Okay, the balloon went up, but you were prepared enough that two years later, you and your family are still alive at your retreat. Great! Right? Well, maybe. Let’s take inventory.
Your food in storage is about gone. You have been gardening for the last ten years and thought you were golden, but the first year wasn’t near big enough. The second year you went way big and plowed more land while the tractor still ran, but you didn’t have the seed or fertilizer. Still, you carried on with composting and seed saving, but most of your heirloom varieties were really hybrids mislabeled and sold as heirlooms. That was a teachable moment.
It’s good to be frugal, but Gullible is the name of a large, vicious dog that sooner or later bites everyone in the butt, and if you had read the fine print you would have seen that they were sourced in China. Oh, you can hear that dog barking now! Birds, insects, squirrels, deer, and rabbits got more of the crop than you did anyway. One thing you got right was building the wood-fired dehydrator, because you can never have enough jars and lids!
The supply of water has you getting worried. You were smart to have a well pump and rain barrels installed, but your gravity filter is getting old. The Clorox bleach is losing its potency, and the pool shock that was never opened, but anything made of steel stored nearby rusted all to pieces, so you had to toss it.
The maintenance of your shelter never ends! If you had it to do over, you’ve have gone with an ugly metal roof and over-ruled the wife, because that three tab asphalt got torn up in the ice storm and you don’t think that blue tarp will last for long.
So what are you going to do? Can you trade for food, fertilizer, roofing, and filters? Probably not. Could you go scrounge it? Maybe, once or twice.
Why Make Charcoal?
What you should do is learn to make charcoal! All of this can be fixed, but you need charcoal! With charcoal you can do all of the following:
- Build a forge to make or repair farm implements, remediate your soil, and increase crops.
- Make square cut nails and a froe to split out shakes and boards, and then you can fix that roof.
- Make your own water filter.
Ways To Make Charcoal
There are almost as many ways to make charcoal as there are people that use it. I will tell you of ways I have personally made it in the past and how I now do it to feed my addiction to hobby blacksmithing.
Feed Stock- Wood
In general any wood will work for smithing. I personally think free wood works best. YMMV. I’m cheap so I often use pallets, usually oak or some kind of hard wood, scrap furniture from the dump’s recycle pile, or yard waste. I live on 16 acres of mixed Douglass fir, cedar, and alder; I will never run out of dead fall. For medicine and pyrotechnics, willow and maple are preferred. A locale landscaper uses the well-seasoned roots and stumps of hardwood trees he has removed, for some of the best charcoal and smoker feed stock I have ever seen! It’s good BBQ!
So let’s get dirty!
Small, Occasional Batch
To make a small batch, pile your wood in a teepee stack, dig a hole bigger than the stack, and set the stack on fire. When the water has been burned out (i.e. the smoke stops, which will take a while), shovel the wood into the hole and cover it with dirt. Two days later, dig it up and separate the charcoal from unburned wood. This is not the most efficient method of conversion, but it is easy and requires no special skill or equipment, and if you get a burn permit it doesn’t make enough smoke to bother anyone, usually, unless you live next door to my tree hugging sister. Please, homeschool your children so they don’t grow up stupid!
For a bigger batch of charcoal, stick a piece of 6-inch stovepipe that has been filled full of 1-in holes upright in the ground to act as a chimney. Stack cord wood conically around the chimney. Cover this with turf or dirt or clay, except for the chimney and several holes at ground level spaced equally around the circumference. Make sure the dirt is airtight, light the wood at ground level in all of the holes. Let it burn until no heavy smoke is seen, and then cover the holes. If any cracks open up in the dirt, cover and patch with more dirt. Depending on the size, it may have to process for up to five days. This is more art than science, so start small and work up. Monitor your burn constantly. You will need help.
This will smoke like the very hubs of you know where, so if TEOTWAWKI has not yet happened I strongly suggest that you:
- Check the local laws
- Get a burn permit
- Let your neighbors know what’s up or you will be meeting them and the local FD and PD!
- Use safety precautions. Oh, by the way, you did place this in a clear area away from the house and trees, cleared the grass, and have a hose handy, right? Of course you did! Nobody really wants to meet the local FD that way!
