Introduction: How to Make Charcloth

Picture of How to Make Charcloth

BURNING THINGS CAN BE CONSTRUCTIVE NOW! And it will help you burn more things later! And you know maybe save your life. (P.S. this is my first instructable so please by all means give me some feedback!)

Step 1: Materials

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-any type of metal tin with a hole punched in the top ( I used an altiods tin)
-100 percent cotton (I used some old torn up jeans but you can use anything that's cotton including cottonballs)

Step 2: The Cloth

Picture of The Cloth

Cut the cloth into approx the same size as the container (it will shrink alot), and stack them inside the container.

Step 3: The Fire Part!

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Put the container with the cloth into the fire and wait until the hole on the top starts to expel flames.

Once the flames stop and the hole is expelling smoke instead, take it out and wait for it to cool of enough so that you won't burn yourself.

Then cover it with tin foil so that nothing can escape.

Step 4: No More Fire...

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After the containers is completely cool open it up and you should have a couple of pieces of char cloth.

Step 5: Uses

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Charcloth is used as the ember to start a tinder bundle. Its extremely heat sensitive so you can turn it into an ember really easily. I personally always keep a little bit in my wallet because unlike matches or lighters I can bring this to school with me (I don't mean you should start fires at school I'm saying that unlike lighters or matches if you have them with you you won't get in trouble, so it's good for EDC). It also makes it really easy to start fires with my glasses.


mcfunworld (author)2016-04-06

I made a instructable on the tin and I was wondering if I could put the link to this in my instructable cause im to busy to make a instructable on how to use it. plz get back to me soon

Donutman77 (author)mcfunworld2016-06-27

yeah that's fine, sorry I didn't get back to you sooner

Blipet (author)2015-09-30

I use a small backpacking stove for this. The charring is done when the flammable gases exiting the vent hole die down, so I make my vent hole on the side of the tin box to make it easier for those gases to ignite and for me to see. Try experimenting with charring and starting fires with some other natural fibers. Char cloth made from thin fabric is very delicate, and when you need it to start a fire, it's always an unhappy
shock to see that your char cloth has become char powder. As you note, denim
fabric works better than thinner cotton t-shirt fabric. Charred cotton balls,
jute twine braids, and the thicker denim seams or t-shirt collars are even more
robust and can also hold a spark longer. Thicker materials will take a bit longer to char than the thin stuff.

The classic Altoids char box also makes a
great container for your primitive fire starting supplies kit; just tape over the
vent hole to prevent water from getting inside or put the whole thing in a sealed sandwich bag.

For firestarting, I put the charred medium and some very dry and fine tinder on a thin short piece of a cedar shim from Home Depot to keep it off the cool and maybe damp ground.

If you don't have any good tinder, or if your firewood twigs are
wet or a bit green (and also depending upon whether you're a purist or more
interested in getting a fire started than in using all natural materials), some prepared-ahead-of-time cotton
balls dipped in petroleum jelly or small twisted cones of dryer lint soaked in paraffin are great ways
to get that first small bit of flame to ignite a more intense and sustainable
source of flame and heat. Put a length of a drinking straw in your firestarter kit; then you have a mini-bellows which you can blow gently to encourage the flames to spread.

tdriver301 (author)2015-09-28

Love it, I also learned about this in Boy Scouts.

Cat00x (author)2015-09-19

For those of us living in an urban environment, I'm wondering if this can be achieved on a gas stove (in the kitchen). It is a continual source of flame, and if the box were placed on the grill above the flame, it *seems* like it would be possible. Thanks so much for this instructable. Love to have items like this in my "emergency kit" and had never heard of charcloth before. Very cool.

Donutman77 (author)Cat00x2015-09-19

yeah it works with anything as long as it's hot enough to ignite the cloth inside the tin

ChrisP32 (author)Donutman772015-09-20

You do not need to ignite the cloth period to make it. The purpose is to clean the material and expel the bad gasses used in making the material. The purpose is to expel and keep the original 100% in tact without the added chemicals such a bleach and other fibers. I will make an Instructable later today or tomorrow to prove my point. And I will put my 1 minute char cloth to the test with any char-cloth made by anyone. I'm not knocking what you are doing, but most of it is unnecessary and lengthy.

bsumner1 (author)ChrisP322015-09-27

So where is the instructable about how to make char cloth in 1 minute without using flame? You promised it nearly a week ago.

Donutman77 (author)bsumner12015-09-27

yeah I've been waiting to see this too

ksexton1 (author)ChrisP322015-09-20

Not so much "bad gasses used in making" in fact, it's only recommended to do this with 100% cotton. By heating the cloth without oxygen, you are burning off the hydrogen and oxygen in the cellulose chains, leaving behind only the carbon. This remaining loose chains of carbon, with lots of air space in it burns easily.

