How to make Activated Charcoal Yourself

Making Activated Charcoal yourself at home or in an emergency situation!

First, you will need to select a wood, the more dense and hard the better the efforts (so you do not want to pick a super light wood, it would produce much less charcoal for your work).

Warning: Avoid plywood, particle boards, pressure-treated or any other lumber which contains chemicals. This would make your efforts worthless for water filtration, cooking and also consumption!!

Now that you have your wood, you will need to separate blocks or chips which will be best cut at the same size. The reason you want them to be equal in size (as close as possible without going crazy), is because they will be more likely to cook at the same speed. Smaller chips are likely better if you require the charcoal to be done more quickly, however, medium sized blocks will provide more consistent output of reasonably large quantities. Lots of people differ on how long to cook wood when making activated charcoal. There is nothing wrong with variance in recipe, all woods will burn differently.


After you have your wood chopped into chips or blocks, you must heat the wood without oxygen. This generally means, in a survival situation, using a cooking pot and lid.

There are some suggestions that drilling a few holes in the bottom side of the pot will allow some of the chips to catch fire and makes the process a little faster; however, drilling holes will mean some of the chips turn to ash, making them worthless output. Some people also prefer to only carry one survival pot, which means drilling holes is out of the question (and that’s okay, this means a little longer cooking time but more activated carbon output!). Containers which have the drilled hole method will need to be placed over the fire to get the flame to the blocks and initiate the burn, and covered with only a crack exposed…this lets the smoke vent and burns out any chemicals on the wood. The smoke is going to be light in color and will turn to a tan-like brown color, which is when you will cover the container completely with the lid, tightly and continue to leave atop the fire. A couple of hours will be necessary depending upon the quantity of activated charcoal you are making. Simply set the container in the fire and return after a few hours. Never touch the pot with your hands until it has had a thorough chance to cool --- which sometimes takes longer than overnight! Throwing dirt overtop it will help cool it faster, which should be done immediately after it is complete (you do not want to let it sit on the fire forever).

Usually by the time the fire is naturally dead, the charcoal is ready.

Click here for our full How To Start A Campfire in an Emergency Guide

Survivalist Tip: Some people who do not have pots get away with wrapping their chips in foil. Another preparation without a pot involves using more blocks than required, enough to intentionally lose some to the flame, to still produce a smaller quantity of charcoal.


How can you tell if the charcoal is activated?

Checking the pot a few hours in is imperative to a good charcoal activation cook. There may be some pieces which are wood still. This means that they were not cooked long enough (that is okay, you can still salvage some of this by continuing the fire a little longer). Some will be ash, which means they were exposed to too much oxygen. Look for charcoal like pieces. Charcoal is black, light weight and crumbles easily. This is the stuff, the porous, filtering material you need to get the impurities out of your drinking water.

Don’t feel bad, it may take a few attempts to get it right. Usually, even in a less favorable cook, you will produce a little useable charcoal at least, but don’t get desperate, there’s almost always more wood to try again!

Tags: how to make activated charcoal, making activated charcoal with your campfire, making activated charcoal while camping, make activated charcoal for water filtration, using activated charcoal to purify drinking water

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