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substance obtained by partial burning or carbonization (destructive distillationdistillation,
process used to separate the substances composing a mixture. It involves a change of state, as of liquid to gas, and subsequent condensation. The process was probably first used in the production of intoxicating beverages.
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) of organic material. It is largely pure carboncarbon
[Lat.,=charcoal], nonmetallic chemical element; symbol C; at. no. 6; interval in which at. wt. ranges 12.0096–12.0116; m.p. about 3,550°C;; graphite sublimes about 3,375°C;; b.p. 4,827°C;; sp. gr. 1.8–2.1 (amorphous), 1.9–2.3 (graphite), 3.
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. The entry of air during the carbonization process is controlled so that the organic material does not turn to ash, as in a conventional fire, but decomposes to form charcoal.

The most common variety of charcoal, wood charcoal, was formerly prepared by piling wood into stacks, covering it with earth or turf, and setting it on fire. In this process volatile compounds in the wood (e.g., water) pass off as vapors into the air, some of the carbon is consumed as fuel, and the rest of the carbon is converted into charcoal. In the modern method, wood is raised to a high temperature in an iron retort, and industrially important byproducts, e.g., methanolmethanol,
 methyl alcohol,
or wood alcohol,
CH3OH, a colorless, flammable liquid that is miscible with water in all proportions. Methanol is a monohydric alcohol. It melts at −97.8°C; and boils at 67°C;.
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 (wood alcohol or wood spirit), acetoneacetone
, dimethyl ketone
, or 2-propanone
, CH3COCH3, colorless, flammable liquid. Acetone melts at −94.8°C; and boils at 56.2°C;. It is the simplest aliphatic ketone.
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, pyroligneous acidpyroligneous acid
, a dark liquid that is essentially a mixture of acetic acid and methanol (wood alcohol) and is obtained in the destructive distillation of wood. It once served as a commercial source of acetic acid.
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, and acetic acidacetic acid
, CH3CO2H, colorless liquid that has a characteristic pungent odor, boils at 118°C;, and is miscible with water in all proportions; it is a weak organic carboxylic acid (see carboxyl group). Glacial acetic acid is concentrated, 99.
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, are saved by condensing them to their liquid form. Air is not really needed in the carbonization process, and advanced methods of charcoal production do not allow air to enter the kiln. This results in a higher yield, since no wood is burned with the air, and quality is improved. Charcoal is also obtained from substances other than wood such as nut shells and bark; that obtained from bones is called bone black, animal black, or animal charcoal.

Charcoal yields a larger amount of heat in proportion to its volume than is obtained from a corresponding quantity of wood and has the further advantage of being smokeless. The greatest amount is used as a fuel. Charcoal is often used in blacksmithing, for cooking, and for other industrial applications. One of the most important applications of wood charcoal is as a component of gunpowdergunpowder,
explosive mixture; its most common formula, called "black powder," is a combination of saltpeter, sulfur, and carbon in the form of charcoal. Historically, the relative amounts of the components have varied.
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. It is also used as a reducing agent in metallurgical operations, but this application was diminished by the introduction of cokecoke,
substance obtained by the destructive distillation of bituminous coal. Coke bears the same relation to coal as does charcoal to wood. A hard, gray, massive, porous fuel, coke is the solid residue remaining after bituminous coal is heated to a high temperature out of
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. A limited quantity is made up into the form of drawing crayon. Bamboo charcoal is the principal ingredient in sumi-e, a form of Japanese ink painting that uses only black ink in various concentrations.

Because of its porous structure, finely divided charcoal is a highly efficient agent for filtering the adsorption of gases and of solids from solution. It is used in sugar refining, in water purification, in the purification of factory air, and in gas masks. Wood charcoal can remove coloring agents from solutions, but this is accomplished more efficiently by animal charcoal. By special heating or chemical processes the adsorptive property can be greatly increased; charcoal so treated is known as activated charcoal.



a drawing material made from charred wood, mainly twigs or sticks of linden, willow, and other trees. Hard pressed charcoal, made from charcoal powder with an added gum, became popular in the 19th century. Charcoal is widely used for finished drawings and preliminary sketches. It is valued because its stroke has a velvety texture and because it combines lines and tonal effects.


Also known as char.
A porous solid product containing 85-98% carbon and produced by heating carbonaceous materials such as cellulose, wood, or peat at 500-600°C in the absence of air.
The residue obtained from the carbonization of a noncoking coal, such as subbituminous coal, lignite, or anthracite.


1. a black amorphous form of carbon made by heating wood or other organic matter in the absence of air: used as a fuel, in smelting metal ores, in explosives, and as an absorbent
2. a stick or pencil of this for drawing
3. a drawing done in charcoal
References in classic literature ?
he screamed, tearing it off, and throwing it into the charcoal.
Well, as it turned out, this charcoal burner was just the twin of the Southern "poor white" of the far future.
If he lives South of Freeze-your-Bones -- which is where we are going to next -- we light the fire in the grate and the charcoal in the pan.
When the doctor had finished, he stood up erect in the car, and, taking the two pieces of charcoal, one in each hand, drew their points nearly together.
Upon the furnace were accumulated in disorder, all sorts of vases, earthenware bottles, glass retorts, and mattresses of charcoal.
She gave him the address of a shop where he could get a portfolio, drawing-paper, and charcoal.
The black canopy of night hung less than a yard above the glow of the charcoal.
Tomorrow he might be assaulting the ramparts of her father's castle, but today he was joyously offering to sacrifice his life for her--had she been the daughter of a charcoal burner he would have done no less--it was enough that she was a woman and in need of protection.
He was only a young man, and a dandy at that, his face blackened with charcoal, his hair whitened with wood-ashes, with the freshly severed tail of a wild pig thrust through his perforated nose, and two more thrust through his ears.
Petacha was a desert valley, and produced only three things: cattle, fire-wood, and charcoal.
When the Reindeer came along, after a fruitless pursuit of the shad fleet, Charley instructed Neil Partington to send out his own salmon boat, with blankets, provisions, and a fisherman's charcoal stove.
The Fuller replied, "The arrangement is impossible as far as I am concerned, for whatever I should whiten, you would immediately blacken again with your charcoal.