Homemade Coal

NoSmoke
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Post By: NoSmoke » Sat. Sep. 09, 2017 7:00 am

With Maine's tough marketing conditions for forestry products, I have a bunch of unmarketable wood kicking around. By kicking around I mean its the waste wood my truck drivers have picked over and decided would not make the cut for logs. About a third of it is White Pine and would be a pain to cut, split and stack, especially in small sections enough to burn in a pot bellied stove. Even if it would be an easy job, I am not so sure I would want to!

I was thinking, a dangerous proposition for sure, and doing a lot of research online regarding charcoal. If I took this waste wood, stacked it up with my log loader, then covered it with dirt with my bulldozer and lit it on fire, for a lot less work than what it would take to cut, split and move it, I could generate charcoal.

I got about 10 cord of the White Pine alone (probably 30 cords in hemlock, hardwood, and cedar in all) and from what I understand, that junk wood should produce about 4 tons of charcoal. Assuming charcoal is about the same heat equivalent of coal, that would be enough to heat my house for the winter.

If it worked out well, maybe I could cut some Eastern Hemlock in the ensuing years and convert that to charcoal? Right now I cannot even get rid of it and my forest is comprised of 28% of it. Making a form of homemade coal might be the best of both worlds; using wood I have, but burning it like coal? If I had a massive coal mine we would not be having this conversation, but unfortunately all I have is a few hundred acres of worthless forest. If I could make my own homemade coal for relatively little work, it seems like the best of a bad situation.


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freetown fred
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Post By: freetown fred » Sat. Sep. 09, 2017 7:47 am

Don't mess with Mother Nature NS! She tends to come around & bite ya in the ass! Seriously questioning the --charcoal being equivalent to coal heat wise--be prepared to do a BUNCH of tending I'd think.

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coaledsweat
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Post By: coaledsweat » Sat. Sep. 09, 2017 8:19 am

Sell the wood and buy coal. :D

Rob R.
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Post By: Rob R. » Sat. Sep. 09, 2017 8:26 am

Well, if you already have a large amount of scrap wood, it is worth a shot. I would not think it is worth the effort, but that is up to you. If it were me I would have already pushed it into a pile and torched it.

As for all the standing timber you have, I would just manage the forest and wait for the market to change. There is no telling what the market will be even a few years from now. I'm guessing the devastation caused by the hurricanes is going to cause a short term bump in the demand for lumber, but we will see.

Considering how much wood you have available, have you considered getting a real wood stove? You would burn considerably less wood in a modern wood stove than an old pot belly or that New Yorker.

NoSmoke
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Post By: NoSmoke » Sat. Sep. 09, 2017 8:41 am

I had a big woodstove last year, but rather dislike firewood. Part of it has to do with marketing; the only paper mills that are taking wood are taking hardwood. A paper mill near me is putting in a new paper machine now, but it will consume hardwood. There is another paper mill that is taking softwood, but by all reports it will be closing soon. In fact we expect that one, and another to close any day.

Ultimately I am thinking about building a firewood chunker, but not sure if I can fabricate it for this year or not. It is September. I KNOW I cannot cut up, and then split that pine log scrap into sizes enough to stuff into my woodstove, but swing it into a pile then cover it with dirt with my bulldozer, might take only a day. It will have to burn for awhile, but I am okay with that. I am just wondering if my homemade coal might work, at least for this year? I know anthracite replaced charcoal in blast furnaces, but a chainsaw and bulldozer is far different then an axe and shovel too. Just wondering.

Seems like a waste to just bulldoze the pine into a pile and burn it in a massive bonfire when I need heat in my house. I am just curious if it would be possible to convert it into something more usable?

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warminmn
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Post By: warminmn » Sat. Sep. 09, 2017 9:04 am

Its a different world where i live, but most logs that arent made into good lumber are cut up for making pallets. There are a few manufacturers around me including Amish. We dont have huge amounts of pine here so I am unsure how that would work. Just a thought.

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Post By: franco b » Sat. Sep. 09, 2017 10:50 am

While charcoal does burn much like coal, half its heat value per pound has been removed in the conversion to charcoal. Al;so there still remains the problem of cutting and splitting into stove size pieces.

