Smokeless Burn Barrel Makes Your Backyard Fire Much Cleaner

Old 55-gallon drums are often repurposed into fire barrels with the simple addition of a few holes cut into the walls. Generally, they’re fit enough for purpose but can have a very smoky output, particularly when overloaded.  However, this design from [Building Stuff Is Fun] combines two drums into one to create a barrel that burns far more efficiently with less smoke! (Video, embedded below.)

Note the vent holes feeding oxygen to the fire just before the barrel outlet.

Through some clever cuts and folding of steel, a single burn barrel is created from the original two that helps eliminate smoke entirely, through two clever design features. First of all, plentiful air is provided to the fire thanks to the intakes at the bottom of the barrel. Secondly, the barrel-in-barrel design, paired with some smart vents, helps provide fresh air to the fire just before it leaves the barrel. This extra oxygen supply helps create secondary combustion at the outlet which burns up all the matter that would normally be passed out as smoke.

The design involves a lot more work than just hacking some holes in an old drum, but the results are undeniably impressive. The output of the smokeless burn barrel looks far hotter and cleaner. We’ve seen similar designs used to supply workshop heat, too. Video after the break.

73 thoughts on “Smokeless Burn Barrel Makes Your Backyard Fire Much Cleaner

  1. Years ago one of my cousins made and tried to produce a burn barrel that was also collapsible that after startup produced a smokeless burn. It was a simple design using directed louvers and a hinge pin setup to enable collapsing and transport.

    1. Environmentally speaking it’s far better that it goes up as CO2 than as methane or any of the other compounds in wood gas. This is the same principle as a catalytic converter, when you fully combust your fuel the environment is better off.

          1. @ab
            Why do you say methane is worse? The problem with CO2 is that it stays in the atmosphere for a very long time.
            The greenhouse effect is not the only thing to take into account. Even water vapor has a big greenhouse effect …

            “Methane, by contrast, is mostly removed from the atmosphere by chemical reaction, persisting for about 12 years. Thus although methane is a potent greenhouse gas, its effect is relatively short-lived.”

            https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jan/16/greenhouse-gases-remain-air

    2. He has collected carbon, it’s only CO2 once it’s burned again. Are you suggesting there is a better use for it? Maybe use some fossil fuels to chip it into mulch? Take the time to fashion every piece into a useful utensil? Use heavy machinery to dig a massive hole and sequester it underground again? I don’t really see a better option here.

      1. To be fair, one could use the heat to run a small boiler and maybe have a steam powered generator or something. Get some work out of the heat while one has it.

        But as Jeff above has stated, CO2 is better than the biomass laying about rotting away and producing methane instead. All though, the biomass could be put in a tank as to encourage even more methane production and then collect the methane as useful and easily stored fuel for the future.

        Just burning it is all though simpler than any of the above.
        I myself though just takes it to my local recycling station that either uses it for biogas production, or directly as fuel for the local district heating plant. But not everyone has that option.

        1. The issue with CO2 is not that we are creating it through burning, but that we are taking CO2 that has been out of the carbon cycle for millions of years.

          That’s the overall issue – we need to actively recapture a few trillion tons of carbon fromthe carbon cycle. For reference – a mature tree, on average, recaptures 48 lb of carbon.

          1. I weren’t actually giving a serious suggestion. But there is a verity of ways to turn heat into more useful energy. Be it just to heat the house a bit before winter comes around.

            Burning the stuff as is isn’t a terrible thing in itself.

    3. probably better than using fuel to truck a bunch of old brush and debris out. depending on local rules and air quality management guidelines. I’m planning on applying for a burn permit this year when the window opens in my area (December).

        1. That’s silly. There’s no argument. The carbon in plants comes from the CO2 that they breathe — it all comes from the atmosphere. And you can’t get more CO2 out of a plant than CO2 went into it. The carbon is an element, after all.

          The “argument” in that article is that someone might otherwise be growing trees and using the wood for building houses or something, which _is_ a form of carbon capture I guess. So burning wood is worse than building with wood. But it’s still waaay better than building with wood and heating with coal.

          1. The real problem is there’s too many of us here on earth. Someone needs to invent a machine people step into and disappear like the machine in one of the 1960’s StarTrack episodes. The only issue is if someone invents one of these, who goes first?

    4. In Canada, Liberals introduced a “Carbon Tax” on all fuels including Natural Gas commonly used for home heating. I figure to help minimize this tax, I’ll burn a lot wood in my stove, thus freeing up Carbon. Hmm… was that the intention?

      1. The optimal solution is to likewise tax wood burning and similarly tax everything else that emits C02-equivalents proportionally. There’s practical impediments to doing so though. Of course individuals selfishly finding loopholes in ways that we know in aggregate cause unnecessarily and unjust harm others and their private property doesn’t help the situation.

      2. Taxpayer, I think you’re confused. Burning wood is essentially carbon neutral — to first order, the CO2 emitted is the CO2 that the tree pulled from the air. Burning gas or coal, on the other hand, is releasing CO2 that’s been buried for millions of years, with no offset.

        By switching from NG to wood, you’re doing exactly what “the man” wants you to do, you rebel!

        The problem with low-temp wood burning is that it releases all sorts of other particulates. That’s the stuff that makes smoke opaque. If you burn hot enough, those get combusted fully as well, and the world doesn’t get greehousier, and your neighbors don’t get emphysema. Winner!

