Jump to content


Down and Dirty Charcoal Retort

Recommended Posts

A drum, a few pieces of pipe and fittings, some of my own wood and a fire = lump charcoal.  

I purchased a drum for $15.  Then put together some on hand 3/4" black iron pipe.  Drilled some holes (1/8" at 2") in the bottom piece to act like a burner.

I stacked up a few concrete 4" blocks to serve as a stand.  Filled the drum with hard wood cut to length about the size of my arm, not stacked too tight.  Sealed up the drum and put it on the block stand.   Then built the fire using litter collected over the winter and scrape from splitting and stacking.  I kept the fire hot for about 6 hours leaning long pieces on end against the drum and pushing coals underneath as it burned.   The finished pics are from the next morning after everything cooled.

At first mostly steam is exhausted out the burner holes (and some around the poorly fitting lid).  After the wood reaches about 500 degrees F the pyrolitic process starts and the off gassing ignites (Methane) causing the burner to assist the heating.  

Some stack blocks to make more of a kiln conserving the heat and requiring a lot less wood to burn or use a double drum method.  Personally, I have more wood than blocks (lots of downed wood) and this is easier to remove from the fire ring when finished, like the title says, down and dirty.  If you don't have a lot of wood to burn the kiln approach may be a better route for you.   

Now I have homegrown lump on hand, no chance added chemicals and the price is only a little time in a fire I'm going to have anyway.  I also use my own smoker chips from trees on the property. The volume of finished charcoal is about half of the wood you started with.  There is something enjoyable to me being self sufficient when possible and prefer DIY when I can.  Not for everyone, I know.  Also, not everyone has the property to safely have a fire this size.

Initially, I thought I would need to block the burner pipe to prevent oxygen from being sucked back in during cooling.  That is why there is a tee instead of an elbow near the bung.  After seeing the results I don't think it's needed.  I am trying to come up with a way to get a better lid seal to push more gas out the burner instead of burning around the lip.  Some sort of high temp gasket like used on a wood stove door?  All and all not too bad and easy.   Now to come up with a good way to store the charcoal.. :)

For more information search charcoal retort.  



Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now