MAKING CHAR CLOTH (FIELD EXPEDIENT TINDER)
A practical way to recycle old clothing into something that fosters a sense of self-reliance is making char cloth (also may be referred to as charred cloth, or charpaper). Whatever you decided to call it, char cloth is a type of homemade tinder you can create using just 100% cotton cloth, an airtight container, and some heat. But what makes char cloth unique compared to other types of commercial tenders? Char cloth has a remarkable ability to burn in adverse conditions and can be lit with the smallest of sparks. In fact, wind will aid the char cloth in igniting! Char cloth doesn’t actually create flames, it smolders like a charcoal ember making it ideal to ignite kindling in any weather condition.
100% cotton is the only prerequisite for the minimum standard of material in which to make char cloth. Keep in mind this method describes cotton as the specific material, other vegetable fibers, such as linen, or jute for example may also be utilized. Through trial and error, you can discover your favorite source of cotton but generally you’ll want to only use the cloth – not the seams, neck/sleeve ends, etc. Also, be sure and wash the material and avoid using cotton with graphics or silk screening. Some suggestions for quality char cloth are 100% cotton flannel and cotton monks cloth, both of which can be purchased at craft stores, recycled from old clothing, purchased online, etc.
After you’ve acquired your cloth, cut it into small squares. The sizes may vary from 1”-3” squares, but free to adjust accordingly based off what you’re working with. It’s inefficient to actually measure the squares, just keep in mind that smaller squares tend to work better than large swaths of cloth. Once you’ve cut up the desired of amount of cloth, it’s time to move on to the container.
With the cloth out of the way, it’s time to select an airtight container. Some common metal containers frequently include Altoids Mint tins, tobacco cans, cooking/pastry tins, etc. The containers will give you control over how much char cloth you can produce at one time. Ideally, you’ll want to store your finished char cloth in a waterproof container or bag. Although it doesn’t have to be waterproof storage container, the char cloth won’t be of much help if it’s soaking wet before it’s even used. It’s most efficient to start with smaller containers until you’re consistently able to produce functioning char cloth batches.
Poke a small hole approximately 1/16” in the middle of the top of the container (some individuals may also poke a small hole in the bottom of the container as well, feel free to experiment you’re preferred method). With the air vent in place, it’s time to pack the container with the cloth.
This is probably the most difficult part in terms of using just the right amount of cloth relative to the size of your container. Try and fill the container without mashing to much cloth into it. It’s good to have some room but not an excessive amount. Trial and error is the best way to determine how much cloth you’ll use. Once your cloth squares are put in the tin, it’s time to put the lid on and cook it.
While it’s purely a matter of preference whether to make char cloth in a campfire, grill, etc., is up to you. It’s not a good idea to try and cook it indoors using a stove or oven. Not only is it a potential fire hazard, but the burning cotton cloth produces an undesirable odor and is best done outdoors. Also, keep in mind you don’t want a roaring fire if you choose that method. It’s best to cook char cloth at high temperatures which means cooking it over hot charcoal embers if you use a campfire. With a grill, simply utilize the high setting.
Total cooking time will depend on variables such as type of cotton cloth used, heat intensity, amount being created, thickness of the container, etc. A practical estimate is anywhere between 15-25 minutes but is just an estimate, use common sense and keep an eye on things. What you’re looking for is smoke emitting out of the air vent. Once it starts smoking, pay extra attention and try to time it so that you remove the container from the heat source as the smoking stops. Certain methods will advise to plug the hole/s at this step until the cloth and container have cooled down, this is up to you. Again, this will become easier with actual practice as opposed to just reading about it, but having the knowledge is also important.
The finished product once the container has cooled sufficiently, will be black, and appear slightly burnt but still intact. It should have a brittle texture but this may vary slightly based on the type of cotton you used. Brown sports commonly indicate that the cloth is undercooked. You’ll want to check your batch by trying to ignite a couple of random pieces. A good piece of char cloth will ignite with just a spark and burn up to several minutes depending on it’s size. By blowing on the char cloth, you can increase the intensity of the heat it gives off. Remember, char cloth is a tender so you’ll still need kindling and fuel to sustain an actual fire.
That’s it, you’ve made your very own DIY tender that’s very inexpensive, if not free, to obtain the resources needed to make it. As mentioned before, it’s ideal to store the char cloth in waterproof containers to ensure it’s ready when needed. It’s great to take along camping, stock in emergency or preparedness survival kits, etc. It’s widely available for sell online and at certain camping/outdoors retailers but can easily be made for little to no cost.
Char cloth is an excellent and inexpensive/free type of tender you can make at home with everyday items. It’s unique because of it’s superior ability to catch a spark and produce heat even under windy or
otherwise adverse weather conditions. It can be created in small or large batches and is excellent to stock in survival kits, use on camping trips, or any other time a resilient, time tested fire starter is needed.