Lighting a Bonfire
- Locate an area where you can build an outdoor fire. You may be able to do this in your backyard, or you may need to secure a different site with a permit. Check your city's ordinances on outdoor fires.
- Get a metal drum. This is the container into which you'll put the wood. Choose a drum as large or as small as you'd like, depending on how much charcoal you want to make. Make sure it has a flame-proof lid.
- Pick out wood to make into charcoal. What type of wood do you want to use for your charcoal? Choose wood that has been cured. Cherry wood, oak wood, or hickory wood all work well. Check around to see if people in your area have wood for sale, or pick up some at a home and garden supply store. You'll need enough to fill up your drum to the top. Chop the wood into 4-inch pieces.
- Fill the drum with the cured wood. Pack the drum tightly with wood, and fill it all the way to the top. Put the lid on the drum. It should close well enough to stay in place, but you don't want it to be airtight.
- Prepare to light a bonfire. Buy or gather extra wood to make a bonfire that will burn for 3 - 5 hours. Build it up on your chosen site. Leave a hole in the middle for the drum. Put the drum in the hole and cover it with more wood.
- Burn the bonfire. Keep it going for at least 3 hours, more if you're using a large drum packed with wood. Let the fire completely burn out and cool down before approaching the drum.
- Remove the lump coal. When you open the lid, you'll see a fresh batch of pure lump coal. Use it to grill for the rest of the summer.
Using Two Drums
- Buy a small drum and a larger drum. The small drum must fit in the larger one with plenty of room to spare. Using a 30 gallon (113.6 L) drum inside a 55 gallon (208.2 L) drum works well.
- Cut a fuel hold in the larger drum. Use a metal jigsaw blade to make a square cut in the base of the larger drum. It should be about 12 inches (30.5 cm) by 20 inches (50.8 cm). You'll need this hole to feed fuel into the drum to keep the contents hot.
- Drill holes in the bottom of the smaller drum. This allows the extreme heat to pass into the the smaller drum, cooking the wood inside. Drill 5 or 6 1/2-inch holes in the base of the drum.
- Fill the small drum with cured wood. Cherry wood, oak wood, or hickory wood chopped into 4-inch pieces is ideal. Pack the drum tightly, then put the lid on top, cracked so moisture can come out.
- Make a stand in the larger drum. Place two bricks flat in the bottom of the big drum, one on each side. Stand two more bricks on their long edges on top of the flat bricks. This stand keeps the smaller drum from touching the bottom of the bigger drum, allowing you to feed fuel underneath.
- Place the smaller drum on the stand. Make sure it fits well within the larger drum; if it doesn't, use smaller bricks or stones to make a smaller stand. Put the lid on the larger drum, leaving it cracked open for air flow.
- Build a fire inside the big drum and let it burn for 7-8 hours. Use wood and kindling to make a fire, feeding the materials through the feeder hole in the bottom of the drum. As the fire gets going, feed it larger pieces of wood.
- Keep an eye on the fire; when it gets low, feed it more wood.
- You want the fire to get as hot as possible, so keep feeding dense wood.
- Let the fire burn out. After 7-8 hours, the impurities, moisture, and gasses will have burned out of the wood, leaving pure charcoal behind. Let the fire burn out and the entire contraption completely cool before you approach it.
- Remove the charcoal. Empty the small drum into a container and store the charcoal for later use.