There is a great deal of skill and art in producing a batch of charcoal. It is a process that is done by eye and experience. Charcoal is basically pre-burned hardwood. The idea is to drive out as much moisture from the wood, so that all that is left is a dry fuel that is quick to light and hot to burn.
If the charcoal maker burns the wood in the kiln too much, there is nothing left to use and instead of charcoal chunks all that is left is ash. Don’t burn it enough and the water within the wood is not driven out and the resultant charcoal will not light easily or burn hot. Charcoal kilns are large steel vessels which are set up to burn batches of wood whilst controlling the amount of air available for the burn.
The kiln is carefully loaded, the wood set alight and a blaze is allowed to develop, then at the exact right moment the lid is put on and secured tight. Air flow is then controlled through vents beneath the kiln, using the colour and quantity of smoke given off as a guide. A slow, smokey burn is maintained for approximately 16 hours. If the charcoal burner is skilled, what is left in the kiln after that time is chunks of wood that are now optimised for the next user.
Why We Support UK Produced Charcoal
Most of the charcoal purchased in the UK is produced abroad – sadly sometimes clear cut from hardwood forests that should be better protected. UK charcoal not only has less air miles, it is from managed woods.
The bulk of charcoal purchased in the UK, about 60,000 tonnes, is used on home BBQs. There are however many other uses. It is still used in many technical and industrial applications for filters to remove organic compounds from water and air.
Charcoal has also been used for centuries for pharmaceutical purposes, for the treatment of digestive disorders and poisoning. It is still used today in many medical applications.
Charcoal, mostly willow, is also used by artists for its wonderful smudgy effects.
Lush also revived the old tradition of black soap. Once Dorset Charcoal has perfected getting the exact right size of grain for us, we started using it in some of our products for its absorbent and gently exfoliating quality. With an ingredient this good, we had to invent several products to make good use of it - and to give us an excuse to keep visiting Jim in some of the most beautiful woodlands of Dorset.