How to Make Charcoal

How to Make Charcoal. When you make your own charcoal, you know where it came from and that it's chemical-free, unlike processed briquettes. This is important because what you cook with becomes a part of what you eat.

Although the process is time-consuming, you save money while you clear your yard of branches that would otherwise go to waste. It's easy to make aromatic charcoal with hardwoods like hickory, maple and fruit.

Prepare the Drum

  1. Make five 2-inch holes in one end of the drum with a drill, saber saw or chisel.

  2. Remove the other end of the drum completely, and hammer the cut edge to form a rounded lip.

  3. Save the cut off end for an airtight lid.

  4. Place the drum, open end up, on three bricks to allow air to flow through the holes in the base.

Start the Fire

  1. Place paper and kindling wood into the bottom of the drum and light with matches. Wait for paper and kindling to catch fire and burn steadily.

  2. Sort branches and wood by size. Add to the drum. Start with the largest pieces first because the wood at the bottom of the drum will burn for the longest amount of time.

  3. Add the rest of the wood, and load loosely to allow air spaces. Fill the drum completely.

Restrict the Airflow

  1. Pack soil around the base of the drum when the fire is hot and well established. Leave a 4-inch gap in the center under the drum for airflow.

  2. Place the lid on top and leave a small opening at one side for smoke to exit.

  3. Watch for dense, white smoke that indicates the formation of charcoal.

  4. Bang the drum to compact the wood when you notice that the amount of white smoke has diminished to make sure that the wood burns evenly.

Stop the Burn

  1. Add soil to the gap in the base when the thick, white smoke changes to thin, blue smoke.

  2. Pack the lid down firmly to make it airtight. Pack soil in any open spaces in the lid.

  3. Wait 3 to 4 hours for the burning to stop.

Package the Charcoal

  1. Cool for at least 24 hours.

  2. Tip the drum over and empty the charcoal onto a metal sheet.

  3. Store your charcoal in trash bags or large plastic tubs.

  4. Tip

    Check local burning regulations with your fire department. Keep a hose or large bucket of water nearby in case the fire gets out of hand. Hot, humid weather provides the best conditions for charcoal production.


    This activity is for adults or older children with close adult supervision. Never use pressure-treated wood. When burned, it emits toxic gases that could kill you.