Keys to the Past


Charcoal; Charcoal pit; Charcoal platform

Wood holds too much water to produce very the high temperatures needed in a furnace smelting operation. To achieve these temperatures charcoal was required. This was produced by piling dried wood on a platform, sometimes as a hearth base, and covering it with a layer of turf. (The wood could also be placed in a sealed metal container). A small fire in the wood was then started. Not all the wood was burnt, though the sealed nature of the operation meant that all the wood had changed to elemental Carbon (C). This 'wood' could then be used as fuel for smelting. The operation took place on a charcoal platform.
Small pieces of wood were used and there was special pruning (called coppicing and pollarding) to ensure a constant supply. Most charcoal was Oak, though over woods have been used. Many charcoal platforms have been found, identified by pieces of charcoal, in Teesdale and Weardale.
The most common remains of the charcoal burning are the small pits in which charcoal was burnt or the platforms on which the fires were placed.

To explore more glossary entries click on a letter.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Z 1-9