Making charcoal, the traditional way

Ian, my step dad, has been a traditional charcoal kilner for over 25 years.  He spent the first two years living in a Showmans caravan  in the middle of Dalby Forest, North Yorkshire,  felling trees and producing charcoal using the traditional kiln method. I am often asked if he is the guy who built a home in the wood on Grand Designs several years ago (Ben Law) but he actually started out several years before, in 2000. It was then he bought the woodland we live in today and created a yard where he produces charcoal and cuts logs to deliver to customers in the local area. 
I’ve helped out with kilning a few times over the years but last weekend Ian gave Dave a practical lesson in charcoal making.  Here are a few snaps of the kilning process:
Wood laid in a lattice ensures air can be drawn in and forced out through the chimneys.
The smoke created when the fire is ignited in the bottom of the kiln is 

 Sand is ideal for blocking air holes because it doesn’t burn.

Thick smoke bellows from the chimneys for over around 15-20 hours as the charcoal cooks within the kiln.When the smoke gets thinner. it is a sign the charcoal is almost ready. 

 The smoke created a beautiful light show as the early morning sun shone through trees and illuminated the dense plumes.

When the mixture of gases emitted from the chimneys easily ignites when a flame held above them, it indicates the charcoal is almost ready 

 All chimneys and gaps are covered to put out the fire then the kiln is left for a day to cool down.

The messy job is shoveling the charcoal out of the kiln. Even though we had masks, the soot still managed to get in down our throats and up our noses, as well as in our hair and all over our faces. The charcoal is then sieved to remove the dust before packaging into bags or storing in containers.

In Briton, we buy 60, 000 tonnes of charcoal each year, with around 95% being imported. Buying locally produced charcoal is more environmentally friendly than buying the imported bags generally sold in supermarkets as it hasn’t traveled as many miles and has most likely been produced on a small scale, like we do. You will  be supporting small local businesses too.

By Jenni Tulip

I'm a bright-haired, hill walking, magpie whispering, skull collecting, tree hugging, money saving, bird watching, happy campervanning, ferret fanatic, woodland dweller sharing my stories and passion for the outdoors to inspire you to immerse yourself in nature.

  • Really fascinating stuff. And some gorgeous photos. I've learnt something today!

  • Gosh, I'm genuinely surprised at how much charcoal we import! How ridiculous when we can produce it in this country!