If you used cloth with synthetic fiber, the synthetics would melt, resulting in a dense solid mess.

Chemicals like bleach are only going to be present in tiny quantities in cloth, the chemical formula for cellulose is (C6H10O5)n doing some calculations, by weight, it's 44% carbon, and 56% ends up as water vapor, assuming you did it perfectly, charring it completely but not burning off any carbon, you could confirm this by weighing it before and after.

One very good reason not to do this indoors, is it will produce carbon monoxide.

Donutman77 (author)Donutman772015-09-19

it even works with sunlight if you have a big enough magnifying glass

SérgioO1 (author)Donutman772015-09-23

Or a parabolic surface of pieces of mirrors, optmidias or diamonds -

dch3dwj (author)Cat00x2015-09-26

As others have said don't do it. I do something similar in a lab as part of my work, you'll produce carbon monoxide as part of the process. It's not worth the risk, just find a way to do it outside. Perhaps a camping stove could work?.

wellrested (author)Cat00x2015-09-25

I would recommend against it. Reducing the cotton to carbon will generate a fair amount of waste gasses, these will smell awful and are probably not good to breathe. You can always provide ventilation, but I expect your kitchen would smell terrible for some time. I would suggest an electric hotplate on an extension cord if an outdoor fire is out of the question -- it doesn't need to be a flame per se, you just need the heat.

ChrisP32 (author)Cat00x2015-09-20

Honestly I would not do it in the house. The purpose of doing it in a tin or whatever you are using is to expel the bad gasses in the material and the result is not healthy to breath. So I would do it in a well ventilated area preferably outside.

Mugsy Knuckles (author)ChrisP322015-09-21

The gasses aren't "bad" really. The objective is to remove everything volitile and leave only carbon. You can do this without any flame at all, you just wont know when it's done. The plume of gasses being boiled off from the can are igniting when they get out of the can and have available oxygen. The can just keeps the environment inside the can at low or zero oxygen which prevent s the contents from burning freely.
This is the same idea as making charcoal from wood. Boil off the stuff that isn't carbon, because carbon catches the spark and the volitile compounds don't evaporate and cool the whole reaction down.

michaelknight (author)2015-09-21

OK I'm confused. What is a char cloth and what is it used for.It must be small to fit into an altoids can. I'm totally lost! Please explain.

Donutman77 (author)michaelknight2015-09-26

Charcloth is used as an alternative fire starter. it's super heat sensitive so some people (like me) prefer it to lighters.

dch3dwj (author)2015-09-26

Great instructable, really enjoyed it

redrok (author)2015-09-25

I put a clear glass marble in my tinder box.

Use as a small magnifying lens to concentrate sunlight on the cloth.

A marble will ignite tinder cloth in 1/4 second or less in bright sunlight.


Donutman77 (author)redrok2015-09-26

that's cool I never thought of that

SimonQ1 (author)2015-09-25

Wow! So thats how to make tinder cloth! Very nice saves up on lighter fluid and matches

antagonizer (author)2015-09-25

You can skip the tin foil step. Not really necessary. Also, don't put your char directly in the flame. It should be on the edge of the heat and if you see flame come out you're burning it. It should smoke a lot then die down letting you know it's done. Also, try un-dyed cloth like canvas. Takes a spark better under damp conditions.

belsey (author)2015-09-25

You could improve this instructable tenfold if you explained in the introduction what charcloth is and what it can be used for.

Peppervictoria (author)2015-09-24

I make mine in a metal quart paint can. You can find then for a buck or 2 at any auto parts store. Everything is the same, I wrap a wire around mine to make it easier to handle. Also I punch about a 1/8" hole in both ends, after the flames stop and smoke begins, I plug the holes with small pegs I premade to fit. Plug the holes and remove it from the fire to cool. The only other thing I do is use old Cotten flannel shirts. They're thinner more than denim and take less heat and turn out more uniform. An excellent idea for tinder with either flint and steel or a magnesium block. Good tip. Thanks

londobali (author)2015-09-20

Nice instructible..
Thanks for sharing.
I wouldn't do a google search for fire piston, i'd do an instrucible search! :)

mary.beheler (author)2015-09-20

Does EDC mean "everyday carry?"

cacj131 (author)mary.beheler2015-09-20

Yes it does.

eyrops (author)2015-09-20

I used this as a spark catcher to make fire with flint and steel as a Boy Scout. It worked.

tvictor53 (author)2015-09-20

Thanks for posting this method of making charred cloth. It is also useful for ignitin tinder for starting camping or survivalist fires as it will catch sparks from steel struck against flint (old Boy Scout method) or when using the spark makers sold today for camping. Back in the day, we would make charred cloth out of old t-shirts, set pieces on fire, put it into a coffee can with the metal lid, and wait couple of minutes - unfortunately, results varied. It took a few tries to get a decent amount. We never thought of using it with glasses to start a fire at school though. Things sure are different these days!

