How to Make Drawing Charcoal

By The Arty Teacher - August 14, 2022

This blog post explores how to make drawing charcoal. When I saw these step-by-step images below on Facebook, uploaded by art teacher Bernard Ionesco, that clearly show how to make charcoal, I just had to get in touch and see if I could share them. You would need one hell of a risk assessment to do this with students in school, but wouldn’t it be a memorable experience?

Charcoal is carbon. It’s made using a process known as ‘Pyrolysis’. According to Wikipedia, Pyrolysis is

“the process of thermal decomposition of materials at elevated temperatures in an inert atmosphere. It involves a change of chemical composition.”

The word is coined from the Greek-derived elements pyro “fire”, “heat”, “fever” and lysis “separating”.

That’s the science bit. In simpler terms, you need to take some wood, place it in an almost air-tight container, and then you heat up the container until everything in it, apart from the carbon, has evaporated away.

What you will need:

  1. Wood. This can be dowel or twigs. Willow is recommended but it can’t be too green. You need to take the bark off with a sharp knife. Whatever you use, it will shrink to about half the diameter.
  2. A metal container. A new, empty paint container or coffee tin are ideal.
  3. A nail and hammer to make holes in the container lid.
  4. Sand.
  5. A fire. This could be a barbecue, stove or anything that is big enough to surround your container in hot coals.
Choose your wood
  1. Fill a quarter of a container with sand and cut the wooden dowels or sticks so they can fit in the container.
Dowl or wood for charcoal

2. Fill the container with sand till you cover the sticks completely.

Preparing the wood to make charcoal

3. Make some holes in the lid of the container with a nail and hammer.

4. Place the container vertically or horizontally and cover it up with wood or charcoal.

How to Make Drawing Charcoal

5. Fire the BBQ or the fireplace. Keep the container surrounded by embers so the heat is uniformly distributed.

Light the Fire

6. When the container is cold you can open it but the sand inside can still be hot, so be careful.

How to Make Drawing Charcoal in an art lesson.

Once everything is completely cold, tip the sand and charcoal onto newspaper. Pick out the charcoal. Use the newspaper to tip the sand back into the container to reuse.

Beautiful homemade Drawing Charcoal

NOTE: You can repeat the process using the same sand over and over again but the container may fatigue after about three uses.

To access a free resource on Making Artists Charcoal. Simply click the image below.

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The Arty Teacher

Sarah Crowther is The Arty Teacher. She is a high school art teacher in the North West of England. She strives to share her enthusiasm for art by providing art teachers around the globe with high-quality resources and by sharing her expertise through this blog.

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4 responses to “How to Make Drawing Charcoal”

  1. Katharine says:

    This is really helpful-thank you. Could you give me some idea as to how long the tin should be left in the fire? Thanks

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      It takes between 30 minutes and 2hrs depending on the size of your tin and the ferocity of the fire you create. I hope it works well for you!

  2. Bella says:

    Hello I was curious what kind of sand did you use for this is it just regular sand or do you need a certain kind to make charcoal this way?

    • The Arty Teacher says:

      It can be any sort of sand; it’s simply there to stop the sticks from moving and breaking. Some methods of charcoal making don’t even bother with it. Next time I do this I am going to try one with sand and one without!

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