Making Charcoal

I made a batch of charcoal using the mound method then stored it in baskets for later use. Charcoal is a fuel that burns hotter than the wood it’s made from. This is because the initial energy consuming steps of combustion have taken place while making the charcoal, driving off the volatile components of the wood (such as water and sap). The result is a nearly pure carbon fuel that burns hotter than wood without smoke and with less flame. Charcoal was primarily a metallurgical fuel in ancient times but was sometimes used for cooking too.

To make the charcoal the wood was broken up and stacked in to a mound with the largest pieces in the center and smaller sticks and leaves on the out side. The mound was coated in mud and a hole was left in the top while 8 smaller air holes were made around the base of the mound. A fire was kindled in the top of the mound using hot coals from the fire and the burning process began.

The fire burned down the inside of the mound against the updraft. I reason that this is a better way to make charcoal as the rising flames have used up the oxygen and prevent the charcoal already made above them from burning while driving out even more volatiles .

I watched the air holes at the base of the mound and when the fire had burned right up to each opening I plugged them with mud. Once all 8 holes had be sealed, the hole in the top of the mound was sealed with mud and the mound left to cool.

The next day when the mound was cool to the touch (this can take about 2 days sometimes) I opened the mound. The resulting charcoal was good quality. Some wood near the air entries had burned to ash though these were only small twigs and leaves. This is the reason small brush is put on the out side of the mound, to be burned preferentially to the larger wood on the inside thus protecting the larger pieces of charcoal.

The charcoal that was made was hard and shiny. When broken open it had the ray structure of the wood preserved. When moving the hand through it the charcoal sounded tinny, like coral on a beach being moved by waves. These are signs of good quality. Bad charcoal is soft, breaks easily and has a muffled sound.

I intend to use the charcoal to produce hotter fires than I’m able to with wood alone. From my research, a natural draft furnace using wood (a kiln) can reach a maximum of 1400 c degrees whereas a natural draft furnace using charcoal can reach 1600 c degrees. Achieving high temperatures is necessary for changing material to obtain better technology (e.g smelting ore into metal).

71 thoughts on “Making Charcoal

      • i had a thought. while your contemplating making the ancient forge gathering up the iron ore could be problematic. the highest concentrations i have found were on sand bars in a river. slues out the lite material to gather the black sand. after you have forged your ingot and shaped it, making a Quern-stone known to have been made 12,000+ years ago could be beneficial in refining the shape of the metal.

        Like

    • I have two questions:

      First, what is your name (or something we can call you by) when we ask questions or comment?

      Second, on the “Making Charcoal” demonstration, something isn’t quite clear: If you have the large wood in the middle, moving progressively smaller toward the outside, it’s hard (for me) to see how you could get any sustaining burn going unless you continually kept feeding it from the top. Maybe that’s what you did and it just didn’t come through in the video (?)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. My girlfriend and I have watched all your videos countless times… you make us want to go back out into the forest with each video.. please keep it up. It’s a fantastic thing you have going. Don’t stop!

    Like

  2. I thoroughly enjoy your videos. The lack of music, talking, or ads is very captivating and soothing, in a very “LIKE SHARE SUBSCRIBE!” world.

    Like

  3. What else are you gonna use the charcoal for? Other than smelting, I mean. Can’t wait to see the iron smelting, by the way. What specific tools do you think you’ll make with it? An axe would be useful. I think a shovel or something else to help you dig would also be pretty useful.

    Like

  4. I am excited to see you smelt copper/malachite and make some simple bronze, or iron! I know it will be a while and be difficult, but I think you can do it!

    Hey, whatever happened to your tiled roof hut? Do you still use it?

    Like

  5. It will be great if you can make a bonus video to show what you have right now, alongside some footage of you just chilling and enjoying the wood.🙂
    I really like this episode by the way. Something about the technology involved really get me.

    Like

  6. On youtube there are videos of people smelting iron in primitive ways. However, they are using iron tongs, anvils, hammers and wedges. They also have a lot of people helping. Would it even be possible to smelt iron and make something useful with just stone tools by yourself?

    Like

  7. Tomorrow me, my dad and a friend of mine are going to the countryside of our country (Brazil) to try building a hut inspired on your constructions! I hope all goes well, if yes, i’ll probably post on youtube and share! We decided this back on 2015 seeing your videos, thanks man!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Do you plan to make a bow? I know hunting is illegal where you are, but it’s a technology that almost every culture had. I think it would make a very interesting video.

