Tutorial: How to Make Charcloth for Tinder for a Firesteel or Steel Striker

This afternoon I was sitting in the backyard with a couple of books, trying to avoid the direct sun by hiding under my hat when it occurred to me that now would be the perfect time to make charcloth for the first time in my life. I ran inside, scrabbled about and found a few things: a stained 100% cotton tea-cloth that had seen brighter days, a small tin that I had picked up from a store that had a little basket full of stuff that they were trying to get rid of - my propane/butane camping stove, my ferrocerium firesteel, a little stick, and my Mora carbon steel knife.

Charcloth is linen or cotton cloth that has been combusted in the absence of or with a minimal amount of oxygen.

Just like charcoal, it ends up that the water and impurities in the cloth are burned off.

All that remains is a fairly pure form of carbon.

This - along with the woven structure allowing a large surface area of the carbon to mix with atmospheric oxygen - makes it easy to catch a spark and turn to fire with the presence of flammable kindling.

To prepare, I cut the teacloth with my knife into strips, and folded it tightly up into a round cylinder.

I carefully packed this folded and wrapped cotton cylinder into the base of the tin container and packed it down tightly.

I then packed the lid on carefully.

Into the lid, I cut a small circular hole with the blade of my Mora carbon steel knife. Normally I would avoid using my knife tip for this type of operation, but the metal tin was very soft, softer than that of a soda tin - so it was okay.

I rounded and smoothed the hole by pushing in my firesteel and rotating it.

Then I trimmed a small stick and rounded it off and fitted it into the hole. I checked to ensure it made an air-tight seal, removed it and put it to the side for later.

I put the closed tin, with the hole in the top and the cloth wrapped up tightly inside on top of my stove and turned the flame on to a medium heat.

Within a few seconds smoke began to flow out of the top hole.

Soon it begun to billow and pour out of the top.

Holding the blade of my knife in the smoke stream briefly revealed that within the smoke were non-combusted carbon-compound fractionates, like a honey-coloured tar, and water which beaded on the blade.

Soon the smoke diminished in volume and opacity and only wisps were appearing from out of the hole as most of the impurities and moisture had burned and evaporated off. At this point, I removed the tin from the stove, and placed it on the grass, and poked the stick into the hole to prevent any oxygen entering the tin and causing further burning and combustion.

After a few minutes of cooling, I removed the stick to see if any more smoke was being made.

The tin was smoke-free and had cooled down enough that I could hold it in my hand.

Opening it up was a bit tricky, it seems that the tar has distilled and sealed the lid to the container. It opened after a bit of twisting though, to reveal dark grey fabric.

It was not particularly fragile, as I feared it would be. I could unravel and unroll the packed material without breaking much of it off.

I cut a fragment off and lay it down on the upturned tin.

I put a single spark on it with my ferrocerium Light My Fire Scout firesteel rod and within a second red spots began to grow across the surface.

I picked it up with my fingers and could feel the intense heat coming off the small piece of charcloth - and try as I might, I couldn't extinguish it by blowing on it.

Now that I had seen that the charcloth was working, I gathered some kindling.

I pulled together a handful sized pile of dried leaves, wood shavings from the workshop, and some dried cedar.

I tucked a small patch of charcloth - about an inch square - into the middle of the pile of dried material and cast a small shower of sparks on to it.

Instantly red glowing patches began to radiate out, and I could feel the heat as I held it close to my mouth as I blew on it.

Within seconds a blaze started.

It burned hot and I sat back in complete satisfaction. My first charcloth! I am going to unwrap the rest of it, and store it in small portions in small ziplock bags for my next hike and camping trip. Brilliant!

Hope this tutorial was useful,



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