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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Water Boiling Over the Fire

Bottle Boiling

You’re lost in the middle of nowhere. You have a source of water but no suitable container with which to boil it in. You need to purify your water, but how? Here are a couple cool alternative water boiling techniques that actually work!

#1. Plastic Bottle Method:

If you’re in a situation where you have to boil water and don’t have a metal container to boil it in, this is a great option. Since plastic water bottles are common even as litter on the side of many trails, there’s a good chance you might be able to find one on the ground if you don’t have one with you. Simply fill the bottle with water, take the lid of, and suspend it above the fire. It’s crazy, but it does work. It won’t take long to boil, then let it simmer for about 10 minutes if you’re trying to purify it. As long as water is touching the plastic on the inside it won’t melt. Some plastics release chemicals faster when heated, so this method isn’t recommended for regular use unless you need to. Try it out at your next campfire, and have fun!

#2. Heated Rock Method:

Start by finding 10-20 dry stones that will fit in your water vessel. I say dry, because if you choose rocks from a riverbed or wet area, the rocks may have absorbed water, which, when heated could result in an explosion (which you don’t want). Put all the stones in the centre of your fire, and maintain the fire for about 30 minutes with the rocks inside it. After this time, take a couple of sticks to use as tongs, and very carefully take the rocks out of the fire, blow off the ashes, and place in your water. Do this with all your stones, and pretty soon your water should be boiling. KEEP YOUR TOES AND FINGERS AWAY FROM THE ROCKS! These rocks when heated like this can be over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 530 degrees Celsius)! Using this method you can boil water in many different types of containers that can’t be put over a fire, such as wood.  Here’s a great video on how to correctly do the heated rock technique.

Have fun trying out both of these out, but remember to be careful, because you’re dealing with very hot stuff!

The Legend of the Stuffy Box

Stuffy BoxFor my twelfth birthday several years ago, my Grandpa Ross (who was a scout with the 30th troop in Hamilton) gave me a small box full of many little treasures. When I opened the box I found inside a rolled up ‘scroll’ bound by a birthday ribbon tied in a bow. The Scroll

You could tell it was (supposed to look) old because of the (tea bag) stains and marks all over it ;) I opened up the scroll and inside I read the following:

The Legend Of The ‘Stuffy Box’

What is a ‘Stuffy Box?,’ more common folk might ask … it is the beginning of a long journey.

Every twelve year old boy should have a stuffy box.

What is the origin of the stuffy box? Well, it is a modern day legend, and let me tell you that legends are very difficult to begin. In fact, this may be the only labelled stuffy box known to mankind, so you are at the beginning, Dorian!

The term stuffy box comes from your Great Grandpa Lloyd. When your Grandpa, Ross, was a boy, he enjoyed rummaging through his Dad’s little boxes that could be found in our shed. They could contain almost anything …. Screws, bolts, springs, washers, pieces of electric cord, broken pieces of plastic from a curtain rod, or whatever.

The great thing about Great Grandpa Lloyd is that he had a lot of stuffy boxes … you could find several in the shed, a couple in his personal desk, some near his easel and paint, easily one in the washroom, and on and on it goes. He is the true founder of the stuffy box movement.

You are now ready to begin your stuffy box journey. Dorian. Do so with honour and pride!

There are things about a stuffy box you should know. First, it can never be made of new material. It must always come from a pre-existing purpose. In your case, this stuffy box was a pre-existing wine box. The lid had to be reversed and many coats of Varathane were applied by your Grandma. Special wood letters were applied to make ownership unmistakable.

Second, the wise care of a stuffy box includes having one place to keep it where it never moves.

Third, it’s preferred if it gets scuffed and chaffed a bit. You want it to look rough and rustic. It’s a working man’s treasure box … in it you can keep anything you want … a favourite screw driver, coins, stamps, nuts and bolts, candy, a pocket knife, whatever. Odd stuff.

It’s not really a secret box … that is the stuff of another legend. It is more a place to put stuff when you don’t know where to put stuff.

Every few years it’s a good idea to add another stuffy box to your collection. It doesn’t have to look the same, or even be labeled … it just needs to be a good container for stuff. Make the year ahead be full of good stuff, Dorian. Collect good stuff. Do good stuff.

Love,

Grandpa Ross.

I have shared this letter with you so that you can begin your own stuffy box journey.  Please ‘Do so, with honour and pride!’

Law #3 A Scout’s Duty is to be Useful and to Help Others

3a4f72a1-6eab-4e27-83a5-00f9ef7e1aa4_zpshz72wdltOne of B.P.’s (Baden-Powell) laws for Scouts is to have them do at least one “good-turn” for someone each day.  Here B-P explains in his book Scouting for Boys:

“So, with the Scouts, it has been made one of our laws that we do a good turn to somebody every day.  It does not matter how small that good turn may be, if it were only to help an old woman lift her bundle, or to guide a child across a crowded street, or to put a halfpenny in the poor box.  Something good ought to be done each day of your life, and you should start today to carry out this rule, and never forget it during the remaining days of your life.  Remember the knot in your necktie and on your Scout’s badge – they are reminders to you to do a good turn.  And do your good turn not only to your friends, but also to strangers and even to your enemies.”

And that’s not just for Scouts either.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone got into the habit of doing at least one kind thing each day?  Scouts are supposed to be helpful to others as much as possible.  Here is another paragraph from Scouting for Boys:

“…And he is to do his duty before anything else, even though he gives up his own pleasure, or comfort, or safety to do it.  When in difficulty to know which of two things to do, he must ask himself, ‘What is my duty’ that is, ‘Which is best for other people?’ – and do that one.  He must Be Prepared at any time to save life, and to help injured persons.  And he must do a good turn to somebody every day.”

Try to start thinking of ways you can help serve the people in your life!

 

 

 

Chipmunk

chipmunk

You are likely to spot a chipmunk at some period of time, probably during the summer when they are out and about, gathering supplies for the winter.  You probably won’t be able to watch it for long though, because they are always on the move, and will likely notice you before you notice them!

During the summer, a chipmunk spends a lot of its time gathering nuts and seeds, and storing them up for the winter.  If a chipmunk discovers a corn cob, a pile of seeds, or some other source of food, it has enough room in the pouches of its cheeks that it could probably cram in ten or twelve corn kernels.  But rather than just trying to stuff in as many as it could, the chipmunk is so orderly and neat, that it carefully organizes and places each kernel.  In so doing, it is able to carry about thirty corn kernels in each trip!  It is important for chipmunks to carry as much as possible in each trip, so as to minimize the amount of times it enters and exits its home.  Otherwise, watchful predators could be able to find the chipmunk’s home and then lay in wait to catch it.

Chipmunks are very tidy and orderly.  If some of their food starts to rot or get moldy, they immediately take it out and dispose of it.  They keep a separate room as their bathroom, and change the grass or straw bedding as soon as it is soiled.  That way they avoid a foul smell which could also inform hungry predators as to the whereabouts of the chipmunk’s home.

I think we can all learn a valuable lesson from a chipmunk about keeping our rooms (and houses!) clean and tidy.  The chipmunk has to be clean and orderly to survive.  We don’t have to in order to survive, but it does feel much nicer when you walk into a tidy bedroom, doesn’t it?