Making Char Cloth

How many times have you been camping or trying to start a fire and failed making an ember? I have started lots of camp fires in my life and one thing is sure…you can’t cheat at making a camp fire. It has to be started properly and fed the right pieces at the right time. All too often the kids don’t have enough patience and throw a log on and expect to start there. This won’t work because fires are like children: they must be fed the smallest piece first (an ember-tinder, bundle-thin, kindling-medium and so on) until you have a steady strong flame. So, let’s talk about step 1 char cloth.

What is char cloth? Char cloth is a piece of cloth (usually cotton) that has been charred by the process of pyrolysis. This turns it from cloth to a fuel and is one of the best methods for catching an ember.

Making char cloth is really easy and all campers, survivalist and preppers should know how to make and use char cloth. This is a beginner skill that anyone can undertake. Learn to make char cloth and use the skill often. This can get an ember started from the tiniest of sparks.

To make char cloth, all you need is a metal container that seals tightly. If your container won’t seal, your cotton cloth will just burn up. The next thing you need are pieces of cotton. Old cotton shirts work just fine.

I like to use an Altoids tin for my container. Just poke a small hole in the middle of the tin. This should be about 1/16” hole. This is where the smoke will escape. Cut your cotton char material in 1” square pieces. Make them about ¼” thick once stacked in a pile.

Now this can go on any open flame to start the pyrolysis process. Put the cloth in the tin and set on the fire. Watch for smoke then watch for the smoke to go out. This is your sign to take it off the fire and close the hole. You can just use a sliver of wood and poke it in the hole. Then, let it cool down and your char cloth is ready.

To use it, carefully peel off one of the layers and catch a spark on it to get it going. You can use an empty lighter to throw a spark: a flint can be used or even shining the sun at it with a magnifying glass or the bottom of a polished can. This char cloth takes a spark and turns it into a fairly long ember.

Have your tinder bundle ready before lighting the char cloth? Put your ember that you caught on the char cloth in the middle of your tinder bundle. Blow life into it carefully and you should be well on the way to your campfire.

Remember to have this made before you go on a hike or camping. You never know when you will be caught in a situation that needs a fire!