I've been inspired to start making some of my art materials by the work of Nick Neddo, a Vermont artist who makes his own art materials after reading his book The Organic Artist. Artists have made their own materials for hundreds of years. It's only recently that art materials were made of items that weren't found in and connected to the place they are painting.
In his book, Nick uses tin cans and fire to make charcoal. Being someone who loves to experiment, I found an easier approach that didn't involve melting soda pop cans in fire or producing enough charcoal at once to last me a lifetime.
I used a friend's yard who had a lot of twigs and fallen branches after a wind storm to burn. I followed Nick's advice for length and thickness of the wood and to remove the bark carefully with a knife. I didn't have the wood listed anywhere near me, so I had to use what the oak-hickory-poplar forest in my friend's yard gave to me. Here's what the twigs looked like when I was done whittling.
At this point, it was time to start the fire in the fire pit.At this point, I wrapped it up snug as a bug in two layers of tin foil. I wanted to go with one layer of tin foil, but it punctured it quite easily. The ends had two layers of tin foil as a result. The idea was to keep the oxygen out like Nick advised in the book using what I had on hand. Here's what the bundle looked like all wrapped up.
At this point, it was time to start the fire in the fire pit.
We burned some wood for an hour or so. When the flames died down, I tucked the bundle into the ashes, so it would slowly warm up and stay warm without catching on fire. Here's what it looked like after going in.
At that point, the fire was left for the night. The next day, we retrieved the bundle from the ashes. Here's what the inside of the bundle looked like when we opened it.
It took a few attempts and a bit of research before I was successful. Removing the bark is critical, and you can't just pick up any twig or stick and make good quality charcoal. Soft woods act differently than hard woods. The size will shrink, so if it's too thin it will crumble and break as soon as you pick it up. Use a piece of wood that's too thick and you won't have charcoal.
If you want to make your own charcoal, you will be rewarded with something that handles differently than store brought charcoal. Mine didn't get all over my hands, clothes, and everything within 3 feet of the charcoal stick. The tactile sensation was different in my hand as well. I highly recommend trying this out the next time you find yourself with a lot of twigs in your yard.