Charcoal is great not only for cooking but also great for use in heating and melting metals. This is great for replacing coal because charcoal has nearly the same efficiency.
Now, charcoal is just carbon. It can be made from basically anything that contains carbon. Wood is most commonly used because it’s just the easiest to get and make charcoal out of. You can also make a business out of charcoal by selling what you have made.
When making charcoal you can use any wood. From chopping down a tree or using sticks and limbs on the ground. Also, pine does make good charcoal contrary to popular belief. Do not mix hard and softwood when making charcoal. Only do just hardwood or just a softwood batch. There are a few different methods for making charcoal it depends on what you have access to and how much charcoal you need.
The first, and easiest method is extremely simple. Scrounge the remains from a campfire to get bits of charcoal. Snap the charcoal in half, and if it’s black all the way through, throw it in the pile because it’s good to use. You can light these fires intentionally and let them burn out or just take advantage of a fire you had for another purpose.
The preferred method for stacking the wood is teepee or pyramid shape. You don’t want all the wood to burn though because you won’t get any charcoal. This method will need to be perfected by the individual in order to get maximum output. Experiment with amounts of wood and stacking methods.
The second and third most common ways of making charcoal are for bulk use. These methods are very similar but will require a steel barrel or drum. These can be purchased at scrap yards for as cheap as $4 depending on the size. It also helps for the barrel to have a lid or else it’s similar to the free and under-controlled burn of method one.
When you get your barrel drill a hole a few inches from the bottom on one side. You also may want to attach a steel pipe to this so flames cant leaps up from the outside or out from the inside. Small holes in the center of the lid should also be drilled and close enough to each other to be covered if needed.
After you have the barrel ready you have two options. You can either light the fire on the inside of the barrel or heat it from the outside. Internal fire will be quicker and less fuel consuming as an external heat but it will also burn some of the wood you wish to turn to charcoal.
If your choosing the internal heating just pile your wood in the barrel with some tinder and kindling at the bottom. Also, your wood should be chopped into easily manageable pieces both not too wide, or too small, while easily fitting inside the barrel. Light the bottom layer and start to pile in wood. At this step be careful as you do not extinguish the fire.
Once you filled your barrel about four fifths full secure the lid. The fire will be burning/smoldering but at a low intensity due to low oxygen. Plumes of smoke should be coming out of the top holes. This is a flammable gas that is coming out of the wood. Check your wood often to see if it’s done. If it is black all the way through when broken it is done. Check each section of the barrel because one side may have heated more than another.
For external heating, all the wood in the barrel will turn to charcoal but more wood is needed to heat the barrel from the outside. This method will take a very long time but you don’t really have to worry about burning all of your wood up. Just put the barrel over a pile of wood or build a frame for it to rest upon over the fire. Light the wood and wait for the charcoal to be done.
Make sure the barrel won’t tip over out of the fire if the wood underneath burns away. Once again, flammable vapors should be coming out of the ventilation holes in the lid. This is also the easiest method to scale down or size up using a different sized container. Also, depending on variables such as type of wood, heat, amount of wood, and size of variables it could take a while to “charcoalify”. Be prepared to wait for a while.
When your charcoal is finished, break it up, using a hammer or just your hands, into pieces sized right for what you’re doing with it.
Good luck with charcoal making, have fun, and be safe!