Two Methods of Making Charcoal

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Charcoal has been made for centuries and used for many things such as art, medicine, and makeup, but it was most important for blacksmiths as it was used for fuel to smelt metals. It is produced by heating wood with little to no oxygen in order to remove all the water. It is created whenever combustion is incomplete.  Additionally, charcoal was a part of a mixture for black powder. Charcoal has a very high surface area, so it’s very useful as a filter or an absorbent for water filtration.  It’s easy to see the possible useful applications in a survival situation.


  • The first method of making charcoal is finding an airtight, fire-resistant container, like a 55-gallon metal drum.
  • Next you will need very dry hardwood. A good hardwood takes approximately 2 years to dry properly. Good hardwoods for this task would be Oak, Hickory, or even Birch. Remember you want extremely dry wood, so don’t use wet or green wood. Make sure that it’s been drying for at least two years.
  • Next you will want to chop up the wood into very small pieces approximately 4 inches each.
  • Fill the container up with dried wood. Partially seal the container. Although you do want an oxygen free environment for your wood, you will need the ability of air to be released and to draw in as pressure changes occur during heating.
  • Light a fire around the container and let it burn for four hours. Stay away from the container.  If it becomes airtight at any point it could explode.
  • Let the fire completely burnout and cool down before approaching.
  • When you open the container, you should see nothing but charcoal. You can test this by lighting it with a small flame. It shouldn’t take much flame if it turned out well.


  • Method two is more traditional.
  • First take the dry wood and arrange the pieces in a cone standing end on end. The wood should be about two to three feet long and less than 4 inches in diameter. The goal here is to make a cone shape by standing wood pieces on their ends and eventually sort of piling them around upright.
  • The overall pile should be about 5 feet wide and about 3 to 4 foot tall.
  • Next pile dead sticks and leaves over your pile of wood. This is going to be the foundation for your mud. Make sure that you lay enough of these small branches on the outside.
  • Next make a whole bunch of mud. This is a great time to get the kids involved because they love making mud pies. They can be helpful and make a mess at the same time, it’s the best of both worlds for a child.
  • Get those mudpies and slam them against the outer branches on the outside of your pile of wood. The branches that you put on the outside should work sort of like a lattice to hold the mud from falling into your pile. You want to cover the entire stack with mud except for the very top which you will use as a chimney. The top opening should be about 6 inches. The top of your Dome should look sort of like a volcano.
  • Dig two to three small openings under your cone or Dome. They should allow air to flow in through the bottom of the Dome into the wood and the center. Now you can light it from the top where the opening is or you can set a fire in these little dugouts but, either way, a fire must be set.
  • After the fire has been really raging and it’s going well, it’s time to plug all the holes. Take a few more mud pies and cover up that 6-inch hole on top of the Dome. Also, take more mud and cover up all the dugout holes from below the Dome.
  • Allow the fire to be smothered out. It will have built up a lot of heat and the wood will continue to breakdown overtime. That’s why it’s so important that every hole is plugged with mud. This process is how you completely burn out all the oxygen and create the charcoal.
  • Let the Dome cool down completely. This may take a couple days. Traditionally those who made charcoal back in ancient times would sleep in the woods near their pile of charcoal to make sure that the fire didn’t get out of control.
  • After it’s completely cool break apart the mud Dome pull away anything that would be covering any wood or charcoal. You should find that most of it has been completely turned into charcoal. Occasionally you will find that there are some pieces of wood that have not been turned into charcoal. Save those for a later date when you re-fire to create more charcoal.



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