Our charcoal story started 10 years ago with a course on the Hampshire/Dorset border, just outside Cranbourne, with the aptly named Pete “the Charcoal” Jameson (PJ). Pete threw us in at the deep end and we learned the processes and the smells of charcoal burning.
Our next journey took us to Wales to collect our shiny new ring kilns from B.M Wilson (now sadly retired) who was the premier kiln maker at the time.
Within a week we had the kiln set up on site and loaded with wood. With the help of PJ we fired our first kiln load of mixed hardwood on the 17th of July 2008. In the ensuing 10 year the kilns have been filmed several times for tv/radio and websites. In 2013 we move the kiln to a site in our own wood from one nearby.
Fast forward to 2016 and the ring kilns were joined by our Hookway retort kiln as we were finding it hard to empty the ring kilns due to 2 wet summers. While the Hookway kiln improved the turnaround time and could be emptied in as little as 10 mins between showers, it is limited to 6-8 bags per burn, which has got us out of a few holes. It also made us realise that the retort was the way to go, as it has a much faster turnaround time. With a ring kiln you have to wait for the fire within to go out which to be safe is a minimum of 24-36 hours. The retort works by cooking the timber so there is no flame in contact with the wood.
We had been looking at the mobile Exeter Retort kiln for a number years and knew a local Wood Collier who used one, but we also thought there were some issues with the early models. We also knew that the Carbon Compost Company who designed it, had been working on these issues and were willing to listen to suggestions. At the South West Wood Fair at Longleat 2017 and we spent a good time looking at the latest design and talking to Robin and Geoff about the improvements and design changes they had made which had removed all the reservations we had previously.
Returning from the show we looked at the price and possible funding available. We had been involved with the Fieldfair Leader scheme in the past and knew that there was European Grant money available to support companies like us. Thus started the process of applying for funding towards our new investment. Although it would take longer than anyone had planned we were awarded our grant in June 2018 and placed the order straight away.
On the 25th of July 2018 our new kiln arrived; not only did Goeff bring the kiln up from Devon, he spent 2 days teaching us how to fire the kiln putting first a half load and then a ¾ load of timber through giving us a good amount of charcoal to bag.
Not only is the new retort quick to load and empty, but another bonus us the reduction in wood needed because of the way the kiln converts the wood to charcoal. The losses to fines (small charcoal/dust) are reduced and the number of brown ends (unburnt wood) are reduced to virtually zero.