Dave Bigham

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since Sep 08, 2012
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Recent posts by Dave Bigham

"I'd like to experiment with making charcoal over the winter/rainy season here."

With this method ambient air temperature is a factor. The cooler it is the more scrap wood is necessary to “cook a batch”. More work for the same return.

I’ve only used hardwoods for charcoal, have no experience with pine or fir.

I started out with bigger pieces. Cooking time was much longer compared to the size I eventually settled on. This allowed me to make sellable amounts in a shorter time.

Besides, for cooking on smaller charcoal grills and green egg’s the smaller pieces work out better.

I know it seems like a lot of work and time to prep small pieces of wood, in the beginning it was. After a couple of hundred pounds I was amazed how quickly it could actually be done AND keep all my fingers! This is why straight grained wood is important, easy to spilt. I could prep enough to fill both small drums in a little over an hour.

"I figure just leave the stuff in there for 20 years or so"

My family has used the same spring for water over 80 years, no need for filtration. Customers at the farmers market reported back the results and preferences. Friends and I experimented with gravity systems of various sizes. The goal was to filter water for a few or a dozen people in emergency situations. The 25 gallon tub’s I buy cattle feed in work great, 5 gallon buckets too.

Locally deposits of white quartz sands are plentiful, great to layer above and below the charcoal.

Charcoal for filters, the goal is surface area. You crush the charcoal in fine pieces exposing more surface area to come into contact with water. There are lots of better expiations on the net.

I’ve read various “authoritative statements” over the years. Basically 20 to 40 pounds of charcoal will purify water for 1 person for a year. Of course this all depends on how polluted the water is to begin with. Charcoal can only absorb/trap so much pollution.

In searching for a way to test when homemade charcoal needed to be replaced I settled on chlorine. Occasionally run a batch of “chlorinated drinking water” through the filter. When you start tasting the chlorine replace the charcoal! Anyway, this was the best test I could come up with.

Basically the same as knowing when to replace purchased filters in home systems. If the water tastes like crap replace the filter!

"The main difference is that they have 2 pipes coming out of the top of the inner chamber that are open ended near the bottom of the outer chamber"

That’s, what happens here, the retort or small drum is vented in the bottom. As the escaping gases reach oxygen in the “burn chamber” they ignite. I can always tell when out gassing starts by the tremendous heat coming off the big barrel. I can sometimes see a color change near the bottom of the furnace drum which means temps are near or above 1100 degrees. Very efficient, without pipes.
7 years ago
I posted how to make charcoal under Farm Income.

Walnut powder is used to treat intestinal parasites. Its also a great insect repellent.
7 years ago
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7 years ago
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7 years ago
Wasn’t exactly sure where to post this as it falls into so many categories.

Farm Charcoal

I make charcoal from time to time to sell at the farmers market, with the economy so bad of late, sells haven’t been booming. Also, brazilian lump charcoal is dirt cheap, (despite questionable origin). The real money is in smoking woods cut to the same size as raw charcoal. Charcoal became the appetizer.

Charcoal has lots of other uses on a farm. Need to bend or shape metal in your forge? I find it indispensable for water filtration. It has medicinal uses and let’s not forget pyrotechnics.

Now don’t go thinking I cut down trees willy-nilly. I lose trees every year to wind and storms and especially to drought the last few years.

Any high quality hardwood makes great charcoal, various oaks, hickory’s, even maple. The properties of each vary greatly. As far as I’m concerned red oak is the king! It comes out extremely cracked and pitted. When it comes to ease of lighting, burning and water filtration I’ve found nothing to compare.

In a nut shell – Small pieces of hardwood, 1.5 X 1.5 X 5 inches long go into a 15 gallon steel drum. This small drum is placed into a 55 gallon steel drum, scrap wood is placed into the gap in between the sides and burned.

People always get hung up in the details but the concept of using a retort is the important part. Use any type of containment vessels you can dream up or build! As long as age old principles are followed anyone can make great charcoal!

The retort or small drum can be thought of as a static chamber. Being filled with wood it has very little oxygenated air to begin with, it’s soon gone as the result of a flash burn. For the rest of the cooking process there is no oxygen left inside for fire. Result, this good hardwood “cooks” into charcoal. Exiting gases don’t burn until they reach oxygen outside the retort.


The best detailed version of the whole process I’ve written so far is at survival blog dot com. I believe it was posted on Sept 19th 2012. Under the name Dan L. There are no photo’s there.

On Aug 14th I posted an old version with photo’s in the Green Deane Forum. “Eat the Weeds”. It’s under primitive skills, Making Charcoal. I answered a few questions already.

Here are a full set of photo’s with a few notes. I hope it helps any and all who read it!

FC 01 – Stacked red oak disc’s ready for processing. Some hickory to the left and maple in the background. I experimented quite a bit that first year.

