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Make Your Own Charcoal Briquettes

Updated on January 25, 2013

A Charcoal Kiln, Making Charcoal From Trash

Bagging those lawn clippings yet? Piles of newspapers and cardboard boxes? Limbs and brush? The kids bringing home way too many art and assignment papers? Is your family throwing away too much paper? Tired of not getting paid for all of that recycling?

Now, do you cook out? Do you get tired of paying the high prices for those charcoal briquettes or propane for your grill? Tired of everybody talking about how wasteful and carbon negative your monster natural gas grill is? Does the lighter fluid smell make you nauseous? Would you cook out more if you had a "green" way to do it?

How about this: Needing so many leaves that you start needing your neighbors piles. Going by the dumpsters of grocery stores to take all of their cardboard before the trash truck gets there (Be careful with this one! Most communities now have dumpster diving laws, and in many places it is a felony!). Paying for an ad for all the old phone books and Sears catalogs you can get. Dropping by all of the factories and warehouse stores you can think of to pick up pallets and wood wire reels. You start looking for dead trees to cut down in your neighborhood.

Why? To make your own charcoal briquettes. It's an easy process that with some innovation can be even easier. Add to that, you could actually be charging other people for this product in your neighborhood!

Just how green can you be? Making something useful out of everyone's trash?

Read on for further information on how to build your own and possibly add yet another profit stream if not just cheapen your own expenses.

Photo courtesy of Shelly and Kenn Kiser @

retort for large batches of charcoal
retort for large batches of charcoal

The Best Home Brew Charcoal Briquette Method Found Yet

And make it from tree trimmings and old shipping pallets!

According to how Daniel O'Connor describes it, charcoal making is slow but easy work. There are two ways to make charcoal direct and indirect. The direct method involves setting a pile of wood on fire and controlling the air intake in order to char the wood and not burn it into ash, e.g. by covering the pile with dirt and sod. While the indirect or retort method involves cooking the wood with an outside energy source to drive off the volatile gases and char the wood. The indirect method usually yields more charcoal for a given amount of wood. Even though an outside energy source (a fire) is needed in the beginning, the process can be made self sustaining after a short time.

The expelled volatiles can be distilled to produce products like turpentine and wood alcohol, which was done prior to the petrochemicals industry. Or the volatile gases can be diverted to make the process self sustaining.

It is simple in concept and execution. The wood is heated until it starts giving off gas. Route this gas back under the container and ignite it. Once this is happening, the wood gives off enough energy to 'cook' or char itself. When all the gas is driven off the the fire dies out and charcoal remains.

A pipe from the top, in the above contraption, is routed under the barrel. The pipe below the drum has 1/2" holes drilled every 6" along either side of it. Under the above two barrels, loaded with cut wood and sealed, a large fire underneath takes 45 minutes before the emission of volatiles begins.

As the gas yield starts, flames begin expelling from of the holes drilled in the bottom pipes. In about 5 or 10 minutes the flames become like pressurized gas and if the drums are enclosed (e.g. within concrete blocks) they will shoot out the holes, hit the side walls and travel up and around the barrels. The fire dies on its own after about 2 hours, and the charcoal is let cool down overnight.

Find complete instructions from Mr. O'Conner until I can get my plans drawn up for download.

Stack 'em In
Stack 'em In

An Extreme Small Scale Version, Charcoal Briquetts Right In Your Campground Bon Fire

A smaller version of the monster above

While searching for a set of plans for one of my visitors I ran across a new posting in some of the forums by a fellow who built a charcoal furnace from a chocolate tin. You know a small tin about the size that the Christmas Danish Cookies come in?

Punch five holes about 1/2 inch in diameter in the lid. Chop your small sapling into sizes that will stand in the tin; floor to lid. Arth from BushcraftUK used Ash because of its low water content, it cooks out quicker. Stack them standing up but don't compress them too much. Set the tin on the campfire until the large flame that comes out of the five small holes burns out, then smother the lid by pulling it from the campfire and flipping it upside down on the grass or sand. Let stand for about an hour or so, until tin is cool to the touch.

Now open the tin and use your easy lighting charcoal. This charcoal will not need any lighting fluid and it will be enough for a cook out for over 10 people as well as lasting much longer.

So don't throw away your old tins! I can see this method being used as a survival method in cold environments!

Thanks to Arth from the BushcraftUK Forum for the cool idea and the awesome pics!

Home Energy to easy way
Home Energy to easy way

Other Uses For A Charcoal Furnace

You should know me by now.

I'm not just going to point to someone's work and say that's it.

