Bamboo Charcoal Making


Some hippie stuff from a long-haired country boy and scraggly pirate:

Before I get into the pictorial I’d like to talk about the blacksmith and the environment. I’m not an environmentalist per-say, I try to be environmentally aware though. Nature and I get along; and I’d very much so like to think of her being able to take care of my great-grandchildren. Every day most everyone on the planet is burning something in some direct or indirect way. Us metal working folks probably gobble up a bit more than our fair share of the pie. Unless you can acquire an induction heating method and sustainable green energy source to power it then you’re probably destroying our ozone. Bad blacksmith, bad! Manbearpig is hiding under your bed right now waiting for you. In all seriousness though it’s something to consider. I’ve been using a lot of coal recently because of its price. Coal releases an awful lot of co2, from the massive amounts of fuel used to mine and transport it all the way to the end-user. Industrial coal use is regulated with emission standards, but I regularly send pillars of soot aloft. It isn’t a renewable resource so I’m of the opinion it should be used sparingly and in the most efficient way possible. Natural gas is more expensive but much easier to use and far better for the environment than coal, but it’s infrastructure still promotes the burning of fossil fuels and it’s expensive. Neither source of BTUs directly prevents co2 sequestering like harvesting trees solely for charcoal.
Bamboo is a very quickly maturing plant, that grows densely. I can harvest it by hand locally making it very co2 efficient for me. In the grand scheme of things it’s a drop in the bucket. But the overwhelming size of a problem shouldn’t be discouraging. It should be encouraging. At the risk of making an unfair parallel… I’d like to know how the same mentality would be applied to first aid… I’d hate to show up at the hospital with a huge open gash only to see the doctors focus on patients with small scratches because my problem was too severe.

Bamboo is a great plant to have around. I’ve made cane fishing poles, tomato plant supports, trellises and our pear tree even gets a helping hand with the weight of its yield. When I was a child bows, arrows and tents were what bamboo was made for! It’s speedy growth can be a blessing or a curse, our little bamboo forest has easily more than quadrupled in size over the past ten years and it’s encroaching on the foundation of my studio. We keep it cut back, but it’s kinda like throwing water on an oil fire. This year we cut a deep pocket into the bamboo for a garden in the rich soil cultivated from years of compost.

We gave some bamboo away and used a few pieces. But most of the downed canes were left to dry in the air and sun. Kept off the ground by their limbs it didn’t take long for them to turn from green to a tan/brownish color.


A safety note. Please read
: bamboo has many hollow pockets that allow pressure to build up and cause small explosions. I haven’t found these to be dangerous personally but I do like to at least give problem pieces a thwack with a machete length wise to reduce these pops. Once during the burn a large pop was enough to rattle the barrel a bit and under the wrong circumstances I can imagine danger occurring. It should go without saying, but fire is inherently a dangerous tool and should be used with the utmost respect.
There are better ways to do this but this is how I’ve managed so far.

Charcoal time!

The barrel has holes and slots in the sides and bottom to allow for airflow. I keep the dirt from the hole for use later.
The barrel should fit into the hole loosely and deep enough to eventually cover the air inlets with dirt.
In the past I’ve filled the barrel and then started the fire. It’s really the best way, but it can be frustrating to get lit. This time I started a small fire in the bottom of the barrel and then quickly packed as much bamboo in as we could. (Jon Mills was kind enough to help me out during the burn) Long handled shovels were very helpful for wedging the canes in.
Now if you didn’t pack the barrel with fuel before lighting a fire you may want to block off the air from the bottom of the barrel midway through the burn. allowing the top to catch up.
I use a large steel pot with 4 small holes in it to cap off the barrel.
I cap it off once the fire is really going and wait a bit till the smoke is notably lessened. Once I’ve decided all the steam and smoke has signified an apex of the burn I block off the mouth of the pot. Then I clay up the holes around the base of the pot.
I didn’t time things but the entire burn was less than an hour and a half if I had to guess. Not all of the bamboo passed the crumble test. But it’ll simply be used to start the next burn.
While we were waiting for the charcoal to cook I set up a log and passed onto Jon what I’ve learned about throwing axes, knives and toss and stick spikes. Jon picked it up quickly and he was real proud of this lucky double stick.

Some more bamboo fun with out all the carbon emissions:

Working with bamboo tips

Other bamboo crafting ideas
A bamboo bike (Really neat!)
Bamboo beer? This site also has a lot of interesting info on bamboo and even co2 but it seems a tad bias.

Charcoal links:
Charcoal chemistry
Microwave charcoal without the co2? Cool! Something tells me shouldn’t try this one at home.
A video of a large-scale home wood charcoal burn.
A video of a fairly small-scale conversion of wood to high quality charcoal.

Co2 emission info:
BTU, co2, and price information for home heating.

Info on types of household energy consumption as well as energy info for different types of wood, coal, gas and oil.
Think humans don’t cause the bulk of co2? Some folks think volcanoes are examples of nature producing co2 at a greater rate than humans, but science tells me they can’t even come close to comparing to our carbon footprint
How much more carbon does bamboo sequester than trees? 35%.

–Greg

6 thoughts on “Bamboo Charcoal Making

  1. I have used B&B oak charcoal a few times, but I must say the sparks are a serious drawback. I love the lower heat and lack of scale produced, but I have a few scars to show off as a side effect. Not so nice, dang it.

    I prefer coal since I learned using it, but I agree it isn’t the cleanest burn out there. Propane forges have a lot going for them as well, but I still have yet to try one out and don’t really want to purchase without a good trial. I guess for the near future I will be sticking with coal. At least it is efficient, which does cut down the amount you need to burn to get the work done.

    Induction…now if someone could just make that reasonable for a small shop, I’d be game. But I also wonder how much fossil fuel gets used to create the current to produce the heat. The best thing would be to develop a scrubber that we could use on a small scale to eliminate the CO2 we generate from whatever fuel. Just dreaming, but you never know what someone will come up with.

    Nice post, and as a lover of bamboo myself, it’s nice to see some links to other uses. I have seen the bike before, and love it.

    Like

    1. I hope I am replying in the right spot. I have used all the current fuels for forging except bamboo charcoal. I would love to know how it performs compared to hardwood charcoal. I have been told that bamboo charcoal burns hotter, lasts longer and produces fewer cinders and sparks. I hope it’s all true, because I am tired of coal smoke, charcoal cinders, the cost of smithing coke and the many problems with propane. Please tell me about your experience with bamboo charcoal.

      Thanks

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      1. It’s fast burning high in ash and works best in a fire that’s being worked in a lot with a good ash dump. It’s biggest advantage is in it’s availability and renewable nature. You can make a dense fire due to the small size of the coals. It burns hot and quick.

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