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Making Charcoal




When I was younger...


... I always fancied having a go at a nymphomaniac gymnast and more recently having a go at making charcoal. As time passed despite much talk neither happened! Lack of trying the former saved my family jewels because the wife, a Vet has always threatened to cut my bits off in the night if I ever went over the side.


If I'm honest it would have probably have put my back out too but lack of equipment and knowledge was the only reason why I never got round to putting my Ash and Hazel coppice to more use than ordinary firewood.


When Robin the...


... the local Forestry Commission bloke retired his place was taken by Jon who is younger, keener and more local and knows a bit about charcoal - how handy! On his first walk round the woods he revealed he had a charcoal Kiln but hadn't used it recently and was happy for me to have a go.


Tom the Forest also fancied a go - at Charcoal ... his wife Max has warned him to stay off the gymnasts. Even more handily Jon had loaded the Kiln last year so it was, we thought ready for action.


We set off like all good...


... pyromaniacs armed with matches and firelighting things one lovely early summer morning. On arrival and close inspection we realised that though the main steel skin was A1 the lid and vents were what could be described as past it.


The lid was repairable with a lot of welding and new plate but new box section vents and a trip to our very local and handy scrap metal dealer was required.


The two wise men confer whilst I hover above to get a good piccie.

Fifty quid's worth of new metal...


... and a few hours of welding from Tom and the lid was ready for action. I did not sit idly by, oh no sir. I drove over to Tractor Daniel and got him to drill holes in the box sections to the chimneys. Soon after Tom finished this off too and we were ready to fire the beast... this is totally different to spanking the monkey that's a different kind of website.


The next thing that was needed was to get the three of us together to light it and to get some dry weather from shut down to bagging. Jon thought that we could be at blue smoke shutdown within 4 hours and could expect to bag 24 hours later.


We scheduled a Sunny Sunday...


... in Jolly July to alliterate for a moment. The technique is to feed lighted rags through the bottom vents to ignite a kindling wood charge at the bottom and then the rest of the wood. This comprises of a mix of woods but desired are Ash, Hazel, Oak. The important thing is that it is well seasoned.


Though the weather was perfect with a good breeze it didn't kick into action as hoped. The wood had been in there a long time and the charge at the bottom may well have failed. Eventually we were making progress though a bit lopsidedly. Tom and Jon both grubbed around on the floor reaching into the vents to allow more air.


I'm far too important...


... to do this and I was rather pleased I hadn't when after it was properly alight a big rat and family came shooting out looking a bit pissed off but otherwise ok!


One side was producing a bit too much flame so we decided to get the lid on... not the easiest thing to do on your own but with three not too tricky. I even put my camera and tea down for a moment and helped.


You can see from the heat distortion on the side that the left top was the hottest bit- not ideal

Without any dramas...


... we had the lid sealed and chimneys in place and were heading for the 4 hour shut down of all air. At this point Jon said, er hang on I think it might be 16 hours before we shut down!


Being pretty good with a watch I was able to work out that we needed to do this at 4am which I thought let me out as I live 60 miles away and go up to London at 6am with the real job.


Tom stepped up...


... without having to be volunteered and agreed to be up at the crack of dawn- even though he had never met her. He sent me a text at 0345 hours proclaiming blue smoke... I was fast asleep having blue dreams.


We play spot Tom in the picture as we await the mystical 'Blue Smoke'

30 hours later...


... on another perfect sunny day Tom and I roll up armed with spades and bags to harvest our black gold. Jon had given us a handy tip gained from experience that getting inside to bag the charcoal was a ball ache and a very dirty job.


In due course we are going to fit shackles provided by Jon so that I can lift the ring off with my tractor but this time we decided to winch it with Tom's landy after a feeble attempt to push it ourselves.


Stand well back, let the winch do the graft and prepare for bagging up our riches !

Doing the bagging up...


... on your own as Jon did from inside the ring couldn't have been fun, but splitting the task in such great weather was really enjoyable. We amused ourselves with a few war stories each and dubious jokes.


Tom's old favourite is worth repeating. Darth Vader tells Skywalker that he knows what he is getting for Christmas. " But how" he asks. " I feel your presents Luke" the man from the dark side replies.


We were getting a bit on the dark side from the soot and you get great black bogies but before long the pile of bags was getting more impressive :


Get a few people doing this, it would take no time at all... form a queue !

The final tally of bags...


... was 27 which is a fair bit less than the 40 or so Jon achieved on his own. Next time which will be soon, we'll pack it tighter with wood and get it fired more evenly. I have to be honest I've no idea whether it is good or bad or what charcoal.


I can confidently tell you it's black and the scrappy bits Tom put on his BBQ that night burned so hot he used less than usual, so fingers crossed.


The price per bag...


... as recommended to us is £7.50. If you buy some smoking wood or cedar planks at the same time I'm sure we can do a deal that pleases us all. The problem for now is going to be supply as I sold my stock in 2 days and Tom is well on the way to doing the same.


We hope to have more stock in August. I expect making the charcoal will be a summertime thing as during the winter we shall be preparing coppice for the pot so to speak.


Charcoal Making Courses...


... are on the cards in the future if the demand is there. If desired it could be a weekend thing with beer and Barbie and camping, though being a townie I'd have to be lured by the promise of a bit of cash to keep me from my warm bed and hot wife.


Happy to talk more about this and other possible woodcrafts like Bee Hive making out of my vast stock of Redwood and whatever else you may fancy... gymnasts need not apply !