NoSmoke
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Post By: NoSmoke » Sun. Sep. 10, 2017 5:35 pm

Well my domestic supervisor (wife) has informed me that this late in the season I should spend my time cutting firewood and not fussing around with unproven methods. Jeesh...I thought that was what retirement was for, but atlas she is the Domestic Supervisor and we all know how their authority should be adhered to with strict allegiance. I have not always done that in the past and visited the courthouse a few times because of it. (Not with her,but the ones that proceeded her).

Someone did mention converting all my waste wood, which would be tops, limbs, dead fall and of course tree species that have no commercial value into biochar. On my farm I cannot use biochar because my organic matter is already high and my micro-nutrients are above optimum levels. But I could sell it. There are quite a few organic farmers here so maybe those types of people would buy it? There is just the problem of figuring out a quick and easy way to convert the wood to biochar/charcoal. It would be great to turn a waste wood intosomething productive.


NoSmoke
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Post By: NoSmoke » Mon. Oct. 02, 2017 4:45 pm

Well I have still been moving forward with this idea.

After going down a two week rabbit trail of biochar I realized that will not work. I live in the organic capital of the world, and the organic farmers would buy it, BUT biochar is comprised of 95% organic matter and only 5% biochar. That is all great, but my farm is inverted of that. In other words I got unlimited amounts of wood that could be churned into charcoal, but only so many tons of manure. That manure has more value to me being spread as fertilizer.

Furthermore it makes me wonder if biochar is just a hoax anyway. They say an acre needs 15 tons of biochar, well it seems to this farm boy that if a person spread that much product, and 95% of it was organic matter (14 tons), it would be the organic matter doing the work, and not necessarily the charcoal.

So that is a VERY long way of saying I am back to converting this into homemade coal: charcoal.

I dug around the internet and found a charcoal design called pit charcoal making instead of making mounds. The idea is sound, you start a fire in a sloped pit. As the coal bed builds, you add layers of wood. The fresh wood is burned up, taking with it the oxygen so the charcoal bed stays charcoal. With each layer the charcoal depth builds.

The guy that I watched says it works great, but only up to 3-4 inch wood. That is no good, some of my wood is 12-24 inches. But here is the thing, the guy used water to cool the charcoal bed down to stop the burn process and keep charcoal charcoal instead of continuing to burn into ash. In this way the water stopped the fire by taking away the heat. I wonder if I smothered the fire with dirt if the trapped heat would continue to dry, and continue to convert the wood to charcoal? It would do that because covering the coal bed with dirt would eliminate oxygen for combustion not cool it.

Well it does not take much of an excuse to get me to fire up the bulldozer, so today I got moving forward on this. I dug a sloped pit about 8 feet wide and 16 feet long over 4 feet deep. That is over 4 cords of wood. At 4000 pounds a cord, with a 50% conversion rate, I should get about 4 tons of charcoal. Since charcoal has approximately 12,000 btu's per pound, just slightly under anthracite coal at 15,000 btu's per pound, it would be like having 3 tons of coal...theoretically anyway. We'll see...

Bonfire anyone?

franco b
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Post By: franco b » Mon. Oct. 02, 2017 5:19 pm

I would try to find out how Cowboy charcoal is made. With such large amounts you contemplate, handling on a commercial scale is crucial. It has to be fast and easy with power equipment, both loading and unloading, as well as some sort of packaging, whether by bag or truckload.

I think traditional methods are probably very wasteful. I live in what was once iron country and at one time the land was pretty much clearcut to make charcoal. A big mound of wood covered with dirt and many fires set around the edges. It then was up to the charcoal maker's judgement to open up breathing holes here and there to control the burn over many days.

Experiment with a small piece of wood in your oven to determine temperatures and time. To do this on a commercial scale you need more than by guess and by gosh. The gas released should also be captured ideally.

NoSmoke
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Post By: NoSmoke » Mon. Oct. 09, 2017 7:08 am

I actually made a little charcoal yesterday. It was raining out, a Sunday, and what better thing to do then start a bon fire and chunk in some wood?

