Charcoal is made by heating wood out of contact with air. Charcoal burning is one of the world's oldest crafts dating back to pre-Roman times. It has a long history in the High Weald, being used in the production of iron from the time of the Roman occupation.
Low value, coppiced or 'waste' wood is normally used for charcoal production and is ideally seasoned or dried to speed up the burning process.
The production process has changed very little over the centuries. Most burning takes place on the site where the wood has been felled. In the past the wood was carefully stacked in a dome and covered with litter
and then wet sand and turf, but nowadays the wood is stacked in portable steel kilns, sealed with sand (at the bottom) and a metal lid. The wood has to be carefully placed in a strict rotary pattern that maximises the amount of charcoal produced whilst allowing just enough air to maintain the fire.
In the past the stack would have been lit through a chimney in its middle, now the wood is lit through the kiln's air inlets which also control the flow of air. The length of the burn varies but roughly takes about 24 hours.
Charcoal was used as a domestic and industrial fuel and had a range of other uses but now most locally produced charcoal is graded to supply the barbecue market, either through local outlets or via co-operative producer schemes to supply national outlets such as DIY chains and petrol stations.