My Favorite Method
For my favorite method of making charcoal, take a 50 gallon drum with a removable lid and remove the bottom. Set it on three or four landscaping bricks. Drill a chain of 1/8 inch holes one foot off the ground along the bottom rib. Get enough sand to block off the air along the bottom of the drum. Fill the bottom the barrel with kindling, and load your feed stock on top. Set the kindling on fire, but do not pack it tight or you will choke the burn. Sit in the shade until the smoke stops and then toss on the lid, pile on the sand along the bottom. If you started at breakfast, you will be done by dinner. To see a little smaller version, search online for John Dinsley, Charcoal House
We have Charcoal! Let’s Build a Forge
Okay, this is not rocket science so don’t panic about building a forge. Remember that the first blacksmiths were some bronze age illiterate who didn’t know what toilet paper was and he did it with just a couple of rocks and a hole in the ground. My wife just told me to be clear. I’m talking about blacksmithing, not the other thing. So you need a forge. Let’s go build one. Like everything else it’s kind of a Goldilocks thing, so we will start with too big.
Tomorrow, I will go into how to build various types of forges, including a masonry forge, and talk about obtaining or making an anvil as well as other practical tips and resources for smithing. So, stay tuned.
Reindustrialization After The Fall- Part 2, By Redneck Granddaddy (Active on 1/27/18)
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part one of a two part entry for Round 74 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,095 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value), and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances, and
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value).
Round 74 ends on January 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.
Re: My Favorite Method
I did a search for John Dinsley, Charcoal House and found the website but no info on how to make charcoal.
If you have sealed with sand the open bottom of the barrel, how do you light the tinder in the bottom of the barrel after you’ve loaded it with wood?
After you’ve burned off the water, do you back-fill sand up to the level of the 1/8″ holes, or do they remain open?
A pic or two would be helpful.
Primitive charcoal making has been very well perfected in undeveloped countries. Charcoal is the poor man’s propane.
It also helps a lot in filtering water, and has a lot of healing uses that reduce dependence on antibiotics and other medical interventions.
Start the fire between the bricks that support the barrel and then after the smoke dies down cover the space between the bricks with the sand, sealing off the air flow at the bottom of the barrel.
Figuring out what you want to manufacture after a collapse takes some time. I’m guessing that sand bag construction projects like shelter, walls, cisterns might be a solution. That or rammed earth (CINVA RAM) is another possiblity, but that requires soil hardeners like cement or lime.
Building these items on site, vs. tearing down existing and moving them to your location takes A LOT OF WORK to accomplish.
Thanks! Very educational.
I found this to be very good info (even if too short) on Food, Water and Shelter. I don’t think these can be over-emphasized in your prepper plans.
Making charcoal WILL be a major part of a rebuild effort in a PAW situation. Those who don’t expect the loss of electrical power will be scrambling to survive…
Do your research now, while you can easily find the documentation for these skills. Then Practice.
PS don’t the the alligators get you down.
Gators is good eatin.
Thats payin close attention to detail!
For the shelter comment. Earthbag shelters are possible. Need correct bags dirt/clay.
Nice article. After reading this article, felt the below video was a good one to share, if that’s okay. I’m sure this gentleman’s site, primitive technology, has been mentioned before.
Some really excellent videos on self sufficiency and primitive techniques. This video is on making charcoal and if you look through the playlist he even has some forge experiments. https://youtu.be/SjK2XlNE39Q
It’s hard for me to get past the idea that we are using one very critical resource which we burn to get another resource which we are going to burn. What amount of wood produces what amount of charcoal?
Wood is a highly renewable resource. That said, you can expect a 5% to 50% return by weight depending on initial moisture content, variety, and the efficacy of your charcoalling method. I only burn it, I don’t make it, but I have know those who do. On commercial operator had a burn box that he loaded with FIFTY cord. But like bananas, I can’t understand how they can sell this stuff so cheaply. I’m far better off going to my job for 8 hours and then going to Walmart and buying ten 20# bags with my net.
Ma’am, charcoal burns much hotter than wood, which is necessary for working some metals.
Dave Gingerys books make good references for diy folks.
Excellent Article, long term thinking that has to be done in 2 years. Thanks.
I use a wood stove to augment my oil furnace. When the fire dies I sift the ash and remove the chunks of charcoal left and place in a steel barrel. It’s amazing how much I accumulate with essentially zero effort (and i get all of the advantages of the heat of the first burning). It’s also almost effortless to get a blazingly hot coal fire going with absolutely no smoke.