How to Make Charcloth: A miracle material for catching sparks and making fire

Posted on March 27th, 2010 by Leon in Make a Fire

Catching a spark and blowing it into a flame is a skill that can save your life. Charcloth is a material that has been “cooked” like charcoal is at high temperatures until it becomes black. Properly-made charcloth will easily catch a spark and grow into an ember.  This ember can be transferred to a tinder bundle and blown into a flame.

How to make charcloth, a material for catching sparks and starting fires.

Put the pieces of 100 percent cotton cloth in a tin with a hole in the top for ventilation, then heat it until the smoke comes out and ignites.

by Leon Pantenburg

WEB-Firestarter(1)

Once you discover how easy it is to make charcloth, you’ll never have an excuse for running out, or not having some in your survival kit. This is the method used by Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, Or.

Every scout is expected to know how to make and use this material, and charcloth is part of every survival kit. It should be part of your kit, too!

Here’s the items you need, and what you need to do:

Materials:
A regular-sized Altoids or other brand of mint tin, with a small hole punched in the top. The photos show a larger tin can for increased production.
Blue denim from old Wranglers or Levi 501s or work jeans works very well as the material to be charred. Other 100 percent cotton items and some organic materials can also be used. Another favorite material is 100 percent cotton insulated underwear. We favor denim because there is never a shortage of old jeans in any group of growing boys!

Also, if you ever need to make charcloth in an emergency, chances are somebody will be wearing jeans! And don’t forget that a 100% cotton bandanna can provide lots of charring material. (But test every batch before including it in a survival kit – you never know when some charcloth might not work!)

This piece of undercooked charcloth should be cooked a little longer.

This charcloth is undercooked and needs to be put back in the sealed tin and cooked longer.

A source of heat – campfire coals work well, and so does a backpacking or camp stove. You can use a barbecue grill or propane heater in your backyard. Charring is a smoky process, so make sure you go outdoors. (Check out this video! Making charcloth)

Once these items are assembled, tear up the denim and pack it loosely (so the contents have some spring to them) to the top of the can.

Place the can on the heat source and cook.

Actual cooking time will vary, depending on heat intensity, outdoor temperature etc. The heat should be high enough that the can starts to smoke through the hole in the top.

At some point, in about five to ten minutes, the smoke should ignite. Then adjust the heat, if possible, so the flame stays about two-to-four inches high. When the flame dies down, and the smoke lessens, take the can from

Finished charcloth should be completely black, but flexible and not brittle.

Finished charcloth should be completely black, but flexible and not brittle.

the fire and let it cool completely. When you open the can, check the charcloth to make sure it is completely black and somewhat flexible.

 

 

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