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One of the most established occupations in the region was that of charcoal burner. The charcoal burner undertook very hard work in all weather conditions. During the production of charcoal, there was no time to sleep or rest. Day and night, the charcoal burner had to control several ovens in different stages of the process, demanding constant vigilance.

The charcoal burner had a ghostly appearance, with a face obscured by charcoal and clothes torn by firewood. His diet was not varied and his workplace was the woodland. Despite the gruelling nature of his work, the charcoal burner was a person who accepted his position with dignity.

Obtaining charcoal

The preparation of the firewood depended on its type and the place in which it was found. Wood from pollarded trees (Cork Oak, Chestnut, Portuguese Oak, Red Oak) was obtained by cutting the tree through the trunk and once felled, pruning the branches and cutting up the trunk. In the event that branches were used for firewood (rock roses, junipers), the tips and thin branches not suitable for making charcoal were removed.

Next the ground used for charcoal manufacture had to be chosen and prepared. A pit was dug in roughly circular form. The floor of the kiln had to be compacted down to prevent air entering through it since the presence of air currents would make it very difficult to control the fire during charring.

Once the floor was cleared and the firewood placed close by, the kiln was prepared and set up. First a stake was set vertically into the centre of the circular hole. Next the wood was placed around the stake forming a cone, trying to distribute it uniformly so that cracks would not appear whole being roasted.

The kiln was covered with a layer of bracken, turf, moss or dead leaves. At that point the stake placed in the centre was removed and the hole (the future chimney) was covered to prevent the earth from the top layer falling in. The exterior cover insulates the wood from the outside, so that the oxygen in the air does not ignite it. A correct charring is simply the slow and incomplete combustion of wood due to lack of oxygen.

Close to the kiln a small fire was lit, and the hot coals obtained were thrown into the mouth of the kiln. Once the fire reached sufficient strength to not go out, the chimney was capped, first being covered with bracken and then by earth. From this point on, it all has to be carefully watched, particularly during the first ten hours, which is when the clamp to burn. During the charring process, the wood reduces in volume, so it has to be beaten down and in this way the charcoal already produced is compacted to reduce the gaps that are produced.

If the roast is too fast, the charcoal burns, leaving only cinders. If the roast is too slow, the charcoal would not be evenly cooked, giving only partly charred wood. For these reasons, the charcoal burner would have to open ventilation holes in the parts where the temperature is less, and block off the areas where the temperature was higher, trying to achieve a uniform intensity of the fire at the different heights of the kiln. The burning process occurred from the top downwards, and from the centre outwards. The duration of this process varied, depending on the size of the kiln, taking around one week.

Once the roasting was completed, the kiln had to be extinguished and cooled, for which the burnt earth was removed in order to cover the ventilation holes and in that way put out the small pockets of fire that were still burning on the inside.

The only thing left was to bag up and transport the charcoal. The charcoal burners themselves packed it into a bag, closing it with a piece of string stitched through the mouth of a sack. Finally, they carried the sacks on their backs to the loading area. The most usual form of transport was by pack-animal, driven by muleteers, taking the charcoal to their destinations.





Association for the Rural Development of Sierra de las Nieves

Edificio Sierra de las Nieves, Paraje de Río Grande-Las Millanas, s/n - 29109- Tolox (Málaga) - Phone: 952 48 28 21 - Fax: 952 48 29 44