Char cloth is one of my favorite fire-making tools. It easily takes a spark and burns slowly which is quite useful for igniting a tinder bundle. Pair some char cloth with a ferrocium rod and fire-making becomes less daunting.
Char cloth is simply just as its name implies, charred cloth. Its basically charcoal. I have only used cotton to make my char cloth but according to wikipedia, it can be made from any fabric that is 100% vegetable based, so linen and jute work also.
Essentially the material is burned in the absence of oxygen. The process is actually easier than it sounds.
You only need three main items.
1. 100% natural cloth fabric. I find old t-shirts or rags work well.
2. A lidded metal container and a way to punch a hole in this container. An old food can with an aluminum foil lid will also work. I use an old Altoids tin.
3. Heat source. I have always used a small backpacking stove. Open fires and even candles will work.
Once you have your materials collected, there are just a few steps to prep and be on your way to a nice batch of char cloth. Here are the steps:
1. First, prep your metal container by punching a small hole. I find a 1mm-2mm hole works well. I usually use a nail. If using foil as a lid, make sure to wrap it over the opening of the can tightly.
-If your hole is too large, air could enter the container and burn the cloth, resulting in ashes.
2. For your cloth material, use only 100% natural vegetable based fabrics such as cotton, linen, or jute, etc. I use old t-shirts and rags.
-Cut your fabric into small swatches. I usually cut mine into uniform 1"x1" squares. Uniformity and size are not critical. Just remember that if the char cloth is too small, it might make the finished product hard to use. Too large and it might be unnecessary and wasteful.
3. Take the swatches and lay them flat in your metal tin. Make sure the swatches are not rolled or folded. This will ensure the cloth chars evenly and all the way through. Do not tamp and pack the tin too tight.
4. Fire up you gas stove and lay the tin on the burner with the hole you created pointing up. The process releases smoke. I prefer to make char cloth outside. If you want to, you can do this indoors. Wait for the smoke to come out of the hole. This means your cloth is charring. If you are outside, just let it smoke. If you are inside, light the smoke with a lighter or match. You'll get a small flame like a candle. This is the gases burning off.
Once the tin stops smoking or flaming, turn off the stove and remove the tin. It will obviously be hot so use tongs or other implements.
Once the tin is cool to the touch, open it up and inspect your cloth. It should be black all the way through and not easily fall apart when handled. If it turns to dust when handled, start over, the cloth was "cooked" for too long. If the cloth is not fully blackened, return it to the tin and reheat.
If you are successful, you should have nice pieces of char cloth which you can now store in a waterproof container to help with fire-starting. The char cloth will take a spark easily and give you time to ignite a tinder bundle. Char cloth wont burn long enough to light logs or even kindling.