In the end I kept my experiment smaller than I originally wanted, I built my charcoal pit big enough to hold 4 cord, but ended up only burning 2 cord. I used 50/50 Red Spruce and White Pine just because I had a ton of it kicking around. The fire burned hotter and faster than I expected, so I was busy chunking up wood and tossing it in as fast as it burnt down. When it was really burning I brought in my bulldozer and covered the pile with soil to snuff out the flames. I am hoping with soil over it the pile will retain its heat, continue to char and net me more charcoal from the wood. Sadly my wood was pretty big; tops of trees that did not make the grade for logs. I grabbed my smallest ones, but they still were 8-18 inches in diameter.

So far I am pretty happy with the process. The time constraints have not been that bad, so really it is just a matter of a couple of things. First, how much volume 2 cords of wood nets me. I figure I will get around 3/4 of a cord of charcoal. That is assuming a 50% conversion rate, and then some losses from getting it out from under the soil. The second thing is, how the quality will be. I think I will see how this batch burns in my wood stove.

Anyway, this is how it breaks down time wise:

30 Minutes to dig the hole
2 Hours to cut the wood
2 Hours to burn the wood
15 minutes to cover the pile (2:45)

That is comparable to producing 3/4 of a cord of firewood, felled, limbed, hauled out, bucked and split. Both need/would need to be moved to the woodshed/collier shed.

k-2
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Post By: k-2 » Mon. Oct. 09, 2017 10:16 am

Get an EPA approved wood stove and dont look back. I have both hot air and hot water coal stoves ,and several wood stoves.
While the coal stoves "do the job" the wood stoves are so much nicer ,looks wise and create an ambiance a coal stove cannot match. No way would i have a coal stove in my living room ,but no living room is complete without a wood stove. Also wood is much easier to use without eletricity. So no need for a generator.

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windyhill4.2
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Post By: windyhill4.2 » Mon. Oct. 09, 2017 11:27 am

k-2 wrote:
Mon. Oct. 09, 2017 10:16 am
Get an EPA approved wood stove and dont look back. I have both hot air and hot water coal stoves ,and several wood stoves.
While the coal stoves "do the job" the wood stoves are so much nicer ,looks wise and create an ambiance a coal stove cannot match. No way would i have a coal stove in my living room ,but no living room is complete without a wood stove. Also wood is much easier to use without eletricity. So no need for a generator.
For someone with no hand fed stove listed in your profile, you sure spout off a bunch of nonsense !!
I will agree that it is smart to buy a stove designed for the fuel that you plan to burn..
I personally like my coal stove sitting in my living room, it is a far better choice for a living room than is a wood stove ! Coal is much cleaner than wood,much less tending of the coal stove & MUCH more even heat with coal.
Wood is much easier to use without electricity ?????????? REALLY ??????
My coal stove needs no electric to radiate the bone warming heat into the room.No need for a generator here.
Wood does have a better smell when burning...
Ambiance..... Wood has pretty flames... depending on the wood being burnt..

Coal puts off beautiful blue flames that wood cannot match.
Coal is so much less work than wood..
I heated with wood for 15 yrs., 7 of those yrs at 30 full cords per yr.

I do agree with the idea of buying a wood stove to burn the wood rather than fooling around with burying it with dirt to dig up later.

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Homesteader
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Post By: Homesteader » Mon. Oct. 09, 2017 12:34 pm

+1 WH
I've also burnt wood for 30 some yrs. with the stove in the living rm. Changed to coal last year and couldn't be happier. Steady warmth and the blue ladies can't be beat.

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Pauliewog
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Post By: Pauliewog » Mon. Oct. 09, 2017 6:47 pm

k-2 wrote:
Mon. Oct. 09, 2017 10:16 am
Get an EPA approved wood stove and dont look back. I have both hot air and hot water coal stoves ,and several wood stoves.
While the coal stoves "do the job" the wood stoves are so much nicer ,looks wise and create an ambiance a coal stove cannot match. No way would i have a coal stove in my living room ,but no living room is complete without a wood stove. Also wood is much easier to use without eletricity. So no need for a generator.
I'm sure other members are as curious as I am to see some pictures of your Beautiful living room wood stove.

I'm confident it will put my ugly coal stoves to shame as well as some of our other members but I think it's only fair to post some pictures for comparison.
The first is my living room coal stove and the second is in my man cave.

PS. No generator required for either stove but sadly, I do have to spend 5 minutes a day tending them every 12 or 14 hours.

Paulie
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