April 7, 2010 at 9:03 pm | Posted in Blackpowder | Leave a comment

Now that I have successfully obtained some saltpeter (albeit rather impure stuff, but I’m working on making a new, hopefully less contaminated batch), I decided to start moving forward on the second ingredient for gunpowder: charcoal.

Grapve vines in my Dutch OvenBiringuccio suggests that willow twigs are the best choice, but that “there are some who make the charcoal of … grapevine twigs…” and that any “soft wood with much pith and woods that are thin young, and without hard knots are good for this process.” I don’t have ready access to willow twigs, but luckily for me one of my friends, Master Padraig, keeps grape vines. Last year he had just finished burning all of the pruned twigs when I asked if I could have some, so it was too late. But he remembered that I’d wanted some, so this year he called me up when he was done pruning and gave me as many as I could carry away.

The instructions in Biringuccio’s book give three methods of making charcoal, one for making large amounts and the other two for creating smaller amounts of charcoal. I didn’t need very much, so I chose one of the methods for making small amounts.

Biringuccio says  “One who has to make a small quanitity usually puts the broken twigs in a large pot or other vessel of earthenweare, iron, or copper. This is covered, sealed, and luted around very well so that it may not breathe in any part, and fire is made on top of it. This is continued until it is believed that the heat has entered well througout and that the wood that had been put in is well burned by this heat alone, without forming flames or coals.”

charcoal success!I therefore got out my trusty Dutch oven, and placed the twigs inside. At our Barony Birthday event I knew that the kitchen intended to grill some of the meat for the feast. Since onsite outdoor grill is huge, I asked Fergus Redmead, who was in charge of the grilling, if he could put my Dutch oven in with the coals when he was done with his meat. He gladly agreed to do so, and even enlisted the help of our friend Erasmus to help keep an eye on it when I was distracted by the need to play music in court.

We took the oven out of the coals just before the event ended, about three hours later. Sure enough, we had charcoal! I broke some of the larger twigs to see if they were charcoal all the way through, and they are indeed completely carbonized. Success!

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