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Charcoal is a plant (usually wood) or animal material (usually dung or bones) that is heated to high temperatures in the absense of oxygen. The items do not burn; they instead char.

Charcoal as a fuel

Charcoal, as a fuel, burns hotter and cleaner than its raw counterpart.

Charcoal in the arts

Charcoal can be used for drawing and for making black pigments.

To make charcoal drawing sticks

  • Wood (especially willow) is used to make drawing sticks.
  • Take well-dried out straight twigs and place them in a fire-proof baking dish. Cover tightly, but not air-tight.
  • Place the baking dish under hot coals, or in a very hot oven. Let the dish sit until the coals are cooled, or in an oven for several hours.
  • Carefully remove the dish. If enough oxygen was kept from the sticks, you should have suitable charcoal drawing sticks.

Vine charcoal is available in most art supply stores and is period as the process used to make vine charcoal drawing sticks remains largely unchanged since medieval times, though to process is now industrialized.

To make charcoal pigment

  • Animal bones, wood, fruit pits shells and nut shells can be used for this process.
  • Take the charcoal from the above process and grind it well.
  • You will have a black pigment that is known in modern and medieval times as carbon black (or bone black if using bones, ivory black if using ivory).

To make compressed charcoal sticks

  • After you have ground the charcoal into a fine powder, add to this a mixture of water and gum arabic.
  • Work the mixture until you have a stiff paste.
  • Shape the mixture into round or square-shaped bars. Let dry.
  • When the bars are dried, you will have compressed charcoal sticks.

Compressed black charcoal is available in most art supply stores and is also period as the process has remained largely unchanged since medieval times (except for the industrialization again).