6 Steps to Making Char Cloth

Making Char Cloth for the sake of catching sparks as a fire starter can easily be done using a metal mint tin. Sparks are made with a flint & steel or ferro rod and caught on the cloth as a glowing and growing red ember.

To make the Char follow these steps:

  1. Poke a hole in the top of the container and fill it with small size scraps of %100 cotton cloth like that from an old t-shirt or duck cloth tarp.
  2. Place the container into a bed of coals from your campfire. 
  3. Let it sit in the coals until it starts to smoke and than continue to allow it to smoke for a few minutes (about 5 minutes) until the smoke slows and stops. 
  4. At this time, pull the container out of the fire and let it sit until cool. Remember do not open the container until cool as the cloth may burn if exposed to oxygen.  Without adequate oxygen the cloth becomes charred creating “char cloth”. 
  5. When cool, test a single piece by throwing some sparks with your flint and steel or steel match to see how well it ignites. 
  6. When you need to start a fire try placing your char cloth within a bird nest shaped tinder bundle and then once in flames place the bundle into your built fire.

Natural material works as char too, try punky pieces of wood, cattail fluff or bull thistle down rather than cotton. Also, if you don’t have a tin you can fold a metal can or aluminum foil around the cloth in the same way or bury the burning material in the ground limiting it’s ability to access oxygen. In this video, I practice a bow drill fire friction from the landscape and then make char out of punky wood in order to make char and create easier fire methods afterwards. 

If you do it with a group, collect or ask students to bring in a tin to make their own charcloth. The tin can then be used as a survival kit afterwards.

David Alexander is a professional outdoor guide and conservation biologist.  He enjoys making nature more accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com

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