Make your own artist's charcoal
You'll need firelighting skills and marshmallows!
This is a Call of the Wild session for secondary school age children aged 11 upwards and explains how to use bush craft skills to turn wood into charcoal.
Watch the video first for an overview of how to do it, as demonstrated by our education team. Then check out the detailed instructions below. Supervision is essential for this activity. Be safe!
What you’ll need
- Finger-width, freshly cut green hazel or willow sticks around 5cm long
- Elder sticks in lengths of around 5–8cm
- Tin with a hole in the lid (or a tin plus a hammer and nail to create a hole)
- Fire gloves
- Marshmallows for taking a break!
- Water to put out the fire at the end
Light your campfire and let it burn down to embers. If you need to prepare your tin: place the lid on a block of wood, hammer a nail through it and then pull apart. The hole stops the lid from deforming in the heat. Remember to wear a glove on your hand which is not holding the hammer.
If you haven’t already, cut your willow or hazel into lengths of approximately 5cm, and the elder into lengths of approximately 5–8cm. Do this using secateurs, remembering to wear a glove on whichever hand is not holding the tool.
Place the hazel/willow sticks in the tin and replace the lid. Don’t overfill the tin as the pressure which builds up in the heat could force the lid off the top.
Place the tin in the hot embers of the fire.
White smoke will come out of the hole in the tin lid. The smoke will then change to vapour that may burn as a flame out of the hole. When the flame no longer appears, remove the tin from the fire, using your fire gloves, and let it cool. This will probably take around 10 minutes.
Remove the lid and take out your charcoal sticks. To make your elder pencil, take your elder lengths and push a stick through the middle to remove the soft pithy core. Then simply wedge in your new charcoal sticks and off you go to draw!
If you would like to take this activity further and practise your knife skills, you could strip the bark off the willow/hazel lengths before burning them, and whittle the end of the elder to be more pencil like before you push out the pithy core.
Remember, if you are using a knife you need to be an arm and a tool length away from anyone else. Whittle either to your side or between your legs, always whittle away from your body, and wear a glove on the hand that isn’t gripping the knife.