Now with me, I'm not just thinking the cooking charcoal here. I'm an artist too. Some refinements to the way you would combine the ingredients could extrude some really nice charcoal pencils. Or just char up a good batch of grapevine. Again, you could manufacture these with just limited knowledge of making pencil barrels.

Also, there is the heating perspective. Both the charcoal, and the charring process for the leaves, paper, etc., could be used to heat a home during the winter months. Which incidentally is just after we have collected all of those leaves from our lawn, unless you're like me and allow the leaves to insulate the ground from the winter mix.

Besides, I'm also not just talking about leaves here. Just about any bio mass will work. Thailand and several other countries use sugar cane refuse for charcoal production. Island nations use coconut shell. Like I said, wood chips, paper, cardboard, corn cobs/stalks, lawn trimmings, hedge trimmings, tree trimmings, old pallets, and even sawdust can be used in this process.

I like the simplicity of the Indian kiln, but I think that is still wasteful. A properly aerated kiln about the size of a gallon paint can is being used in the youtube video below, to generate 10,000 BTU of heat or the gas can be collected as a methane/HHO/carbon monoxide gas combination which can be used to even power propane prepped vehicles. You can use the charred ash for your charcoal. You can use the heat in the kiln to heat your house/garage/shop. And after you have used the charcoal you can use the ash in your compost to stabilize your fertilizer's pH content. How's that for being Green?

Oh, and - If you were to use the Indian kiln you would have the typical smoke. If you used the kiln from the youtube video, the smoke is negligible therefore cutting down emissions that much more.

Image Courtesy

A Kiln Retort
A Kiln Retort

India's Answer For Using Leaves To Make Charcoal Briquettes

An organization in India ARTI has written this article:

"Urban solid waste consisting of leaf litter, trimmings of trees and hedges, and paper waste can be charred in this kiln. The kiln consists of a steel barrel provided with a chimney. The barrel is filled with leaf litter. The leaves are ignited from the top and then the chimney is placed over the barrel. The leaves are allowed to burn for about 20 minutes, after which the chimney is lifted off and water is sprinkled on the burning leaves to extinguish the fire. Both the chimney and the barrel have been provided with handles for convenience of operation.

After extinguishing the fire, the barrel is upturned on the ground and more water is sprinkled on the char to extinguish it completely. The emptied barrel is filled again with fresh leaves to start the process all over again.

Each batch takes a load of about 6 kg leaves and it yields about 2 kg of char per batch. In a day, one operator can complete 16 batches to obtain about 30 kg of char.

The char is mixed with starch paste (made from waste cereal flour) and extruded into briquettes. If one person in the family operates the kiln and another operates the hand operator extruder-type briquetting machine, the family can make daily about 35 kg briquettes.

The briquettes are dried in sun. The 30 kg char with the added weight of about 3 kg cereal flour, ultimately yields about 35 kg briquettes. The briquettes can be sold as domestic fuel. Selling a good portion of the product can be a decent income.

Do's and Dont's:

- The leaves should not be packed tightly into the barrel, but filled only loosely.

- The barrel has holes at the bottom to let air into it. Therefore, the barrel should be placed on three bricks to avoid blockage of the air holes.

- Keep a water filled hose can handy to sprinkle water on the char and also to sprinkle water on any other objects that may inadvertently catch fire.

- Char should be fed into the extruder with the help of a large ladle. Do not feed the extruder with hands because fingers may get crushed if they come in contact with the worm screw in the extruder.

Wood Powered Alcohol Furnace - Using the same method of wood alcohol as our first featured furnace

Handbook of Plant-Based Biofuels
Handbook of Plant-Based Biofuels

Explores Worldwide Trends Involving the Production and Use of Biofuels

With the depletion of oil resources as well as the negative environmental impact of fossil fuels, there is much interest in alternative energy sources. Focusing on some of the most important alternate energy sources for the foreseeable future, the Handbook of Plant-Based Biofuels provides state-of-the-art information on the status of the production of biofuels, in particular, bioethanol and biodiesel. 312 pages

A Homemade Extruder
A Homemade Extruder

You've Learned About Making Charcoal From Leaves

Now comes the briquettes!

You've charred the carbon based refuse. And unless you used the very top process with solid chunks of wood and or old shipping pallets, have a powdered char product. You have added the flour/waste flour/cereal flour (somebody tell me if the aromatic saw dust [hickory, mesquite, cherry, apple] works, I haven't had a chance to try it yet). Now you don't want to kill all of your savings by buying some huge 3-phase monster that you might get an arm chewed off in...

How about a home-built extruder? "You can do that?" Sure! An MIT student in 2002 used it as her thesis project.

The first attempts could be used on an on going basis if you weren't using them much. They were based on a meat grinder type system, built of wood and PVC plastic, and were crank powered by hand.

