Monday, 16 January 2006


Well there you go. Another week over and a new one just begun, imagine all the workers stopping for a bit. You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us and we can all pop off home a bit early. In memory of J Lennon.

Charcoal, it’s not coal and it’s not char but it is possible to make from the comfort of your very own home, if your home is in the woods that is. Before going to bed I separate all the bits of the wood that have been on the fire so that they will go out. I guess I could leave the fire to burn itself out but that seems to be a bit of a waste of wood. The branches burn when they are together but when separated they seem to loose interest and smoulder for a bit before going out. There is no chance of this starting a forest fire because at this time of year everything is far too wet, some days quite a lot of encouragement is required to get anything to burn at all. This leaves all the embers behind and they give off a huge amount of heat and I used to leave them to burn themselves out, of late though I have taken to burying them in the ash from the previous fires in the hope that this would starve them of oxygen and so I would be left with charcoal. This kind of works, the next evening there are always a few nugget of charcoal to be found in the ashes, not as many as there were buried embers but a few.

These bits of charcoal are useful, along with the part burned sticks, in starting the next fire going as they catch fire a lot more easily than un-burnt wood. Yesterday had a fire in two parts; the right hand side was burning up with a lot of flames and throwing off enough heat to keep me warm whilst the left was much calmer. On the left I let the flames die down until there were just embers between two long logs, the far end of the logs was in the blaze on the right and where getting nicely dried out before getting fed in further as their ends burnt away. I rested the cooling rack across the two logs over the embers and barbequed chestnuts, chicory and a piece of chicken. If I could have found anything else beginning with a ch I would have barbequed that as well, sadly I had no chocolate so I had to make do without. After a while the embers started getting a bit low and the chicken wasn’t cooked and it occurred to me that I could use some of my stash of home made charcoal (feel free to nominate me for a Nobel Prize in reasoning). It worked! I don’t know why I was so surprised, probably past experience had taught me to prepare for failure. It was hugely satisfying to have made something and for it to work.

The next task I have set myself is to light fire using a bit of stick and a bit of wood, you turn the stick around and the bit of wood starts to glow and then you use that to light a fire – simple. I have cheated a bit and have sent off for a hand-drill kit which I will learn how to use and figure out how it works before making one for myself.


Penny Munn said...

It is very interesting, how wood fires work. They get very hot in the middle provided the seat of the fire is sheltered by unburned wood as you describe. Because wood is such an effective insulator (keeping heat out as well as cold) the logs can be red hot on the inside and cool enough to touch on the outside. I've never really understood what charcoal is for. I mean, why half burn the wood and then set fire to it again once it's cooled? I would appreciate more explanation, since you seem to understand what it's all about.

Hugh Sawyer said...

Charcoal burns hotter and cleaner than wood, I believe that it is basically carbon with all the impurities taken out. The impurities leave as smoke during the process of making the charcoal, first white smoke = water then as blue / grey smoke phenols burning off then finally yellow smoke = the tar being burned off. What you are left with doesn't give off smoke and so is better to cook with as it will not leave a horrile residue on the food.

See for how to make charcoal at home. I understand that a lot of Charcoal, when made in managed woods, is carbon neutral, the carbon released is about the same as the carbon captured in growing the next year's harvest.

hunter said...

great blog. i have been trying to grill chestnuts and stumbled onto your sight. i can't seem to cook them for the right amount of time! to long-burned or dry, not enough time-crunchie. i have been suprised that others aren't cooking chestnuts on their barbeques.
how long have you been out there? how do you hook up to the web and recharge your laptop? this is all very cool. stay dry! hunter