      1. Around the city I live in, it really will work wonders for the value. I just looked at my girl the other night and asked her with a straight face, “how many of those sounds do you think are gunshots versus morons that put wet rocks too close to their bonfires”. Within eyeshot when I step on the porch I see 4 houses with functional bonfire pits and 2 that could be made functional with an hour or two of cleanup.

    1. rural alaskan here.

      urbanites on their roll it to the curb and watch it go away trash disposal. they take the service for granted. now go live somewhere where that doesn’t exist. then when the city slickers with their so called environmentalist virtues come out here to hunt and fish they always leave their trash behind. that’s beside from taking game that some people up here subsist on. and dont get me started on what your filet o fish sandwich factory trawlers do to our fishing industry. then they go home and write to their politicians that it should be protected, never mind the people who actually live up here not being able to utilize our own natural resources. we cant even log in a place where trees pop up like dandelions, and drilling oil in an arctic wasteland, thats a no we might upset the massive caribou heards (larger than our human population by weight).

      it pains me how much environmentalist decision making is done in air conditioned buildings in cities by people who have never lived anywhere near actual nature. people who live close to nature tend to like it and want to preserve it. for everyone else its just a damn tourist destination or a reserve gas tank or something to be regulated into oblivion.

      1. “urbanites on their roll it to the curb and watch it go away trash disposal. they take the service for granted. […] people who live close to nature tend to like it and want to preserve it.”

        Or as you described concerning urban trash pickup, rural dwellers take nature for granted and go around “rolling coal” or driving 100 yards down the road because they can’t be bothered to get off their asses and walk.

        I’m from the country, live in the city, want to protect nature and stop/reduce the human impact on the climate. You can do both. It’s not an either or choice. There are better ways to deal with recyclable garbage than burning them. You’re just being lazy. It’s so easy to burn something in a barrel. I know because we had a burn barrel when I was growing up. I didn’t like it. It stinks, it releases toxic fumes, there’s nothing good about it except it’s easy. Use your brain and come up with something better.

        1. Since you’re so invested, you could at least pop up a few suggestions. Educate instead of slapping the nose. Sadly, everyone today is about virtue signaling and then calling people lazy when they don’t know where to start. Which in itself is just as lazy.

          Also, keep in mind in some rural areas in the north trash dumps aren’t exactly easy access. When I lived in UP Michigan, it was about 2hrs away and closed during winter. Local government’s direction was to burn it since holding it until summer brought on animals. Some locals that didn’t like burning ended up burying it which is just as bad.

          1. people with a higher pay grade than me have yet to provide a workable solution. to be fair i reuse everything, often out of necessity. i used to work for a guy who was a master gardener (he held four masters degrees, that was one). we would burn all kinds of construction waste, small stumps, yard waste, etc. it was explained to me that you would then mix the ash with soil, and it would provide nutrients to plants, which would then sequester carbon and scrub co2.

            i know other people who cant just load up a truck to take it to the dump. you need a boat for that. the notion that they are lazy is bollocks. just going to get groceries is an ordeal. they compost their food waste, burn their construction waste, save and store e-waste and anything else that might be useful, and they have to fit all that stuff on their own land, including the trash pit.

      2. President Carter set aside a chunk of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration. Which part? It’s not anything like the forested mountains with caribou that the anti-oil people show pics and videos of.

        The part of ANWR for oil exploration is an arctic desert. Nothing out there but rocks, some lichen, and probably some insects and bacteria.

  2. I’ve seen a lot of ads lately for a commercial version of this for backyard firepits – honestly, it looks like a repurposed washing machine drum. I’ve got an old well-pressure tank lying about, maybe I can convert that in similar manner.

  3. Giving air to a fire will make the smoke disappear, but this has the disadvantage that a lot of heat is produced, and the fuel won’t last as long as with the smokey barrel. In a point of view of fuel efficiency, the smokey barrel is more efficient. A nice hack would be to add some adjustable dampers to control the air intake, and get the proper heat amount for gathering around. Here is a video that shows how a fire behave according the amount of air given. Here is an example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ih3RNqQNeD4

    1. A burn barrel’s job is to eliminate waste, not to generate heat.

      Say what you want about carbon sequestration, burning a barrel of cardboard puts less carbon in the atmosphere than having a dump truck carry it 25 miles to the nearest transfer station (followed by long-haul trucking to the dump site).

      Garbage collection, like public transport, depends on population density to work efficiently. Fuel consumption amortizes well enough when a truck can do a couple hundred pickups per mile. It doesn’t when the truck averages maybe five pickups per mile. In my region (mountains and lakes) there are roads where it’s a 30-mile round trip to reach an area with two or three houses.

      1. You didn’t grow up where people recreated outdoors in the snow.

        A burn barrels job is to keep the drinkers warm while they swap lies (on some days).

        You put a second ring of vents above the fuel level, so it burns rich/slow at the fuel but not so smokey at the top.

  4. So the better approach is to still use several megawatts making filament out of hundreds of pounds of virgin PLA and burn the wood while you print 100% plastic Captain Marvel coasters instead. That’s environmentally friendly, right bro?

    1. Nice. And made of stainless so will last many times longer too.

      I prefer a Stainless Kelly Kettle. Smaller, and also smoke free if used well. But most importantly, it facilitates coffee.

      However… Perfectly possible to keep an un modified barrel burning (well, a couple of air holes are allowed) for hours without smoke while consuming freshly felled trees (not the leaves obviously). Just start small and build up. Remember as a kid the fun challenge of getting the one where we went camping glowing a dull red. Much fun.

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