How To

Hugh McLaughlin, PhD, PE, Alterna Biocarbon Inc. , January 2010

Biochar is a vague term that applies to a potentially broad class of charcoal materials intended for addition to soils. Many raw materials and conversion processes can lay claim to producing biochar, and the resulting biochars will have different characteristics. The purpose of this discussion is to formulate a simple scheme for characterizing biochars before addition to soils. Efforts will be made to discuss the logic behind the individual characteristics, in addition to the limitations of the individual assays.

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Vuthisa, November, 2009

They have kindly put together a great How to Make charcoal in your own backyard

I recently did some trials with 2 x 55 gal drums inside my fabricated Portable Metal Kiln. I recently increased the kiln width from 1.1 to 1.4 metre diam to accept 3 x 55 gal drums and although more testing is required I am satisfied with the MO. I have created a Google Group to discuss issues around its construction and usage.
Cost: Under $800
Availability: DIY


Updated September, 2012:


R. Diermair November, 2009

Attached as a Power Point file and a PDF is a nicely illustrated guide to creating a TLUD (top lit up-draft) biochar retort with two barrels. As he notes, understanding the TLUD is critical to getting reliable, clean take a look at our other TLUD References for more guidance.

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Sean Barry, November 2009

Look what I just made! I used a 46 oz juice can , a 14 oz kernel corn can, a can opener, a strip of tin, and some tin snips.

I will see if it can boil water now and makes charcoal out of wood chips. Then maybe I can send a you tube link. This is my first mock up of of the educational tool about biochar that I was thinking of developing and telling you about in Washington this past September. When it makes char, it should be smokeless, especially with dry feedstock, easy and cheap to build out of normal household stuff. and simple to use.

With a little tiny bit of charcoal (maybe close to a cup?) it could be put into two of four milk carton bottom test pots, then fertilizer in one with char and one without char. They kids could plant something grows fast and maybe edible (beans sprouts?), then measure the performance of their own soil with a real experiment (1/4 control, 1/4 just fertilizer, 1/4 both charcoal and fertilizer, 1/4 just charcoal. (just like my garden).

It could be an experiment started this winter after the holidays and ending late this spring before school let's out.

Al Latham, September, 2009

I have a pdf (download the attached file) showing a simple biochar retort that I put together, that
might be of interest to your viewers.

If you'd like to add it to the Making BioChar.


A handy kiln for making charcoal from urban leaf litter
Appropriate Rural Technology Institute (ARTI), Pune, India

Single Barrel Charcoal Kiln

Single Barrel Charcoal Kiln


I was surprised that there were no how to's for charcoal productions without the need for kilns, drums etc, so thought this might be of interest to some as a trial technique. It is not very efficient by way of volume of charcoal to volume of biomass to start, but can be useful if you have quantities of garden waste such as prunings, bark, leaves etc. This type of stuff normally goes into green waste, or needs chipping to compost or use as mulch as it is too big for compost bin.

This is a process I have used which requires only an open fire or fire pit, shovel or rake and water (hose or steel buckets with water). It is a minor modification of the techniques used when cooking using the camp oven - which only uses coals instead of flame. Instead of transferring the coals to the oven pit, they are wetted down to stop burning, and create charcoal.


Simple charcoal kiln
Folke Gunther, April 24, 2008

A wonderfully simple method for making charcoal at home or on the allotment.



There is a wide demand for charcoal kilns to be used by anybody having an allotment or garden sized plot. The idea of making char of surplus biomass instead of firing it is widely spread in Latin America (and Japan?). Burning the pyrolysis gasses instead of emitting them makes the method comparatively safe, although not efficient regarding their potential utilisation of gasses.

I agree that his is a very small scale method, bu imagine 2 billion people having it, making 1 kg char a week for their lots. That would imply about 0.1 Gt annually, or 5% of what would be necessary to sequester for making a change.

Naturally, this is not the method to save the world from entering a tipping point, but it could well be of some help.

he author, Gary Gilmore, explains how he designed a charcoal retort from steel drums. This is a smoke free design also the flare could be put to use.

Charcoal by Gary Gilmore video 1

First make the retort by adding air holes to the bottom of a steel drum.
Then make the afterburner by turning another steel drum into a tube.

Then start loading the wood (no more than 20% moisture) tightly packed into the retort. (This contains a great description of wood as nature's battery).

Charcoal by Gary Gilmore video 2

Once you have the wood packed in the retort, build a small fire on the top. (There is a nice description of a top lit retort system). Once the small top fire has caught, ad the afterburner (the tube) to the top of the retort.



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