How to Make Charcoal

How to Make Charcoal

When one thinks about many pre-industrial processes, it’s easy to overlook something as basic as the fuel needed to fire them. The production of charcoal was a time consuming, dirty, and hazardous industry, yet without it and the means to produce steady high heats, many basic industries, such as the smelting of iron or running of a forge would have been severely hindered without it.

In this video, Van Wagner. Pennsylvania historian and song writer (, discusses how charcoal was produced to fuel the steel industry in pre-industrial Pennsylvania. It also discusses many of the terms and methods used. Though a more modern interpretation and discussion of the subject, the production of charcoal was little changed for centuries throughout many cultures and is still practiced in some regions of the world today as a means of producing basic fuel.

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Mike December 3, 2010 at 2:07 am

I cant see how this is worthwhile just to make charcoal to burn. However charcoal is a major ingredient of black powder.
Is this the same charcoal, and what wood makes the best black powder or does it matter?

Julie December 3, 2010 at 4:11 pm

Hi Mike,
You’re right. It’s not really worth the time and effort to make charcoal when you can just run down to your local grocery store and pick some up for a few dollars. But from a historical crafts perspective, it’s good to know how it was made and that you can still make it nowadays, if you want to recreate a project from start to finish. I know nothing about black powder, but it would definitely be an interesting side road to explore. I’ll see what I can dig up. And if you find an answer before I do, let us know!

Julie December 3, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Hi again, Mike
Here’s a link to some period recipes for black powder. As I said before, I’m clueless on this subject. So, don’t do anything dangerous, okay? Also, I have no knowledge of this particular website other than it appears to be well-researched. Here’s the link:

M. Palumbo August 10, 2011 at 2:18 am

Van, what a great video. Two questions though…what happened during the 8-9 day period if it rained? Any special provisions that have to be done during a storm? And finally, who performed that song at the end of the video? Great song!

Robert September 8, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Thank you for taking time to explain the process.
I make small batches in a sealed 55 gallon drum.
Nice to see how they did it back in the day.
charcoal briquettes thank you Henry Ford

Cedric September 9, 2011 at 4:38 pm

As with many such outdoor processes, you just have to deal with the rain and hope for the best. To some degree, the same material that keeps the fire from burning out of control also protects it from the elements.

Van does most of his own songs. He’s talented that way.

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