Learning how to make char cloth at your house is pretty simple. Using just a few common household supplies, you can make a material that ignites easily with just a small spark.
Char cloth is a great addition to any survival kit. Seal it up in a ziplock baggie and place it with your preferred fire starter and you'll be prepared to light a fire when you need it the most.
Why should you use char cloth to light tinder?
A lot of tinder won't light with just a single spark from a magnesium fire starter or flint and steel.
Unless you have a really dry tinder bundle made from very fine materials, you may have trouble starting a fire.
Since char cloth will light with a small spark, you simply light the char cloth then use that to ignite the tinder bundle.
Once your tinder is lit you can slowly add larger fuel to the fire. So basically, char cloth makes lighting a fire easier and it's more reliable than using a tinder bundle by itself.
Char cloth is an organic material that has been heated up inside a container without oxygen. The lack of oxygen allows gasses from the material to escape without the material actually catching on fire or combusting.
The process is known as pyrolysis, which is a type of thermolysis. Charcoal, a popular grilling fuel is made the same way.
Although you can make char cloth from a variety of different materials, cotton works the best. Blue jeans, wood and other fibers can be used but an old cotton T-shirt is my favorite.
To learn how to make char cloth, the first item you'll need is some type of tin container. An Altoids tin works perfect but you can also use a soup can or something similar, just make sure it's clean and you have a way to seal it off.
To begin, take a cotton shirt and cut it into several small square pieces. The sizes don't have to be exact.....roughly a 2 or 3 inch square will work.
For the best results, only use about 3-5 squares of cotton at one time. It may take a little longer if you need to make a lot of char cloth but it turns out better if you don't overload the tin.
Next, take the tin and poke a small hole in the top. I used a roofing nail which worked really good but any nail, punch, or small drill bit will work.
Don't make the hole to big. You want the hole just big enough to allow the gasses to escape. A large hole could allow oxygen to enter the tin which will ignite the cotton and ruin your char cloth.
Now take the cotton squares and place them inside the tin. I put 4 squares into the tin.
Take the tin outdoors and place it over a camp stove, canister stove, campfire or other fire source that will supply a small amount of heat. Since you don't want to inhale the gases, it's important to do this step outside, plus it smells pretty bad.
I used the small exterior burner on our barbecue grill which worked great.
You'll want to place your heat source on its lowest setting. If you're doing this over a fire, allow the fire to burn down so only coals are remaining. If the heat source is too hot it could ignite the cotton.
After about 2 minutes you should start to see smoke coming out of the tin. If you see the smoke starting to light on fire you need to turn down the heat. A nice slow steady stream of smoke is what you're looking for.
After about 20-30 minutes the smoke will stop and the char cloth is done. The total amount of time it takes over the fire depends on your heat source, the tin and the amount of material inside. This batch cooked for 20 minutes.
Just keep it over the fire until it stops smoking and you'll have good results. For thicker items like blue jeans it will take longer.
When the char cloth is done, let the tin cool completely before you open it up. This prevents two things. First, you don't want to burn yourself. Second, if you allow oxygen to enter the hot char cloth it could ignite which will ruin the whole process.
Once the tin is cooled, open it up and inspect the finished product! You'll notice the tin has changed color but you can use it over and over again.
You should be able to handle the char cloth without it breaking apart, however, it's somewhat fragile.
This picture shows the char cloth burning after I lit it with only one strike from a ferrocerium fire starter.
To protect the char cloth from moisture, store it in a sealed ziplock baggie or other watertight container.
Learning how to make char cloth is a fun and easy project you can do right at home.
With just a few simple supplies you can make a great fire starter to put into your survival kit so it's ready when you need it.