Hazel, willow, beef and storytelling from Bedfordshire

A fine retort?

Graham and Jane looking at one of Graham's coppice plot

Graham and Jane looking at one of Graham’s coppice plot

On Thursday Jane and I took a trip to Suffolk to visit a chap called Graham who I had found posting on a forum populated by all sorts of interesting woody types, but mainly arborists comparing notes on chainsaws, forwarders and other exciting machinery. These of course are of great interest to me, but it was Graham’s intriguing posts about his Exeter charcoal retort that particularly caught my attention.

A retort is a device that in many ways brings the process of charcoal making charging into the twentieth century. It has, on the face of it, a load of advantages over the more traditional ring kiln. There is one obvious disadvantage however, and that is the price which is significantly greater than the alternative.

Graham with his Exeter retort

Graham with his Exeter retort

We produce a lot of waste wood from our coppicing work and burning it to make charcoal would seem an obvious next move for us. However, to justify the capital expense required, we would need to cut a lot more coppice. This is something I’m keen to do, but have a degree of nervousness about. We’ll see.

Graham doesn’t appear to share our timidity. We were greatly impressed by his ambition for and achievements in the huge wood he has taken on. It’s a fabulous wood and I envy him the options he has available, but at the same time am in awe of what he is attempting. Hopefully we’ll see him again at some point; we were both quite inspired by spending a couple of hours in his company.

We need now to work out where we want to take our woodland business – it’s a good dilemma to have.



  1. Richard Richard
    January 12, 2015    

    How much does the retort cost?

    • January 31, 2015    

      Sorry for slow response Richard. The Exeter retort as pictured here costs, I believe, soemthign around £15,000 depending on its exact specification. More than we can afford currently so we are wondering about building one ourself, or perhaps asking someone else to build one for us. All thoughts welcome!

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