[permaculture] making charcoal cheaply at home?

Pat Meadows pat at meadows.pair.com
Fri Nov 2 10:35:47 EDT 2007

On Fri, 02 Nov 2007 09:04:34 -0400, you wrote:

>i want to make some charcoal, but am reluctant to do it the old 
>fashioned way (in a big earth covered mound) because it seems so 
>wasteful.  we definitely can't afford a fancy processor, so that 
>leaves out that option.  so what i am trying to imagine is simple 
>system using an adapted wood stove for instance, so that we can also 
>use the heat for ourselves.  maybe as simple as a big wood stove with 
>a secondary  burning chamber to burn the gases so as not to creosote 
>up the chimney.  if the stove was really airtight enough, maybe we 
>could fire it up with a big fire, and then shut it down completely 
>after it is all glowing red. it wouldn't be a perfect burn, but it 
>would probably provide something useful.  as we shut down the air to 
>the main stove, it would be nice to be able to fire up a small 
>secondary burn capturing the gases emitting up the flue.  i was 
>thinking about adapting the smallest wood stove i could find for 
>this, and then just stacking it on top of the big one and doing a 
>little creative plumbing.
>does this sound workable?

You'd be emitting an awful lot of very dangerous, very bad pollutants:
dangerous to anyone in your immediate neighborhood, including you and your
family, of course, and dangerous to the world in general.

My husband has done a considerable amount of research into Outdoor Wood
Furnaces (OWFs), as they are an issue in our town at the moment. He is
well-qualified to do this research and to understand the science, he has a
PhD in Chemical Physics (and other qualifications for it, as listed on the
website below).

Basically, what you would be doing would be very close to the operating
principle of the Outdoor Wood Furnaces and the effects would be very much
the same - except that what you are proposing would be even WORSE.  

For lots of information on OWFs and - by extension - on making charcoal in
the fashion you propose, see:

Start here:  http://www.betterwellsboro.org/cleanair/woodburningchem.html

Then see:  http://www.betterwellsboro.org/cleanair/resources.html

It might well be against the law in your town to make charcoal; I would
certainly *hope* so.  

But even if you live way-isolated, you would still want to consider the
effects upon you and your family; and the world in general.

There are other ways, safer ways, to gain fertility in your soil.  You
don't need charcoal in soil to grow terrific crops.   

You don't need charcoal to warm up the soil either; you can cover the soil
with a CLEAR piece of plastic (one piece), warm up one area, then move the
clear plastic to another area,etc.  If the air is still so cold that the
soil chills again, then the summer crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants,
etc.) aren't going to do well anyway.  They'll just sit and sulk until the
temperatures rise and stay up.

Or you could build a hoophouse or greenhouse.  We have a simple, homemade,
hoophouse, it's 12' x 24', and holds a LOT of plants.

-- northern Pennsylvania
"Rats and roaches live by competition under the laws of
supply and demand. It is the privilege of human beings to
live under the laws of justice and mercy." - Wendell Berry 

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