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Traditional Charcoal Production in Kuala Sepetang

traditional charcoal making Kuala Sepetang
charcoal factory owner, Chuah Chow Aun, proudly showing visitors his black charcoal

Ever since my friend told me about her eye-opening visit to a traditional charcoal-making factory in Kuala Sepetang, I had wanted to check it out for myself.

traditional charcoal making Kuala Sepetang

There are more than thirty such factories in a cluster and it is quite difficult to determine which will give a more rewarding experience. We went to Khay Hor Holdings Sdn. Bhd. and I have to say it was the right choice.

traditional charcoal making Kuala Sepetang
Mr. Chuah demonstrates how logs are moved

This factory, which is the largest factory in this area with six charcoal kilns, won the Perak Tourist Appreciation Award in 2009, for its value in the tourism industry and they truly deserved it.

traditional charcoal making Kuala Sepetang
showing how logs should be placed in the charcoal kiln

During my visit, the owner, Mr. Chuah Chow Aun gave a most vivid lecture on how charcoal is made in his factory, the traditional way. Mr. Chuah is himself a tourist icon. To understand what I mean, you have to listen to his briefing yourself.

traditional charcoal making Kuala Sepetang
the neatly arranged logs inside the charcoal kiln

First, the factory has to procure mangrove logs, cutting them into lengths of 1.6m. After debarking, logs weighing some 20kg each, are moved to the charcoal kiln, where 1,500 logs are neatly arranged along the wall of the igloo-shaped kiln which is 7m in height.

traditional charcoal making Kuala Sepetang
setting up the fire

With only a small ‘door’, a fire is lighted, by burning some other logs of wood, and as the days pass, the opening of the kiln is closed little by little until it is entire sealed, except for four small windows around the side of the kiln.

traditional charcoal making Kuala Sepetang
sealing the door of the charcoal kiln

As you can imagine, the mangrove logs are not burned in the charcoal-making process but instead, water is extracted and dried by the heat. Through the dampness and temperature of the steam that escapes from the windows, expert workers are able to check on the drying process, until the logs are entirely dry.

traditional charcoal making Kuala Sepetang
local ladies packing charcoal into paper bags

The first stage of the process takes about ten days. From a temperature of 85 degrees Celcius, it is increased to 230 degrees Celcius over the next fourteen days in the second stage. Once the charcoal is ready, all apertures of the kiln are sealed and another eight days are allowed for the charcoal to cool down. The end product, after some 32 days, is then ready to be removed, a job reserved for the womenfolk.

traditional charcoal making Kuala Sepetang
4kg bags of charcoal ready to be shipped

Going through this process, 100kg of mangrove wood is reduced to only 26kg of charcoal, or colloquially known as “black gold”. At today’s price of RM1 per kilogramme of charcoal, I wouldn’t say this is a lucrative task. However, this 80+ year old factory continues to thrive as 60% of charcoal produced are exported to Japan.

Khay Hor Holdings Sdn. Bhd.
Add: 319, Jalan Kota, 34000 Taiping, Perak, Malaysia.
Tel: +6012-573 9563
email: charcoalchuah@yahoo.com

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With love

3 thoughts on “Traditional Charcoal Production in Kuala Sepetang

  1. A sustainable programme of replanting the mangrove trees must be implemented in order to meet the demands for logs for these factories to export the charcoal.

  2. Hi Emily, I like to say thank you for this blog. I now got an overview on the charcoal making process even though I can’t get there to witness this.

  3. Hi Wendy,

    Glad that you found this blog post informative. Thank you for leaving a feedback. Not many readers would. 😀

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