Her final assembly looked more like a cement mixer. A funnel emptied to the screw and extruding tube. The extruding screw was hand powered by turning a large wheel, built much like a bicycle sprocket assembly. A simple machine that produced a long term, and low cost method to making your own charcoal briquettes. (You can still download the movies and presentation PDF at, Her thesis was based on bringing new fuel ideas to third world countries.

Then, drop your briquettes in the sun, or even better use a solar oven to dehumidify them.

Depending on your mix, you should have some clean burning, long lasting, briquettes, that you could soak in a hardwood pulp (saw dust slurry of hickory, mesquite, or other aromatic hardwood) and re-dry for that smoked flavor. Or soak them in mild potpourri solutions (my favorite: cinnamon and eucalyptus) for a very cheap take on air-fresheners, which also can help clean the air, but that's another lens all-together.

Or you can do what the commercial guys do and soak them in lighter fluid, but you would be surprised to find out that the product you have created burns and lights very easily. Besides, we all hate that taste of lighter fluid in our food when we rush our cook-out don't we?

This is your chance to ask me questions or answer some of mine. Are you doing this? What does your equipment look like? How easy was it to set up? How much did yours cost?

I want to make this a constantly changing piece that helps everybody. So other questions that you could answer for me would be: Is your set up on the porch or veranda on an apartment building? Do you have a monster operation on some acreage?

Help me out and I will credit you with the writing!

Or do you know of a blog or website that specializes in this type of sustainable living? Please don't hesitate to let me know!

Do You Make Your Own Charcoal Briquettes? - Or do you have a question for me?

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    • sirkeystone lm profile image

      sirkeystone lm 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Typically, I make it into a paste very close to the consistency of dry wall mud. Paper makes a good source of extra burning fuel. I let mine soak in an old deep freezer for a while then skim it out and add it during the exuding phase when I'm making up my paste. Thanks for the comment and I hope I helped.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      i'm using leaves for my briquette. What is the ratio of water and briquette? Can I add papers in it? thanks.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I recently ordered a charcoal from Osas Charcoal service it was really nice and so fast so if anyone is in need here is there email they price are also cheaper than any other that i have ordered from other charcoal seller.

    • profile image

      RuralFloridaLiving 5 years ago

      Interesting. I never knew abou this before. Very helpful.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      i use a pvc pipe for the mold which i drilled holes in the side to let the water escape while its press down with a small hydraulic jack use on cars to change tires

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 5 years ago

      I love this idea!

    • profile image

      Xanderkadz 5 years ago

      Hmmm... I could use this to supply the charcoal i use in my foundry cutting back costs even further! Thank you very much for posting!

    • sirkeystone lm profile image

      sirkeystone lm 6 years ago

      @anonymous: I sure don't. I need to make some up though don't I. It's a relatively simple process if you have the medium to hard mechanical aptitude to pull it off. Just considering doing the project means that you are probably qualified. Most people won't dive in to a project like this, if they aren't interested in the outcome. And sadly most people would rather just pay the gas bill every month...

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I have a question. I want to make an extruder, but I don't have any idea how to go about it. Do you have blue prints or schematics that I could use or adapt?

    • profile image

      nicehoe2 6 years ago

      Great gift ideas and nice lens!


      chimney pipe

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      why not grill with a retort and garden with the charcoal?

    • HeatherTodd1 profile image

      HeatherTodd1 6 years ago

      Great post.Thanks

    • profile image

      2jesters 6 years ago

      Interesting lens. Thanks for the info.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      your charcoal briquets are good

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Fascinating. I didn't know you could make your own charcoal briquettes, wowzers! I've already lensrolled and am about to feature on my two grilling lenses, Grilling Ideas on How to Grill Burgers and How To Grill Perfect Burgers FM, thank you!

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 6 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Wonderful idea.

    • EmmaCooper LM profile image

      EmmaCooper LM 7 years ago

      What an interesting idea :)

    • sirkeystone lm profile image

      sirkeystone lm 7 years ago

      @anonymous: The starch and water is a good start, but I have to ask, was the pit-charcoal too far past is actual burn point? I need to add a troubleshooting page to this lens... this seems to be my most asked question.

      If your char is too far burned, the fuel has been used up. They won't burn reliably without using a lighting fuel of some sort, and then you have defeated your purpose. The char is only "cooked" not burned. It is actually best if the material being used for char isn't actually burning, but cooking like you would accidentally burn a steak. You are removing all of the impurities and oils from the char-fuel so that it can burn more effectively.

      I hope this helped.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      i tried making briquettes from pit-charcoal using cassava starch & water as binder, sun dried them for a week but they will not light up properly.. what could be wrong? .

