DIY: How to Make Wood Charcoal

If you’re stuck in a bad situation and you can’t seem to find clean water, you may have to resort to filtering and purifying any water you find the hard way. One ingredient you will need lots of is charcoal. Check out the filter currently sitting in your aquarium or look at that fancy water filter attached to your tap. . . it’s the same thing. Charcoal is fantastic stuff because it naturally removes all kinds of impurities from water and you can make it all day long for next to nothing. I like cheap. I like free even better.

If you have the means, you can buy activated charcoal and hope you have it with you when you need it or you can take the cheaper route and make wood charcoal yourself. It’s not as hard as you might think. All you need is a tin can and a fire source.

Activated charcoal and or wood charcoal is NOT the same as the store bought brick – fire up the grill -- kind of charcoal. Essentially, activated charcoal that you can buy over the counter is charcoal that has been chemically and mechanically treated to increase its ability to absorb molecules through wider pores. Basic wood charcoal is almost as effective and just might save your life in a pinch. Activated charcoal, on the other hand, is medical grade and often used in the Emergency Room during an overdose or when someone ingests certain poisons.

Brick charcoal is the kind you use on the grill. It is normally made from a number of ingredients including saw dust, starch, borax and brown coat (naturally compressed peat) among other igniting ingredients. Wood Charcoal is the kind you can make for yourself and is essentially “cooked wood”. All you really need to do is cook the wood without exposing it to direct flames. As it's being cooked inside a tin can, it’s releasing gas from the wood and when it’s done, the result is black carbon.

Supplies You'll Need:

  • Tin container with a lid (think Dollar Tree Christmas Cookies).

  • Wood (twigs work just fine)

  • A fire that you can sustain for at least four hours.

  • Ideally, a burn barrel works the best but a fire pit will do as long as you can sustain the heat.


  1. Cut or stab several holes into the lid of the tin container.

  2. Place the twigs into the container and make sure the lid is tight.

  3. Start the fire and put the tin into the heart of the fire (wherever it is hottest).

  4. Keep the fire hot and going for at least four to six hours.

  5. After four to six hours, let the fire cool and use tongs to pull the tin out of your fire pit.

  6. Pry open the lid and what you should see are black, flaky chunks of 'cooked wood'.

  7. Pound the charcoal into a powder and store it the same as you would for any other charcoal.

  8. To use the powder, consider stocking up on coffee filters and or cheesecloth. Filter your water through the charcoal/coffee filters for best results.

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