An Introduction to Charcoal

 

 

 

‘Charcoal by the bushel, charcoal by the peck, charcoal by the frying pan, or anyway you lek!’

“It was an era of charcoal and a time of disappearing trees”

Oh the wonderful things you can find at secondhand stores. My mom was once at a used goods store, and knowing my love for history, bought me a book called A Reverence for Wood, by Eric Sloane, © 1965. It had a price tag of $1, half of its original price of $2. I started reading the book, and was intrigued by the wast variety of wood related subjects covered in this compact but dense manuscript. One of the things that caught my attention was the portion written on the charcoal makers of old.

‘The charcoal burners were always a strange breed, living a lonely life in the forest, almost like wild beasts.’

Charcoal was used widely for a great number of applications. It was utilized for making Iron long before coal was widely employed for the purpose, but it was also used to store meat, make printing ink, gunpowder, and medicines, brush teeth, and even purify water. As you could imagine, something with such a wide variety of possibilities really piqued my interest.

‘At its best, the job of making charcoal was not for any normal human being. The time required for charring a small mound varied from one to two weeks, but with mounds of wood thirty feet or more round, a month was average. During that time, through every kind of weather, the maker of charcoal lived with his mound, sleeping only in dozes for fear a flame might start and explode into a full fire which would demolish the mound.’

Now, if you don’t know what it is already, I’ll try to explain charcoal really quickly.  *Stay tuned to this blog, and I’ll likely post something more detailed about the science of charcoal later on.* Charcoal is different from ashes, which is the grey/black stuff found after a fire dies. I like to think of charcoal as wood that has burned as much as it can without actually breaking down. You’ll see in my instructions below, that all the flammable gasses from the wood burn, but it burns outside of the container and doesn’t break down the wood, leaving it charred, not burnt.

Instructions for homemade charcoal:

You’ll need a metal can and its matching metal lid (any size is great, but the bigger it is, the more charcoal it makes, and the longer it takes) and a bunch of sticks, preferably all the same kind.

Cram the can full of as much wood as you can fit, and before placing the lid on top, poke a small hole in it (the lid). Close the box tightly, and put it in your fire pit with the lid facing upwards. Build a fire around the tin, and keep it going as hot as possible. In a couple minutes you’ll see a small flame pop up out of the hole in the lid. This flame is all the gasses from the wood. As soon as this flame goes out, you can let the fire die down, and once cooled, your charcoal is done. It may take an hour or two, depending on the size of the tin.

This is a fun and interesting project, that costs almost nothing, and is easy to do. And to find out what kinds of wood are best for different purposes, the internet is your friend.

Also, if you try this and use it for something cool, let me know in the comments below.

 

One final note:  I am interested in finding out the old method of making charcoal in huge mounds covered with sod and dirt.  If you know anyone with information about the old methods of doing it who would be willing to share what they know, please let me know by commenting below.

 

 

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Rescue the Captors

IMG_7331The book, Rescue the Captors, is an amazing autobiography by a 28 year old bush pilot who flies dangerous mission flights in Columbia.  It is a true story, written from within a Marxist guerrilla camp, of how a young pilot named Russell is captured by soldiers who mistake him for the son of a wealthy American, but he is actually just from a small missionary family.

Here is a section, describing his kidnappers:

Unknown to those on the outside, Russell had sized up the situation and decided that most of his captors where really captives – of a negative, violent mentality inconsistent with even their own ideals.  He decided that instead of viewing his kidnapping as a terrible disaster, he would look at it as an opportunity to Rescue the Captors.

Rescue the Captors is a powerful story; filled with interesting discussions, adventure, and high-flying fun, including gunfights, fighter plane battles, and drug-busting adventures!  This book is not your average missionary story, and is a great read for anyone, young or old.

It has the perfect mix of adventure, history, politics, and much more, all woven into one spectacular story.  When Russell is captured, he decides not to just sit and mope, but instead uses it as an opportunity to share the good news of God’s love to his captors.  It is really quite a fascinating story, and I recommend it to each and every one of you.

Here is a small section to give you a taste of the book, from an early scene where the main character is trying to escape:

About twenty yards away, he threw his German assault rifle to his shoulder.  With a terrible look of hatred on his face, he pulled the trigger.  His gun went “click.”  It had misfired.  Quickly raising my revolver I sighted for his chest and pulled the trigger.  The hammer fell on an empty cartridge – I was out of bullets!  Giovani, seeing my gun, hit the dirt, falling behind a tree.  I could hear him trying to chamber a new round, but he seemed to be having trouble with his gun.  I frantically tried to break the nylon cord, dragging Manuel a few yards in the process.  I threw myself down on the ground, behind the only cover I could find – a clump of banana trees.  The rope was tight around my right arm and neck, choking me.  I clawed frantically in my pocket hoping to find more cartridges and reload my revolver.  I new the bananas wouldn’t stop the bullets the guerrillas would soon be shooting at me.

As I lay there, literally at the end of my rope, I wondered what it would feel like to die.  It appeared to me that my life would end in just a few seconds.  I was powerless to do anything about it, so I lowered my head and waited for the end to come…

 

It really inspired me to realize that the circumstances that seem so terrible to us, can really be made into opportunities to share God’s love.

 

Rascal

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Written in 1963, the book Rascal, by Sterling North, is set in 1918, during the First World War (also called the Great War).  It is one of Sterling North’s autobiographies.  The first time I read it, it instantly moved up near the top of my favorite books “list”.

It is about an eleven year old boy (Sterling) who does all the things every kid might wish to do, that aren’t possible in most cases.  He starts building a canoe in the living room, keeps pets of all different kinds, and can do pretty much whatever he wants during the day.

Rascal, his pet raccoon (the one the book is named after) is always getting himself into trouble of one kind or another.  Somehow though, Sterling usually finds a way to evade the threats from angry or startled neighbors.

This book is a great read for anyone, young or old.  I highly recommend it to all you scouters!

Here is the first paragraph of the book:

“It was May, 1918, that a new friend and companion came into my life: a character, a personality, and a ring-tailed wonder.  He weighed less than one pound when I discovered him, a furry ball of utter dependence, and awakening curiosity, unweaned and defenseless.  Wowser and I where immediately protective.  We would have fought any boy or dog in town who sought to harm him.”

Out of five stars I would give it five.

Scouting For Boys

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The book Scouting for Boys was among the first books about scouting that I acquired.  Written by Robert Baden-Powell in the year 1908, it is said to be second only to the Bible, as the most influential book for youth ever published!  I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in scouting.  It is, in my opinion, one of the best manuals for woodsmanship, pioneering, camp craft, health, and scouting in general.

Here is a quote from the forward of Scouting for Boys:

“By means of this book I hope that anyone, even without previous knowledge of scouting, may be able to teach it to boys, in town just as well as in the country.”

This quote adds to my point that you can be a scout wherever you are, whether in the city, the suburbs, or the countryside.

Scouting for Boys is full of stories, games and activities, tips on woodcraft and health, and so much more.

For example, one section of the book focuses on chivalry.  It has a few games to play, and titles of books to read on that subject.  There are even plays that a group of people can act out!  Here is one of the games mentioned:

“Knight Errantry: Scouts go out singly or in pairs or groups.  If in town, to find women and children in want of help, and to report, on their honor what they have done to help.  If in the country, call at farms or cottages and ask to do odd jobs for nothing in return.  The same game can be made into a race called a ‘Good Turn’ race.”

I highly recommend this book to you, and would rate it 5 out of 5 stars!