As often as I can I try to get away, off the grid. Whether for a weekend, or a month I love the opportunity to expand my knowledge, or just practice the ever present tasks that are necessary to exist in a primitive state, such as how to make your own charcoal. If I can bring my sons and wife along, that’s a great experience. If I can only bring my miniature Australian Shepard Chester, I count that as a good time as well. Chester is a friend to talk to, and he is an astute companion that often notifies me if conditions are changing around us.
The goal is always to practice surviving. Preparing for the times when the family needs to be self-reliant upon ourselves, and to perfect the lessons that I want to pass along to my boys.
This weekend it was Chester and I. We headed north to our little patch of paradise, one of our goals was to replenish our charcoal supply. A simple enough task, and a necessary one that offers multiple uses when living off the grid. First thing that we use our homemade charcoal for is in the filtration of water. A necessary component to effectively filter, and that makes a necessity to keep on hand all the time.
Charcoal also serves as a fuel to cook with. An open flame is great and works, but homemade charcoal maintains a consistent heat source that doesn’t scorch the food and cooks it evenly. Most of the time we strive to keep a trash can full. The procedure is simple and almost fun to make. The basics that you need to start are practical and probably on hand.
Requirements for Making Charcoal
- Fire pit
- Tub for immersion
- Tub for drying
- Fire Poker
- Long term holding vessel, drum, barrel, trash can
Start with acquiring a supply of hardwood that will be made into charcoal. You can expect that 20 pounds of source wood will yield about 10 pounds of charcoal. Start your fire. Once you have a good breathing fire going add the wood in small batches. While this starts burning, set up two tubs, (check out tubs here). The first tub should hold enough water to immerse the wood that you are going to be pulling out of the fire. The second tub should have a layer of rocks on the bottom of it. You will be pulling the charred wood out of the water tub and then set it in the rock tub to drain and dry.
Rotate the wood in the fire so that the fire doesn’t eat away at the logs from underneath. Your goal here is to burn the wood evenly. When the wood is glowing, or you see that it is cherry red, this is the time to move it from the fire to quench. Use your shovel (Check out shovels here) and poker to make this a quick and safe process. As you remove a log, replace it with the next to keep the fire alive.
Your charred logs should cool down pretty quickly. Don’t let them stay in the water very long, about 3-5 minutes for a piece of wood the size of your forearm. Between working the fire and transferring wood into water, move your logs into the tub with the rocks so they can dry and be moved into their permanent canister. The final product should look like the remnants of a fire, pieces of charcoaled wood that resembles its former physical state. If rain isn’t in the forecast I like to set the charred wood out overnight to ensure it’s finished. All that’s left is transferring the final product into your long term holding receptacle. It should be something that offers cover from the elements. We use a galvanized trash can with a lid (Check out trashcans here). Chester supervises and approves the whole process for me.
As your day draws to a close, you have a fire to make a meal with. You have replenished your charcoal supply in a very simple but effective manner. With a fresh supply of charcoal you can utilize this survival staple for several tasks. Filtering water, cooking fuel, in your garden to raise the alkalinity of the soil for your garden. Natural charcoal when added to compost piles aids in the recycling process. It also absorbs odors, so when your compost pile is starting to get ripe, a few shovels of charcoal helps knock the smell down a bit. The same is true if your cabin is smelling a little more lived in than usual. A burlap sack filled with your homemade charcoals stored inside will naturally absorb unwelcome smells. Finally, because charcoal naturally absorbs water, I keep some around my tools to draw potentially rust building moisture off my wedges and axe heads.