Don’t want to spend a fortune on store-bought wood pellets? Make your wood pellets with these simple steps and enjoy your personalized flavor and warmth.
Whether to smoke your favorite dishes in your smoker/grill or to blaze up your fireplace, wood pellets can be both an economical and eco-friendly choice. While ready-made wood pellets are inexpensive and readily available in forest areas, in the urban areas it can be quite expensive for limited resources and great demand.
So, if you are planning for making wood pellets to use at home or personal business, read till the end to know all about how make wood pellets.
Is It Possible To Make Wood Pellets At Home?
As most pellets are industrially produced in huge amounts and most of us are used to get ready-made wood pellets from stores, many of you might get confused if it is possible to make wood pellets at home.
Yes, you can make your pellets at home if you can collect the raw materials and manage some essential machines (both domestic, semi-industrial/industrial).
But do not drawback as I mentioned industrial machines. You do not have to spend a fortune and buy those bulk machines, You can simply rent them till your job is done.
But above all, you should have basic woodworking skills. So, if you want to make wood pellets for personal use at home or a small business, scroll below to know the materials you will need and the steps you have to follow to get fresh and crispy wood pellets.
Should You Use Hardwood Or Softwood For Making The Pellets?
Hardwood or softwood, which one will you choose to make your pellets? Are hardwood pellets better than softwood pellets? This is the most common misconception or confusion that a beginner user face. I will not delve deep into this myth rather try to tell you the fact.
As hardwoods naturally have lower moisture content and higher density, many of us think that hardwood pellets are better than softwood pellets.
But, as far as density is concerned, it does not matter whether the wood materials for pellets come from hardwood or softwood. Because in the pelletizing process they are compressed into the same density.
Hardwood pellets are more pricey for their less availability and more demands in pellet mills and some factories. But the higher price of hardwood pellet does not mean softwood pellets are of less quality.
The difference lies somewhere else. Hardwood pellets are known for burning longer where softwood pellets are great for burning hotter quickly. They are easy to light and produce more sparks but the problem is that they burn up more quickly.
But if you are concerned about the maintenance and cleaning of your smoker/grill or fireplace, then softwood can be the better choice as the material of your pellets. The hardwood pellets are supposed to produce 3 times more ash than softwood pellets.
To conclude I will only say whether you choose hardwood or softwood as the material, make sure that the raw materials are clean and you dry them properly to lower the moisture content.
Things You Will Need To Make Wood Pellets At Home
- Wood logs, chips, or sawdust)
- Wood chipper (if you are working with logs)
- Hammermill (required for both logs and chips)
- Industrial sieve shaker
- Industrial dryer
- Vegetable oil (for a small batch of pellets)
- Industrial mixer (large batches) or Stand mixer (small batches)
- Flat die pellet mill (large batches) or Pellet press (small batches)
- Industrial cooler ( for large batches of pellets)
- Resealable airtight bags and plastic storage
- Recommended Products
How to Make Wood Pellets
So, if you have chosen your wood materials, it is time to start the process. Here I will discuss it step by step for your convenience.
- Collecting The Raw Materials
If you have not more than 10-15 logs, you are not going to get a good amount of wood pellets. Maybe you will get a small batch of wood chips. So, if you are expecting more batches of pellets, rush to your local lumber yard/sawmill and get enough scrap woods and logs.
You can also order other raw materials like branches, stalks, and leaves of dead plants. Since you will need wood chips, sawdust, etc. Collect a good amount of those materials too.
- Resizing The Woods With a Wood Chipper
For this step, you are going to need a wood chipper and a hammer mill. Now you have to reduce the wood to a very smaller size. Make sure the wood pieces are not more than 1 inch (2.5 cm). You have to do it to let it fit into the die. If you are using only sawdust, you don’t have to worry about that.
Turn the wood chipper on and feed the branches, logs into its mouth. Keep a container at the other end of it so that the wood chips will be stored in that. Smaller wood chips will produce wood chips that will be 2-3 inches in diameter.
If your wood chipper produces larger wood chips, you have to feed the wood 2 times or more to make it smaller in size.
- Reducing The Size of The Wood Chips
Now you have to turn these smaller wood chips into even smaller pieces/particles with a hammer mill. The hammer mill will crush your wood chips and turn them into very small particles by repeatedly fractioning and colliding between the wood chips and its grinding steel plates.
Now switching the hammer mill on, keep pouring the wood chips gradually into its mouth. Keep a container under it to grab the small particles coming out of it.
And you who don’t own a hammer mill, you can rent it from a local sawmill.
And again, if you are using sawdust for making pellets, you don’t have to go through this step as sawdust has been already refined by a hammer mill.