FC 02 & 03 – Some knotty hickory that didn’t split very well. Loading the retort is next. The pieces in the retort are a little large for efficient processing.

FC 04 – Scrap pine I got from a local wood products company. Gave the owner a couple of bags of charcoal and he was more than happy to let me have all I needed. Quick burning pine is helpful in regulating the cooking process but white oak fire wood from last year is the main stay.

FC 05 – I run 2 cookers at the same time spaced about 3ft apart. They share radiant heat which cuts down on the total amount of scrap burned. I can produce about 35lbs of charcoal a day. 17 – 18 pounds per cooker.

FC 06 – About three pounds of the finished product. Notice the aloe in the background? If you cook charcoal you’re going to need some.

FC 07 – 1 of 3 vents cut into bottom edge of large barrel.

FC 08 – Vent holes in the retort.

FC 09 – A cooker set, 15 gallon drum with crimp on lid inside open head 55 gallon drum.
7 years ago
Book I use most often is - Forest Plants of the southeast and their wildlife uses. It's great for farmers and hunters But... It gets a little loose with common names sometime. I made a note on my hawk weed page, Thanks.

It has great photo's n covers about 300 plants. I use it all the time because everything in it grows where I live. I even cross referenced it with the peterson easter medicinal plants and herbs. Marked all the medical plants (write in books all the time)

Is the rattle box the one you were talking about? it has a round growth in the stem which hardens in the fall. Shake it and the pod rattles. It looks a lot like conyza, horseweed.

http://perillaoil.com/ has a lot of info for perilla, can't figure out if they are promoting, selling or what. Been trying to verify eveything they state from other sources, they've been 100% so far.

Also from agricultural sources - Perilla seed has 35 to 45% oil content
7 years ago
Livestock won't touch it, I think it's the slight minty taste. I munch on it often. It's not in my hay fields just the pastures. I don't remember even seeing it in the hay I bought that year.

Yeah, lemons to lemonaid, if you can't beat them join them! Sort of funny, I found websites selling seeds for 3 cents each. Giving painful details on how to germinate the seeds and get the little plants to grow. I've been trying for years and can't kill the stuff!

rattle snake weed is Jieraclum gronovil L. or hawkweed
We have a rattle box weed here which is a larger version of the rabbit bell weed, both poisinious to livestock, can't think of the latin name of either of hand.

Sorry, had to look it up. rattle box is Crotalaria spectabilis aka showy crotalaria, contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, nasty stuff!
7 years ago
I recently discovered the identity of this plant as well. I've acres of it. I had to buy hay one year durning a drought and the next spring it started. It rarely grows in the middle of pastures here. Usually in shade around the edges but it is still crowding out grasses in those places. I spend about a day and a half each year bush hogging it. In a wet year I have to do it twice.

I'm going to produce oil from the seeds. I purchased a Piteba oil seed press on amazon. It's very well made, welded pressure points, comes with extra wear parts. A Neat hand cranked press that works with a host of differet seed.
Manufacturer http://www.piteba.com/eng/index_eng.htm
I'm going to use it on my peanuts first as the perilla seed wont be ready until late in the fall.

The oil is highly nutritious and used in many countries. There is a warning with the oil, above smoke point. I read "references" to lung problems in India when it's used in oil lamps long term.

I found it being used in a tasty looking dish here - http://mistyyoon.com/2011/05/13/deep-fried-stuffed-perilla-leaves-%EC%B9%98%ED%82%A8%EB%91%90%EB%B6%80-%EA%B9%BB%EC%9E%8E%ED%8A%80%EA%B9%80/

7 years ago
One more joining the ranks NW AL. I was born on this farm, 3rd generation, now trying to undo what 80 years of conventional farming has done to the land. (we're slow learners). Don't know if I'll be around to enjoy all the benefits, just trying to to lay the foundations for the young folks. Don't have an outside source of income, still have to live during the changes, makes it tough. Anyway, look forward to learning here and sharing!

Here's Big Boy and a few of his girls. Once the peach harvest is over I turn in the cows, they love the leaves.
7 years ago
Hello - I'm 3rd generation here, currently restoring the land from 80 years of conventional farming, it's a process. I study herbal medicine and plants of all types, just put up my first batch of walnut powder. Have assorted livestock, grow peaches n produce and sell at the farmers market.

Left the farm for a few decades, worked R&D on several continents, enjoy building engines, restoring old equipment. Even build hydrogen generators for my farm equipment.

I like to gamble, Farming is the purest form of gambling there is!

I'm a pay as you go type of man, like to trade information when I can. I'll offer a down payment, I sometimes make organic charcaol and sell at the farmers market. Great for cooking, water filtration, anyone can do it. I've taught lots of folks. I wrote up the process years ago, nothing new, many do it this way. If you'll tell me where I'll post it with a few photo's. It seems to be an inbetween type of topic.

I posted the process recently in the Green Deane forums. Great bunch of folks over there!
7 years ago