    Like

  9. Great video!:) It is very informative as usual. I like that you show every step and, then explain in the description. In the video you use wood, branches and, leaves that are pretty dry. Would this work with materials that are not as dried out?

    Like

  10. Your video reminded me of a very low-income couple I knew years ago who made charcoal using the very same method, except they used a 55 gallon barrel instead of creating a mud shell. People used to buy their charcoal in order to help them out. The man was a PTSD victim of World War II and his wife did what she could to make ends meet. Your video reminded me of these wonderful people.

    Also, thanks for taking up for going barefoot in some of the other comments.

    Like

  11. All of these are fantastic! I feel as though you would be a fantastic anthropologist,. With your skills and experience through this hobby, you could travel to say Papua NG and live alongside Aborigines if you wanted. They would probably have a huge respect for your craftiness.

    Like

  12. Man your videos are awesome, do you own the land where you make the videos or is it just a random place?
    I wish I could do this but I live in Colombia so you never know if you’ll find guerillas or the army in the forest.
    Keep doing this, hands down the best blog I’ve found in years.

    Like

  13. Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I love your work and hope to see more from you in the future. I find it very relaxing to watch your videos at the end of a long day. You have inspired me to begin doing my own bushcraft.

    Like

  14. Hello primitive, I have some questions if you don’t mind:
    -How long do you go out for?
    -How long do you plan to continue?
    -Where is this taking place?
    -What else do you plan to make?
    -Do you hunt for food?
    -Do you stay in your shelter?
    -Is this a hobby or some type of job?
    -How much does the average trip cost?
    -What does your emergency supplie kit consist of?
    -How far from civilization are you?
    -Will you mine for ore?

    Ps: your videos are my favourite thing to watch and I watch with my family so keep it up because it’s extremely satisfying to watch. Love your videos

    Like

    • -Usually a day but I camp out sometimes.
      -As long as possible.
      FNQ, Australia.
      -More tools and shelters.
      -Hunting’s illegal here.
      -camping.
      -was a hobby, now a job.
      -No cost per trip.
      -A phone and a bandage.
      -7 minutes from the road
      -ore apers on the ground and I’ve got a pot full of it already.
      Thanks Austin.

      Like

  15. Hi! I’m so excited found someone has same hobby with me!
    Your videos are so good and teach me a lot.
    Now you are doing this as a full time job? If u want to hire someone please contact me!

    Like

  16. You mentioned that you aren’t having great success with your sweet potatoes… have you looked at adding biochar to the soil? Not sure what the quality of the soil is, but this video brought it to mind.

    Like

  17. Hey PrimitiveTechnology, absolutely love your videos. Your videos have inspired myself and a friend to go try this out ourselves, but I was wondering what your suggestion would be to start learning to do this kind of stuff and the best place to start.

    Like

    • Find an area with water, clay, stone and wood. Start with the basics (making fire, simple stone tools and basic shelter). Even if you build a lean to or tipi that’s a good start. Build small to begin with- when you design huts make them only as big as they need to be (when other people try copying huts like mine they build too big and give up half way through). Later on build bigger things when you’re more confident. Good luck.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Thanks for making these videos, I really like them.

    I’d like to attempt to do this myself. Is the 3 basket yield shown at the end from one burn?

    I’ve got some wood which is quite green I’d like to use in preference to my seasoned wood. Need the wood be well seasoned?

    Does this produce a lot of smoke? (Don’t want to annoy neighbours too much)

    Like

  19. Hey, I own an Airsoft Team. I’m currently building what I can on a piece of land (80 acres). I can only camp for a single night between school and work. Until summer. I want to make the wattle and daub hut but I don’t want to start and have to leave before I’m able to finish. Can you help me with some tips? On finding the right type of materials? Like the right wood to use.. Or anything?

    Like

    • Build the frame and roof first. Don’t start daubing the walls till the roof is up or it will wash off. Build it only as big as it needs to be- people always plan big and never finish it. For the wattles use any flexible wood it doesn’t matter what type. For the structural parts use wood that is reasonably strong and won’t rot. If the daub has problems add fibrous material and have a fire in the hut to help it dry quicker. Good luck.

      Like

  20. You should go on the show called Alone, they give you a few tools and such and a camera, then you survive for around a month😀

    Like

  21. so do you reckon, the temperature inside reached over 700 C?? i’m asking that because it is the type of Charcoal that is used in water filtration. thanks! i guess this method could be an improvement (i mean patching with clay) for making lime?
    thanks for opening my mind!!! worth millions!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s