How to make char­coal

Chuah Kee yong shows the BRaTs how char­coal is pro­duced.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - BRATS -

THE tra­di­tional method of mak­ing char­coal has drawn tourists from all over the world to Char­coal Fac­toy Kuala Sepetang. while you should def­i­nitely go there to ex­pe­ri­ence it yourself (and get lots of amaz­ing pho­tos!), here’s a quick round­down on the process.

1. Boat­men go around the Matang Man­grove For­est Re­serve, where they chop down 30-year-old man­grove trees in plots al­lo­cated by the Forestry Depart­ment of Penin­su­lar Malaysia. For ev­ery tree chopped, a new sapling is planted, and the boat­men can only re­turn to a cleared plot in 30 years, so it’s all very sus­tain­able.

2. A canal sys­tem based on the tide al­lows the boats to carry up to nine tonnes of logs back to the fac­to­ries, lo­cated in­land. This can only be done a few days be­fore and af­ter the first and 15th of ev­ery month ac­cord­ing to the lu­nar cal­en­dar. That’s when the tide is at its high­est, which fills up the canal.

3. The logs are care­fully ar­ranged ver­ti­cally in­side a kiln. Small pieces of char­coal are placed at the bot­tom of the logs to al­low even circulation of heat. Each kiln can hold up to 50 tonnes of logs.

4. The smok­ing process be­gins! A fire, fu­elled by chunks of wood from man­grove and rub­ber trees, is lit at the open­ing of the kiln. The fire smokes the logs for 10 days, when the 85˚C op­ti­mum tem­per­a­ture is achieved.

5. The fac­tory’s “head man”, a well­trained ex­pert who smells the smoke com­ing out of the kiln to de­ter­mine if each step is com­plete, then cre­ates a smaller flame for an­other 14 days. The open­ing of the kiln is also re­duced us­ing bricks and clay.

6. Dur­ing this pe­riod, the head man smells the smoke com­ing out of a vent in the kiln. when he no longer smells any mois­ture in the smoke, the cool­ing phase com­mences. The kiln will be com­pletely sealed, and left to cool for eight days.

7. once the kiln has cooled down, the open­ing is bro­ken down, and you’ll have per­fectly smoked char­coal in­side. The logs will be a mere fifth of its orig­i­nal weight be­cause of all the lost mois­ture. That means for each round, a kiln can pro­duce roughly 10 tonnes of char­coal, which is then bro­ken down to smaller pieces and packed by hand. It is then sold do­mes­ti­cally and ex­ported to Ja­pan.

One of the

fac­tory work­ers, ah Choo, 67, weighs a

bag of char­coal

while pack­ing it. The heat is on: One of the su­per­vi­sors, Tan Chin Soon, adds more fire wood at the open­ing of the kiln. This is what a kiln looks like dur­ing the smok­ing process. The open­ing, where the man­grove trunks and dis­carded rub­ber tree trunks are burned, serves as a door. The fac­tory work­ers go through the door to stack the man­grove logs and to re­move the char­coal once it’s ready.

Chuah Kee yong, 43, ex­plains the process of mak­ing char­coal and the his­tory be­hind his fam­ily’s busi­ness to a few BRaTs mem­bers.

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