Sunday, 22 February 2015

Charcoal Making - Finglandrigg Wood - Solway Wetlands Partnership

Well today was another fun day out in the woods learning more about woodlands and how we as humans have used wood in the past and continue to do so in the present. Today I went to Finglandrigg wood a National Nature Reserve, to an event on charcoal making run by Edward Kyrke who is a commercial hedgelayer and woodsman. It was organised by the Solway Wetlands Partnership who run some fantastic events...and they are free!

The first task after getting the kettle boiling and cracking open the biscuits was to prepare the kiln. We did this with lining the base of the kiln with sods of turf so that air could only get in through the designated intakes. This meant that the kiln would not burn too hot and so produce charcoal rather than embers!

Preparing the kiln
The next stage involved filling the kiln with birch logs around a central pole that is known as a motty peg. The logs were piled above the top of the kiln so that when the lid was placed on there was not an air gap and so a huge bonfire, which then would again result in a fast burn - not good for making charcoal. A fact I learnt today is that charcoal burns at around 400 degrees C, so no wonder it is an effective fuel!

Loading the kiln with log around the motty peg

Once the kiln was full the motty peg can be pulled out - easier said than done! and this leaves a hole for starting the fire. Ed filled the hole with some hot embers and some wood chippings to get it going.

Hole left after removing the motty peg

Getting the fire going
We also filled some socks with sand and these are known as rabbits and are used to fill up the chimney holes according to the wind direction and how well the fire is burning. Once the wood has started to burn down the lid can be placed on fully and sand is packed around the top to create a good seal. After that it is just a waiting game! So that called for more eating and Tony and Toni had brought along some of their fresh eggs and so it was egg butty time. The wood was still quite green and wet so was not burning quickly. It was going to be a while before the charcoal was ready. So for most of us we wouldn't get to see the finished product although Ed did bring along a sample of his fine charcoal to show us.

The kiln slowly burning away turning birch into charcoal!
Whilst waiting for the wood to burn down, Naomi from the Solway Wetlands Partnership took us for a walk around the woods. It was great to see such a big and diverse woodland, including a a mix of broad leaf woodland, peat bog, heathland and a lovely area of Scot's pine. We also saw quite a bit of fungi but I will save that for the next post! It is a great place to visit and I will be going back in the spring and summer- oh and autumn to see what I can spot.

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