Below is some general information and specific instructions for obtaining and managing what you will need to burn to make charcoal in the CharCone. Please contact us with any questions or comments.
Gathering and preparing feedstock is as important as any step in the charcoal making process.
Feedstock is defined as “raw material to supply or fuel a machine or industrial process”. It is the term that we use for the stuff that we use to make the charcoal. It can theoretically be just about anything that will burn (organic matter) but for our purposes, it mostly refers to wood of some type, woody plants, and other products that originated from trees or plants.
Having the right type, right size and right amount of feedstock on hand is the foundation of making charcoal. It may seem like a no-brainier, especially if you have a big brush pile waiting to be burned, but remember, wood reduces to about 1/4-1/5 of its initial weight by becoming charcoal and in terms of volume (of loose brush) about 1/10. So to fill up the CharCone with charcoal (about 15 gallons) you need about 15 cubic feet of brush. That’s over 1/2 of a cubic yard. That’s 7 big barrels full, or 20 5 gallon pails, or 4-5 wheelbarrow loads – a lot.
Running out of feedstock is a common problem. You can’t go to the store or call someone up to get more. So planning ahead is essential.
Here is what you’re looking for:
- Thickness – the CharCone works best with small stuff – twigs and small branches. For a routine burn, anything more than 1 1/2″ thick could be a problem. So if you have something bigger (we all do), it has to be split down.
- Length – anywhere from 6″-16″ will work but you can only use shorter stuff in the beginning.
- Moisture content – dry wood is essential to keep the burn going. Use green wood (the thinner the better) sparingly. Live wood typically needs 3-4 months in warm, dry weather to season properly.
- Species – e.g soft resinous wood will burn easier and faster. Do not burn poison ivy vines or other harmful plants.
- Processed wood – any untreated wood such as scraps from a woodworking project or scrap lumber are ideal.
- Misc. – nutshells, pits or other dry woody food waste is ideal
- Leaves or pine needles – use very sparingly and only fully dried
- No Nos – Any painted or treated (any kind of pressure treated) wood
Responsibly sourcing your feedstock is extremely important.
You are the custodian of all the sequestered carbon on your property (even the wood in your home). If any needs to be recycled on your watch, turn it into charcoal if you can and uncycle it. That’s what this is all about. Go here for more information on this topic
The first place to look is of course in your yard. You probably have a brush pile (or could have one if you didn’t get rid of it periodically). If not, start one and add to it any of the items in the list above.
When you’ve burned though your brush pile look into other sources:
- Your neighbor’s brush pile
- Wood scraps from local businesses
- Make a friend in the landscaping or tree service business
- Your local forest floor has plenty (make sure you have permission)
- “Road kill”
Assuming that you have sourced and gathered a sufficient amount of feedstock (see the section above) you can now begin to prepare it. I know, it’s tempting, especially for the first burn – “why don’t I just prep it as I need it while the fire is burning?”.
Don’t get caught in that trap. Before you know it you will find yourself looking for lost lop shears, rummaging through your pile for just the right stick, tossing aside more green wood than you expected and eventually trotting around your yard looking for strays. The demands of the burning process don’t give you much slack and the next layer is always and constantly only 3-5 minutes away.
This is supposed to be a relaxing, satisfying event and it certainly can be if you are properly prepped. To start out, you need the right tools. Here is a list for both gathering and prepping just about any kind of feedstock:
- Lop shears – the #1 tool for cutting up small branches. Get a good pair or two (for a helper).
- Hand pruners – for smaller stuff
- Small hand saw – for stuff the loppers can’t handle
- Small ax – for re-splitting thick pieces or small logs
- Small chain saw – I have a nice little cordless one for this kind of stuff.
- Splitting tools (wedge, hammer, large ax, slide hammer splitter) – for processing cord wood size logs
And don’t forget a good pair of work or gardening gloves. With all of these tools handy there isn’t much you can’t break down and burn in the CharCone.
After all the feedstock is cut, it helps to sort it before you use it or store it for a later burn. You will waste a lot of time rummaging around for just the right stick if you don’t. Sort by these factors:
- Length – you will need some pieces of equal length and thickness for the raft (actually, best to set aside the raft in a separate pile) and of course longer pieces toward the end.
- Thickness – try to separate 3 different thicknesses
- Dryness – put any green wood in a separate pile to use sparingly with dry
- Weight – lighter material such as leaves or grass stalks can be used for kindling or at the end of the burn
Taking the time to sort through your cuttings will pay off in the quality of your results and the overall experience of managing the fire. It will also give you a better sense of inventory demands for the next time.
Now that your feed stock is gathered, cut and sorted you don’t want it to get mucked up. Covering it with a tarp will protect it from weather and pesky critters (including family members). If it needs more seasoning, take the cover off on sunny days.
So that’s it. You are now ready to get the benefit of all your preparation. Go here for a guide on how make charcoal with the CharCone.