- Drying The Wood
If you are aiming for a small number of pellets and thus have fewer wood materials, you can dry them directly in the sun for a day or so. If there is much wind, you can protect them with a mesh screen.
But if you are dealing with a larger amount of wood pieces, you will need an industrial dryer/drum heater to get the moisture level at 10-20% or so.
But, how will you know the moisture level of your wood pieces? With a moisture meter, you can easily do that. You will get it in most agriculture stores or you can also order online.
And if you are using sawdust, you may not have to dry them. But, if you have stored your sawdust in a humid environment and feel that the moisture level is more than 10-20%, spread them on the floor for a day or in the sun for some time.
- Sieving The Raw Materials to Remove Impurities
If you are dealing with a large batch of pellets, it is normal that you will get some stones, metal, or other impurities from the wood materials. Run the wood particles through a sieve. If you are using a vibrating sieving machine, you can see the raw materials and contaminants coming out of the machine.
This process is necessary when you are working on an industrial mill. These stones, metals, or other particles can get stuck and clog the machine.
So, when you are working with a small number of pellets (where you don’t have to go to an industrial mill), you can skip this step.
- Adding Vegetable Oil
If you’re working with a few batches of pellets, you can add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil for each pound of wood pieces and then mix them. Do not add more than that. You can add it later if needed.
As a result, the wood particles pieces will bind together naturally without any chemicals. Since you are making pellets for your grill or smoker, I am sure you will not take any risk. And you will not notice any significant difference in the texture of your wood particles. They will absorb the oil quickly.
And when you are trying with a lot of raw wood materials, you do not have to worry about adding any binding agent to bind the wood particles. A larger amount of wood is processed in industrial machines and mills where they will go through adequate pressure and heat that will help the pellets bind together naturally.
- Grinding The Wood Particles to Reduce in a Smaller Size
If you want to ensure more consistency in the whole amount of wood particles, mixing the wood will be a good idea. You will need a batch mixer here. You will notice a rolling drum in the batch mixer which will agitate and blends the particles evenly.
Turn the batch mixer on and pour the wood particles into it. After 10-20 minutes when the wood particles will mix properly, pour out them from the mixer. Now pour the next batch of wood particles and repeat the same process.
If you have a kitchen stand mixer at your home, you can use that to mix the small batches of particles. You have to pour the wood particles with/without vegetable oil into the stainless steel bowl and let them mix with the curved kneading hook. Then run it for 10-20 minutes and pour the blended particles out.
Since sawdust comes with consistent size and density, there is no need to mix it again.
- Pressurizing The Materials to Turn Into Wood Pellets
Wood pellets are made in Industrial flat die mills using the die casting method under high heat and pressure. The wood particles are pressed forcefully and given a uniform cylindrical shape.
Turn on the machine. The die will be heated up to the appropriate temperature for this process. The ideal temperature for pelletizing can vary depending on the machine you are using. When you get that temperature, pour your wood particles into the machine to get your wood pellets.
Maximum pellet mills run at the highest 170–190 °F (77–88 °C). This high temperature is necessary to maintain consistent pressure in the machine for binding the pellets. The temperature should not exceed it to avoid blazing or burning in the pellets.
Initially pour the wood particles slowly into the machine. As the machine starts working, gradually add more wood to it.
When you are working with a small batch of pellets, get a pellet press that has a die and roller. Spread the wood particles evenly over the holes of the die.
Now move the roller to pressurize the wood particles so that they are forced to go through the holes and shaped into uniform sized pellets. In the case of die and roller pellet mill you have to work slowly and with patience. As you have a small number of wood particles, you will not get it difficult to give more effort to get the final products.
- Sieving The Pellets to Remove The Deformed or Oversized Ones
Normally, you will get some deformed or broken pellets in the final products. Now run the pellets on a straining screen and sieve them. The holes in such a screen have a similar size to the produced pellets and will separate the deformed pellets from them.
As you are making pellets for yourself, I think you should skip this step and leave the deformed pellets as they are.
- Cooling The Pellets
Now, as you bring the hot and seeming damp pellets from your pellet press, spread them on a dry surface so that they get cool and dry naturally. Leave them for a day or so.
And if you made quite a large amount of pellets, you can run an industrial air cooler for about 1-2 hours to cool the hot pellets.
Do not skip this process. Because if you store these hot pallets in bags, you will discover flattened pellets later.
- Packaging for Storing and Transportation
So, your homemade wood pellets are now ready to blaze your smoker or grill. But you are not done yet. Now comes one of the most important steps and that is storing the pellets. Store the pellets in airtight and resealable plastic or paper bags or plastic containers.
