Wood chips or sawdust are two types of waste materials that people who want to reduce heating costs can use to make their own wood pellets. In general, pellets are widely used as a new fuel in many countries and in daily life because of their characteristic advantages. Moreover, as a cost-effective alternative to traditional energy sources and fuels, they can be both an economical and environmentally friendly choice. While finished wood pellets are readily available in forest areas, they can be expensive in urban areas due to limited resources and high demand. Below, you can learn more about the manufacturing method using a pellet mill, as well as the possible advantages and disadvantages of producing your own.
Table of Contents
- Can you make wood pellets yourself and save money?
- Storage tips and final thoughts
Can you make wood pellets yourself and save money?
As already written, most pellets are industrially produced in large quantities. Accordingly, most people are accustomed to buying ready-made wood pellets from stores. Therefore, many might be confused about whether it is even possible to make wood pellets at home. Such a possibility exists if you can collect the raw materials and invest in some important machines and manage them both at home and industrially. In addition, you need to calculate the cost in advance, while such pellet mills can also be rented. Most importantly, you should have basic woodworking skills. So, if you want to make wood pellets yourself and heat your household with wood in this way or make them in a small business, scroll below to learn what materials you need and what steps you need to follow to get the fresh fuel.
Before you start making pellets
Once you’ve selected your wood materials, it’s time to start the process. You should get the raw material in advance. Raw materials are varied, such as wood waste, sawdust, wood shavings, agricultural waste, plant straw, corn cobs, garden waste, dry leaves, tree stumps, and other biomass materials. For example, if you use sawdust, you should also add water. This is important because this raw material is essential for the production of pallets. However, the moisture content of the sawdust should be around 8 to 15%. This will help in the production of the best wood pellets.
Wood logs can also be used for the production, but you need to crush them. Also, if you do not have more than 10-15 logs, you will not be able to make enough wood pellets yourself. You may also get a small batch of wood chips. So if you are expecting more pellets but don’t have any materials yourself, you should go to your local lumberyard or sawmill and get enough scrap wood and logs. You can also order other raw materials such as twigs, stems and leaves from dead plants. Since you will need wood chips, sawdust, etc., you should also collect a good amount of these materials.
Use a wood chipper and chop large pieces of wood
For this step you will need a wood chipper and a hammer mill. With it, you can reduce the wood to a very smaller size. Be careful not to make the pieces of wood thicker than 2.5 cm. You should do this so that they can fit into the die of the pellet mill. However, if you are using only sawdust, you do not need to worry about this. Turn on the wood chipper and feed the branches and logs into its mouth. Keep a container at the other end to collect the wood chips. Smaller logs usually produce wood chips about 8 inches in diameter. If your wood chipper produces larger wood chips, you will need to feed the wood 2 times or more to make it smaller.
Reduce the size of the wood chips
Now you need to use a hammer mill to turn the smaller wood chips into even smaller pieces, or particles. The hammer mill will crush your wood chips and turn them into tiny pieces of wood by repeatedly fractionating and colliding between the wood chips and its grinding steel plates. Now turn on the hammer mill and gradually pour the wood chips into its mouth. Hold a container underneath to catch the small particles that come out. If you don’t own a hammer mill, you can rent one from a local sawmill. If you use sawdust to make pellets, you don’t have to go through this step because the sawdust has already been ground by a hammer mill.
Dry the wood before you can make wood pellets yourself.
If you are aiming for a small number of pellets and thus have less wood materials, you can dry them directly in the sun for about a day. If it is windy outside, you can cover them. However, if you are dealing with a larger amount of wood pieces, you will need an industrial dryer to bring the moisture content to about 10-20%. But how can you test the moisture content of your wood pieces? It’s easy to do with a moisture meter. You can get it at most agricultural stores or you can order it online. Accordingly, you may not need to dry sawdust. However, if you have stored your sawdust in a humid environment and feel that the moisture content is more than 10-20%, spread it on the ground for a day or in the sun for some time.
Add vegetable oil
If you are working with a few loads of pellets, you can add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil for every half kilogram of wood pieces and then mix. Do not add more, however, as you can do this later if needed. This will allow the wood particles to combine naturally without chemicals. You won’t notice a significant difference in the texture of your wood particles as they absorb the oil quickly. If you try it with a lot of wood raw materials, you don’t have to worry about adding binders to bind the wood particles. A larger amount of wood is processed in industrial machines and mills, where they go through sufficient pressure and heat. These help the pellets to bind naturally.
Use a pellet mill and make your own wood pellets
The next step is to properly use the appropriate machine to make the pellets. Wood pellets are made in industrial pellet mills with flat dies using a die-casting process under high heat and pressure. The wood particles are forcefully pressed and get a uniform cylindrical shape. The good machines cost between 2000 and 5000 EUR, so at this point you should already know whether such an investment is worthwhile for you. Pellet mills are available in most machine shops and agricultural hardware stores.
If your local farm hardware or machinery stores do not sell a pellet mill, you may be able to purchase or even rent one online. Now turn on the machine. The die will be heated to the appropriate temperature for this process. The ideal temperature for pelleting can vary depending on the machine you are using. When this temperature is reached, put your wood particles into the machine to get your wood pellets.
Let the pellets rest and cool down
Now, when you bring the hot and seemingly wet pellets out of your pellet mill, you should spread them out on a dry surface. This will allow them to naturally cool and dry for about a day. If you have made a fairly large quantity of pellets, you can run an industrial air cooler for about 1-2 hours to cool the hot pellets with it. Moreover, this is an important process that you should not skip. Because if you store hot wood pellets in bags, they can be easily damaged and flattened.
Storage tips and final thoughts
So now your homemade wood pellets are ready to light your pellet stove or other heating devices powered by them. One of the most important final steps is to store and preserve the pellets. Store them in airtight and resealable plastic or paper bags or plastic containers. Store these containers or bags in a dry place with very low humidity where neither direct sunlight nor water can penetrate. In particular, make sure that the place where you store your pellets is protected from any kind of water source. Try to keep the pellet storage at an elevated place above the ground.
So if you are serious about making your own pellets, gather the raw materials and machinery and get started. You may also wonder if the wood pellets are worth the cost and effort. Try to make wood pellets only if you are really interested in getting a large load to supply a heating system, for example. A small demand does not add much financial or time value. This is because the production of wood pellets is not just hype, but requires more effort and higher investment, as you can probably already guess. In addition, you need to take care of the whole process, from the preparation of raw materials to the storage of pellets.