Sylva Spoon


Charcoal Marking (part 2)

Tom BartlettComment
Last week at the Essex Wildlife Trust's Pound Wood I helped load and light the charcoal kiln. In the evening I went back and switched around the chimneys and vents. On Wednesday morning the kiln was shut down (all the vents blocked off) and it was left to sit for a week.

Charcoal I helped produce, from cutting to cooking.

We opened it up on Tuesday morning and the wood has gone from this:

To this:

We started picking out the charcoal and loading it into bags. I was amazed at how the wood had in one way changed so much, but in other ways, remained remarkably the same. I could tell which branches were silver birch and which were hornbeam. 

While bagging the charcoal we had to break up the larger pieces. This was to help fit them in the bags and to make sure they had been turned to charcoal all the way through, and had not just become 'brown ends'. The wood that had fully converted broke easily and the sounds of it had a glass-like quality to it. 

Brown ends set aside in the kiln lid, to be used as fuel for the next burn.
Once we couldn't easily reach down into the kiln we tipped it over and continued to hand-fill bags. Apparently using shovels left the bags dirty, which customers don't appreciate. 

The bags are all filled with the larger pieces, labelled and put on the tractor trailer ready for delivery.

We filled about 70 bags with barbecue charcoal.

Once we'd picked out all the larger pieces, we moved on to sieving out the smallest pieces to fill 'top-up' charcoal bags, which are labelled as having smaller pieces of charcoal in them, intended for "topping up a barbecue at a suitable pause in the cooking"

The first stage of sieving
Pouring the pieces into a funnel to tip into bags

Once all the remaining charcoal has been through the above mesh, it's sieved twice more, once to collect remaining small 'top-up' pieces, then the remains from the top-ups are sieved to be used as horticultural charcoal. It's all a very efficient process, with nothing from the kiln going to waste. 

Sieving out the remaining small pieces of charcoal

Sieving to separate the horticultural charcoal from the remaining dust and debris.

My 3 Favourite Carving Woods

Tom Bartlett1 Comment

Silver birch (Betula pendula)


It is easily identified by its white, peeling bark. On the bark, starting at the base, grow dark, rough arrows/diamonds, which can cause the whole base of the tree to appear dark and rough. Birches can grow 30m (100') tall. The shoots on the branches are slender and tend to droop. The leaves are small and trianglar, with ragged teeth along the edges.

Some Traditional Uses

The bark has been used to make containers and even canoes. The thin, flexible branches are used to make besoms (think 'witches broomstick'). Birch poles were also used to stir molten copper as they prevented oxides from forming, which meant a purer copper.

My Birch Carvings

Maples (Acer campestre - field maple, Acer pseudoplatanus - sycamore)


Tend to be densely crowned, with pale, cracked bark. The leaves are opposite paired with five veins radiating from the stem to five lobes. Most easily recognised by their winged seeds that spiral to the ground like little helicopters. 

Some Traditional Uses

Perhaps most famously used to make violins, with the rippled grain being referred to as 'fiddleback'. The sap can also be boiled down to make syrup.

My Maple Carvings

Hornbeam (Carpinus Betulus)


The grey, smooth bark makes the trunks look a little like elephant's legs. The leaves a deeply veined with fine, uneven serrations.

Some Traditional Uses

Hornbeam is a very hard wood. As such it has been used for mallet heads, skittles and butchers' chopping blocks. The wood also burns very long and hot, used to smelt iron.

My Hornbeam Carvings

Hornbeam shrink pot

Hornbeam spoon and small shrink pot

What are your favourite woods for carving? Feel free to share examples of your work in the comments section.