Store these containers or bags in a dry area (with very low humidity) where direct sunlight or water does not reach. Especially, you have to make sure that the place you are storing your pellets is safe from any kind of water source. Try to keep the pellet storages in an elevated place off the ground.
If you have made a small batch of pellets, you can store them in your storage closet
- Is it necessary to use food-grade wood pellets in your smoker or grill?
Answer: Yes. The wood pellets you are using must be food-grade pellets. The non-food grade pellets (like pine) are used as heating pellets which can mess up with the taste of your dishes. Glues and other chemical additives are used in the production of some heating pellets (to bind the pellets), which is unhygienic and will affect your health greatly.
On the flip side, food-grade wood pellets are made from pure hardwood and do not need any glue or chemical binders as you have seen in the pelletizing process here.
- Which flavor wood pellets will be best for most types of dishes?
Answer: With its mild flavor and aroma Alder wood will be a good choice for most types of dishes. Hickory is popularly used in smoking and grilling. You can use both hickory and cherry wood pellets for most types of meats.
Mesquite has a good smokey flavor that is great for beef, poultry, or seafood. Maple has a very mild flavor. Oak does not have a heavy flavor as hickory, but stronger than apple/cherry wood and great for fishes and veggies.
Pecan with its unique nutty and spicey flavor is a good choice for any type of meats and baking items.
- What affects the quality of the pellets?
Answer: While you are making pellets, you are just turning the wood materials into lower moisture and higher density pellets. Therefore the quality of the pellets depends on the type of wood you are using, the remaining moisture content in the pellets, etc.
In this respect, the material plays the main role. That is why well-flavored wood pellets will develop the taste far better than sawdust pellets.
- What else can you use for making wood pellets?
You can add other organic materials with the wood matters or use just organic materials for making pellets. Paper, cardboard, straw, corn husks, stalks, grain, wheat, grass, alfalfa, and other unused products can be efficiently used to make pellets.
- What holds the pellets together?
Wood pellets are generally made of natural hardwood logs, lumber, and compressed sawdust. All of these wood matters have natural lignin in them (about one-fourth or one-third of dry wood).
The high pressure created from the pellet press raises the temperature of the wood matters much higher allowing the lignin to plasticize a bit that results in a natural adhesive for holding the pellet together once it cools.
So, when you will use them to make pellets, the pellets will bind together with the lignin naturally without any additives.
But, if you make pellets from grass or any other non-woody materials, you have to use a binding agent as they do not contain lignin.
- Can the deformed pellets be re-processed?
Yes. The broken or deformed pellets can be reprocessed. So, if you are making wood pellets for selling purposes or so, you can give them into your pellet machine again to get the regular size. However, if you are making them for personal use only there is no need to re-process them as both sizes work the same.
- Are wood pellets smokeless when burning?
Answer: If you use wood pellets on your smoker/grill in a suitable area, it is supposed to create low to no smoke. It largely depends on the type and quality of the pellets and the burning process.
- What size holes are used to press the pellets through?
Answer: 6 mm and 8 mm holes are commonly used to press and shape the pellets. 6 mm size is popular for domestic use and 8 mm for industrial use.
- How much does it cost to make pellets?
Answer: It depends on the availability of your raw materials. If you have your logs and scrap lumbers, the cost will not be so high. Because buying these raw materials can be very expensive for the limited supply of these resources.
If you want to work with sawdust, you can buy that from a local sawmill or carpenter at a cheap rate. But sawdust contains many contaminants.
And as far as the machinery is concerned, your costing will go much higher if you want to purchase them. If you want to keep it within the limit, you would better rent them from a local lumber yard and sawmill.
- Where will you get a pellet press?
Answer: Pellet presses are available at most machinery stores and agricultural hardware stores. If your local agricultural hardware or machinery stores do not sell pellet press, you can buy it online. Pellet presses that are used for processing animal feed can also be used for making wood pellets.
- Can you use your poultry feed pellet mill for making wood pellets?
Answer: Yes. You can use the same pellet mill for making wood pellets and poultry feed pellets. Because most pellet mills function similarly. But make sure you clean the pellet machine well while you will shift to making two different pellets to avoid any impurity.
Therefore, if you are serious about making your own pellets then collect the raw materials and machinery and go for it. If you are asking yourself if the wood pellets will be worth the cost and toil, I would say try to make wood pellets if you are interested to make a large batch. A small batch of pellets will not possibly add much value in terms of money or time.
Because making wood pellets is not something like set it and forget type. You have to take care of the whole process from preparing the raw materials to storing the pellets. However, patience has its reward, mind it!