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#133580 - 05/23/08 08:14 AM difference between charcoal and ashes
xavier01 Offline

Registered: 12/02/02
Posts: 86
Loc: Phx, AZ
I have read that charcoal from a fire can be used to filter water (using a "Three-Tiered Tripod filter"). I have also read that ashes can be used for some other purpose (though I cannot remember).

After a fire has burnt away, what are all that remains? Charcoal? Ash? Anything else? What is the difference and how can they be used? To my ignorant eyes, everything just looks burnt.

Thank you, sincerely,
from Phx, AZ

#133581 - 05/23/08 10:54 AM Re: difference between charcoal and ashes [Re: xavier01]
Nicodemus Offline

Registered: 10/30/05
Posts: 1341
Loc: Virginia, US
Yes, you can filter water through charcoal, which is nearly the same as filtering water through activated carbon, just not as effective. Activated carbon is processed charcoal essentially.

Charcoal is the chunky black remnants of a wood fire. Look up "Charcoal" or "Lump Charcoal" on Google Images and you'll see a few pictures.

Ash is the dusty and flaky grey remains of a wood fire. Lye is made from wood ash and you can make soap with lye.

Other than that, whatever is left after a fire depends on what went into the fire, but basically charcoal and ash are the main remnants.

Edited by Nicodemus (05/23/08 10:57 AM)
"Learn survival skills when your life doesn't depend on it."

#133582 - 05/23/08 10:56 AM Re: difference between charcoal and ashes [Re: xavier01]
AROTC Offline

Registered: 05/06/04
Posts: 604
Loc: Manhattan
Charcoal is wood that has been burned without sufficient oxygen. All the water and volatiles have burned off. Which means if you burn it again in sufficient oxygen it burns much hotter then the wood it was made from. Since it burns so much hotter (especially if you force air into it with bellows or a leaf blower) it can be used to smelt and work iron and other metals. It can also be used to make gun powder and as a filter since its full of pores where other substances can be absorbed. In gunpowder those pores get filled with potassium nitrate (salt petre) and sulfer. In water filtration the pores absorb the pollutants in the water (or air in the case of gas masks). During World War I the British filled their gas masks with coconut charcoal, the US used fruit pit to make their charcoal. Charcoal filters are a good place to start, but aren't completely effective for water treatment. But filtering through layers of sand and fine charcoal does filter out the gross impurities. Good charcoal should be completely black, if its brown then it hasn't been burned long enough and won't burn very hot or absorb very much.

Ashes are the product of complete combustion either of wood or later charcoal. Ashes are the very fine, soft, grey stuff. Ashes can be soaked in water to produce potash or potassium carbonate solution. If you have limestone near you, you can burn it to produce quicklime, which can then be mixed with water to form a calcium hydroxide solution. Mixing a calcium hydroxide solution with a potash (potassium carbonate solution) makes a potassium hydroxide solution and precipitate of calcium carbonate. Potassium hydroxide is a strong base and will corrode metal and pretty much anything else. It can used to make soap by mixing it with fat. If you spill it or especially if you get it on you use a weak acid like vinegar or lemon juice to neutralize it. Calcium carbonate is baking soda, which you can go on to use as a leavening agent for quick breads.
A gentleman should always be able to break his fast in the manner of a gentleman where so ever he may find himself.--Good Omens

#133584 - 05/23/08 12:58 PM Re: difference between charcoal and ashes [Re: xavier01]
OldBaldGuy Offline

Registered: 09/30/01
Posts: 5695
Loc: Former AFB in CA, recouping fr...
"...I have also read that ashes can be used for some other purpose (though I cannot remember)..."

If you have an "outhouse," slit trench, or other primitive type of bathroom facility, you can put a handful of ash in on top of your "deposit" to help keep odors down...

#133588 - 05/23/08 02:46 PM Re: difference between charcoal and ashes [Re: OldBaldGuy]

Ash can be taken as an antacid dry (yuck) or in a slurry...be careful though. It can be a quite alkaline.

A slurry of ash can also be used for other medicinal uses...unfortunately they escape me at the moment.

#133589 - 05/23/08 03:07 PM Re: difference between charcoal and ashes [Re: ]
big_al Offline

Registered: 01/04/06
Posts: 586
Loc: 20mi east of San Diego

In addition to the above uses of ash, it can be used as a tooth paste or cleaner.

Some people try to turn back their odometers.
Not me, I want people to know "why" I look this way
I've traveled a long way and some of the roads weren't paved

#133596 - 05/23/08 06:36 PM Re: difference between charcoal and ashes [Re: xavier01]
Ron Offline

Registered: 02/04/05
Posts: 171
Loc: Georgia, USA
Another use for wood ash is as a fertilizer and soil amendment.

Wood ash contains calcium, phosphorus and potassium. On a bag of commercial fertilizer the contents will be listed as N-P-K
(% Nitrogen - % Phosphorus - % Potassium). Typical wood ash is about a 0-.5-2 to 0-1-3 fertilizer, i.e. almost no nitrogen, .5-1% phosphorus, and 2-3% potassium. Potassium levels are sometimes even higher.

Wood ash will increase soil pH. So, on acid soils, wood ash can be used like lime. Agricultural lime (calcium carbonate) is about 31% calcium. Wood ash is 10-20% calcium. A pound of wood ash is about equal to 1/2 pound of lime (more or less).

Mineral content of wood ash varies greatly depending on the type of wood,location where it was harvested and how it was burned, but above values are fairly typical.

If you have acid soil that is low in potassium, when you clean out the fireplace, spread it on your garden.

#133599 - 05/23/08 07:32 PM Re: difference between charcoal and ashes [Re: xavier01]
Joy Offline

Registered: 04/21/08
Posts: 67
Hi xavier01,

There are books and websites that have information on Activated Charcoal. I have 2 of the books that I use for taking Activated Charcoal. Here are some sources for you.

This site has a lot of information. Be sure to check out the links on the left side of the page for different uses for A. Charcoal:

This page has a list of books:

I bought my books from Amazon:

I also got this book from Amazon, but I can't find the picture of the book, so here it is on the first link I gave you:

I haven't seen this next book yet - it is for those with money and who are serious about Activated Charcoal, but I would like to read it sometime. Maybe the library has a copy. I don't know, but here it is for those who might be into advanced research. It is by the same author (David O. Cooney) as one of the smaller books I posted about above. I wish it didn't cost so much.

I have mostly used activated charcoal to stop vomiting during a migraine attack and for stomach flu and other nausea problems. I have seen it used in the emergency room for drug overdose. I have also used it when someone took too much medicine by accident. It adsorbs the medicine and it can save lives.

The books I have have lists of what substances it adsorbs and which substances it does not adsorb.

I keep it with me at all times. I have a whole bottle of it in my FAK. I hope this helps you.


PS - I just want to say that I am not affliated with the above websites or books in any way.

Edited by Joy (05/23/08 09:00 PM)

#133605 - 05/24/08 12:25 AM Re: difference between charcoal and ashes [Re: Joy]
xavier01 Offline

Registered: 12/02/02
Posts: 86
Loc: Phx, AZ
Wow! Thank you all for the excellent information.


#133618 - 05/24/08 05:38 AM Re: difference between charcoal and ashes [Re: Joy]
Susan Offline

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 5163
Loc: W. WA
Joy, check for the books that you can't afford (or don't want to buy sight unseen) using your interlibrary loan service. I've gotten books through it that belonged in museums, and ones that were so expensive that I wouldn't let anyone get near the door if I owned it myself.


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