The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Charcoal burning

 

The making of charcoal by heating wood with little or no oxygen.

 

Status Currently viable
Craft category  Wood
Historic area of significance  Traditionally big in the iron industries of the Weald, Forest of Dean and Lake District
Area currently practised  UK (now currently practised as part of woodland management)
Origin in the UK  Paleolithic
Minimum no. of craftspeople required
Current no. of trainees 11-20
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  201-500
Current total no. of craftspeople  201-500 (charcoal burners who make a living or a part living from converting British grown timber to charcoal using any method)

 

History

Charcoal burning was traditionally big in the iron industries of the Weald, Forest of Dean, Lake District but is now practised widely as a part of woodland management.

Until well into the twentieth century, charcoal was made mainly using earth burns or earth clamps, but kilns and retorts were developed in the seventeenth century and have no taken over except for historical re-enactment. Recently a new generation of retorts have been favoured as being more efficient conversion of timber to charcoal than kilns (and masses better than clamps) and less polluting.

Charcoal is made for a variety of purposes, including for drawing, tandoori ovens, animal feeds, filtration, and charcoal fines for biochar/soil improvement.

 

Techniques

Wood is heated with restricted oxygen until it begins to pyrolyse or release volatile compounds these are either released into the air (clamps and kilns) or captured, burnt and the heat produced continues to convert timber to charcoal until most of the volatiles are removed. The wood is then allowed to cool and the charcoal bagged for sale.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: Cheap imports of charcoal from unsustainable sources keeping prices down

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

As of February 2017, the Coppice Products website lists 44 makers of charcoal and bio-char, although the output of each maker is not known.

 

Other information

 

References