let it go and not worry about timing the completion in order to get good results. But it definitely can be done.

DBR
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Primo Junior Oval
Horizontal optionally equiped w/ Afterburner.
Homemade lump Charcoal using two barrel retort.
http://www.thesmokering.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=37313

"I go now to find myself, if I get back before I return keep me here!"
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