    • dedolex profile image

      dedolex 7 years ago

      Great lens! Good usable information! Nice!

    • photofk3 profile image

      photofk3 7 years ago

      Very useful lens, I didn't know I could make charcoal from the leaves. Thank you.

    • sirkeystone lm profile image

      sirkeystone lm 7 years ago

      @anonymous: Thanks for the questions, Mike. I'll try to answer them to the best of my ability.

      First, with your corn stalks, how long did you let them burn? Corn stalks may not be dense enough on their own to sustain much of a fire, unless they burn completely up. They would work well in a light char then mix with a bonding agent like old flour or cereal mash. I have actually found wet oatmeal to do wonders.

      Not lighting, makes me think that being dry was not the problem. They may have been past just being char and were headed for the ash state already. The goal is to evaporate the oils and gases, but not to burn them. More ideally to "cook" them.

      The best thing that I have around my part of the country is oak. It is a dense wood. Small branches can be cut in almost perfect shapes, thus not needing the extruder. The leaves would be viable, and probably the corn stalks too, but they would have to be carefully charred because of the less dense mass. Ash works well as a bonding agent when wet, so it would be tempting to use, but ash has already changed it's state. All of the usable product has already been burned.

      The best thing ash is for in my opinion is bringing up the pH of soil in a garden. But it also make some interesting bricks too...

      All in all I would guess that would be your problem, and it shouldn't take more than a few days to dry them properly. Over kill doesn't hurt here, but not really neccesary.

      Also, briquettes should only burn for a short while. The smoldering is what releases the heat, just like in a Barbecue Grill, you want them to be a glowing white before you put on the meat. In the heat release stage I have seen them last more than thirty minutes. It would be easy to use the pellet stove technology to make a stove that could burn for days on a small hopper full of briquettes.

      I hope this answers you questions and feel free to shoot me any others!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      How well does the charcoal burn?

      I read your story on how to make Charcoal from trash.

      >I did the same using the method out lined by the MIT group. I used corn stalks and was able to form about 20 charcoal briquettes with the simple press that they talked about.


      >My question has to do with burning them.

      >I let the charcoal briquettes dry for about a week using my home furnace and yes, they were very dry. They seem like they would work BUT.... when I put them in my home fireplace and tried to light them, they would not light. Then I built a small fire first and then put two of them on top of the fire, but they still would not burn..... Then I built a larger fire and put two new charcoal briquettes on top of it, I can see them turning red, but it didn't seem like they were burning enough to sustain it own energy heat source. I left the area for about 5 mins and came back and seen that the two briquettes were all ash.


      >Q: What am I doing wrong?

      >Q: How long should two briquettes burn in an open fire?

      >Q: Should I have tested them a different way?

    • profile image

      jgelien 7 years ago

      I am excited to show my husband this lens. I think he will certainly want to make his own briquettes. He hates the store bought ones because of the chemicals needed to light them. Thanks for the great information.

    • fromamericateel profile image

      fromamericateel 7 years ago

      I like that leaf barrel one... I stopped using commercial briquettes because of the light fluid flavoring all of the food. I just stack sagebrush in and let it burn down, then cook over the coals. But then my nearest neighbor is five miles away and over several hills. But if the wind is blowing I can't cook outside, using sagebrush. I will have to think about this and consider making my own briquettes. Thank you

    • sirkeystone lm profile image

      sirkeystone lm 7 years ago

      @anonymous: I'm hoping you opted to get the email when I replied... Right now no-one is making any actual plans. I am in the process of making an ebook of these plans when I can get everything lined up.

      While there are a lot of commercial machines that do this job, my favorite is still going to be the first one highlighted here, and currently he hasn't offered the plans yet either. It is however a fairly intuitive process once you understand how it works. And if you use Mt O'Connor's method then you won't need the extruder because the larger chunks will stay that way.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I am interested in plans and more information about making charcoal with the best home brew charcoal method found yet. Please let me know where I might find plans, etc.

    • sirkeystone lm profile image

      sirkeystone lm 7 years ago

      @AuthorNormaBudden: Thanks you for the feature! I am headed there to see it now.

    • AuthorNormaBudden profile image

      AuthorNormaBudden 7 years ago

      Sorry I can't help with your questions...

      However, I featured you in my Purple Star Series, which can be found by following Page 2 of Even More Purple Star Awards. If you have additional purple stars, please feel free to let me know and I will add them to your feature. Thanks.

    • GypsyPirate LM profile image

      GypsyPirate LM 8 years ago

      I just love the ideas you're giving here. Not sure I could accomplish it by myself, but it will be a great conversation starter if nothing else! Nicely done!