Thursday, November 18, 2021

Charcoal, part 2: Other Uses

In Part 1 I mentioned uses other than fuel or filtration for charcoal. Here are a few others.

Art Media
Charcoal as a medium is as old as fire, but very hard charcoal is prized by artists. The various forms are covered quite well in this blog. If you live near an area with an active arts community, you may be able to find a market for some extra income or barter. I like the willow and vine charcoals myself; they're easy to make and small enough to work with.

Soil Amendment / Gardening
Adding charcoal to a compost heap will increase the carbon content and help keep the pH in balance. If your compost smells like ammonia, add charcoal and stir it in. Mixed into the soil, charcoal will retain moisture and nutrients to keep a garden going between rains or waterings.

Since charcoal hasn't been been completely converted to carbon, it will retain the minerals found in wood. Potassium is one of those and is a primary component of commercial fertilizers (remember the NPK formula for fertilizer?). Charcoal will add those nutrients back to the soil if it is worked into a garden. We use a branded form of charcoal in small amounts on corn fields commercially.

If you have a lot of charcoal, you can use it as a mulch around lighter colored plants. It retains moisture while blocking weed growth like normal mulch but without providing food and shelter to insects and pests.

Activated charcoal is best for this, but plain charcoal will have the same effects, albeit greatly reduced. Detoxification (see Erin's post for more information) and gas reduction are common uses. Some of the claims you'll find in a quick search are unverified and questionable, but make sense. It also makes a passable toothpaste in a pinch due to its mild abrasive qualities, and some claim it helps whiten teeth.

Have a room that smells? Placing cloth bags or small piles of charcoal near the source of the odors will clear the air. Remember to set the used charcoal aside for fuel use, since those trapped odors will be released when it is burned. I saw some good steaks ruined by being cooked over charcoal that had absorbed sulfurous odors a few years back -- the taste was indescribable.

Those of us who hunt know that many animals use their sense of smell to detect predators. Special soaps and detergents for washing hunting clothes are common, removing any fragrances that might spook a deer or other game animal. Storing your hunting gear in a container with a few chunks of charcoal will leave them scent-free, even after you've worn them a few times.

Rust/Mold/Mildew Preventer
Since charcoal absorbs moisture, keeping a few chunk in a container will help prevent rust on tools and other metal parts during storage. I've seen it used to preserve paper and cloth the same way; it stops the growth of mold and mildew on books and clothing.

Hiding Blemishes
Rubbing charcoal on dark wood will hide small nicks and bumps temporarily. I'm not a vain person, so "spa days" are a foreign concept, but a paste of charcoal can be used to pull oils and dirt out of the skin if used as a facial mask to prevent/treat acne.

Charcoal is one of those very useful things to know about and is fairly easy to make. Next week I'll get into the medium-to-large scale production of charcoal. It's not difficult, but can be time-consuming.

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