A great and useful skill to have when you’re out in the wilderness for prolonged periods of time is to know how to make a char cloth. This material, if properly prepared, will ignite with the slightest spark and can be used to set fire to tinder with ease. This skill has been known for a long period of time and you’ll need a flint or another “spark generating device”.
The charring process occurs when a natural material (vegetable fiber) (such as linen, cotton or jute) that has been converted via pyrolysis into a slow-burning fuel of very low ignition temperature. It is capable of being ignited by a single spark that can in turn be used to ignite a tinder bundle. The process is called pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is defined as “a thermochemical decomposition of organic material at elevated temperatures in the absence of oxygen.”
By using this method we can create a tinder that will readily catch a spark with minimal effort. The spark can come from any number of tools such as an empty lighter, flint and steel or Ferrocerium aka Firesteel. Magnification from a Fresnel lens, your glasses, the lens from a lensatic compass’ rear sight or an electrical source.
- Cloth (T-shirt, Handkerchief, Bandana, Jute string)
- Scissors or knife
- Tin can (coffee can, Altoids can, shoe polish can, band aid can)
- Tool to punch a small hole on the tin lid. (nail, Phillips screwdriver, holepunch)
First we cut square pieces from a cotton t-shirt. Oter materials can be used such as paper and wood.
If using a an opened can, we seal the can using aluminum foil. If the can has a lid and can be sealed, make a small hole on the lid. The nail is used to punch a small hole in the lid. The hole will allow the smoke to escape while we char the cloth.
We want to create a bed of coals. As a fire method we use a tepee fire. Tepee fire does not take much maintenance if built properly. (a camp stove can be used)
After placing the cloth into the tin, we placed the container on the coals.
Slowly smoke will begin to escape through the hole in the lid. The important part is to watch it as it smokes. Once the smokes stops, we turn over the tin. Smoke will begin once again to release from the tin. Once the smoke stopped we removed the tin from the coals. We leave the tin closed until it cools down.
If the texture is correct the material should stay together when you handle it. The cloth is black and is now ready to use for tinder.
At this point we want to test the Char cloth. We use the flint rod from a magnesium block. Below the spark lands on the charred cloth and continues to expand on the material. The great thing about char cloth as tinder is that it continues to burn for minutes.
We placed the charred cloth on the tinder nest. Wrapping the tinder around the charred cloth, we blow air on it slowly and steady. As the tinder heats up, we blow harder to increase the temperature until ignition.
Char cloth has been used for centuries for primitive fire starting. Once the cloth has been made, its a good idea to seal it in an air tight container.