Bushcraft Basics – Char Cloth

Bushcraft Basics - Char Cloth

From the dawn of time, and certainly since meat was invented, man has sought the ability to create fire whenever he chose.

This hasn’t always been easy. The method we’re going to describe makes that process a whole lot easier. Char cloth is a material which readily accepts a cool spark such as that produced by a traditional flint and steel. Enough heat can then be produced to set tinder on fire.

The materials required are readily available. Some form of natural fibre cloth is required but you can easily use cotton wool balls which are easily bought from supermarkets and drug stores.

Denim material is one of the better materials to use, it will need cutting into 2 inch/5cm squares.

When the materials are ready they can be placed in ether an old beans can as seen here or a small metal box with a snug fitting lid. It is essential that a hole be placed in the lid of whichever container you use as when heated the rapidly expanding gases could cause an explosion.

Place either the cotton wool or the denim inside the tin or can and pit the lid on. The item now needs to be heated, as the charring process, the same process as making charcoal, relies on burning the material in an oxygen free environment.

For the heating process we’re using a camping stove but you can just as easily use an open fire. During the heating process methane gas and carbon monoxide gas are produced so it’s very important to carry out this process in a well ventilated area, away from any flammable materials. When the gases are produced the methane tends to ignite, keep heating until the flames extinguish themselves and no further visible vapours are emitted from the can.

It’s very important to leave the can to cool thoroughly  as the fresh batch of char cloth will readily ignite if the lid is removed whilst the item is still hot. When fully cooled empty out the contents of the can and you should be left with something resembling the photographs below.

You’re char cloth is now ready for use. Either with the traditional flint and steel method where it is better to place the char cloth on top of the piece of flint and strike down with the steel as the sparks will fall more readily onto the char cloth this way.

A modern fire steel can also be used as far more, hotter, sparks are produced.

When the char cloth has been ignited it can then be placed inside some tinder and with a little blowing to encourage the production of heat will, all being well, set the tinder on fire. These skills are always worth practicing in a controlled environment before you ever need to do it in real life. 

For a more in depth look at the production of char cloth follow the link to our video on Youtube.

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