Donutman77 (author)tvictor532015-09-20

I didn't mean you should start fires at school. I meant that It is something you can bring to school without getting in trouble (unlike a lighter) so you can always have something to make a fire with just in case

MontyFlange (author)2015-09-20

Why do you need to start fires at school ?

bsumner1 (author)MontyFlange2015-09-20

Probably not about making fires at school but more about part of an EDC.

MontyFlange (author)bsumner12015-09-20


Donutman77 (author)MontyFlange2015-09-20

yeah I don't want people to start fires in school it's just for an everyday carry

Megacode (author)2015-09-20

Great little instructable! I really enjoyed reading it as it was clearly written and well explained.
I was taught how to do this on one of Ray Mears' Fundamental Bushcraft courses in 2007.
It's a fantastic way to make fire with a flint and striker as the charred cloth takes a spark so easily. Even such a dull red spark as from flint, which is not a very hot one.
Once your charred cloth is smouldering, add it to your 'tinder nest' and start blowing!
I seem to recall that the better quality the cotton is, i.e. the more densely made, the better your charred cloth will be by smouldering that bit slower and better once you get a spark to it.
Good luck with future instructables!

AlejandroR26 (author)2015-09-20

100% cotton twine works great and it easier to use with a fire piston. Awesome instruct able!

AlejandroR26 (author)2015-09-20

100% cotton twine works great and it easier to use with a fire piston. Awesome instruct able!

2point0 (author)2015-09-20

At no point did the author say anything about starting fires AT school. Looks like two separate comments. The whole point of this is to make it easy to start a fire, so the glasses trick could be really handy when needed.

Laral (author)2015-09-20

Nice video on actually using the charcloth but I thought you were going to show how to make it in a minute. Also, don't ruin the edge of your blade on the ferro rod. Ferrocerium is very hard. Use the heel of the blade. Make sure it is square with good sharp edges. You can file it.

ChrisP32 (author)Laral2015-09-20

I never use the edge of any knife to do anything but cut with. I always use the backside of my knife for a striker. I do use all purpose knives but every knife I do have was bought for a specific purpose that way each knife stays with whatever use I have it for. If it is for striking a fire it goes in that pouch. If it is for cleaning a kill it stays in another kit. Regardless, every knife I have has it's own purpose. The problem people have with knives is they think they can use them for everything and anything then end up with a knife they have to sharpen constantly. I very seldom sharpen my knives because each has it's own purpose. I will make the video and a instructable later today or tomorrow on how to make char in less than a minute. This video was just for demonstration purposes from char I made in less than a minute..

Laral (author)ChrisP322015-09-20

Oh, my mistake. Sorry. I looked at the video again and I see you DO use the heel of the simple blade. I was thinking it was the sharp edge of a sheepsfoot blade. As for not sharpening your blades, why not? I keep my blades razor sharp with a Lansky sharpener. Once you create the blade edge profile, you only have to touch it up occasionally with the ultrafine stone. Please do make a video of the charring process. That sounds very interesting.

ChrisP32 (author)Laral2015-09-20

Let me quote for you what I said because you seem to not comprehend it. QUOTE:

The problem people have with knives is they think they can use them for
everything and anything then end up with a knife they have to sharpen
constantly. I very seldom sharpen my knives because each has it's own
purpose.... END QUOTE

Let me make this clear so maybe you can understand it completely. I do sharpen my knives when they need sharpening but I do not have to sharpen nearly as much as most people do because like I said, I have a knife for every purpose and since each knife has it's own purpose it does not get used constantly thus wearing it down because of having to sharpen it all the time. I also have a Lansky and this is how I sharpen some of my knives depending on the use.

I can shave with any knife that I have even after I use it for other things. I do not abuse my knives because to me a knife is a tool and if you abuse your tools then you won't have it long.

bsumner1 (author)ChrisP322015-09-20

Sounded to me also like you said that sharpening a knife was bad. It was the way it was said. It would have been better to say "I very seldom sharpen my knives because each has its own purpose and this results in less wear." Even adding that you do sharpen them when needed would have made your position much clearer and much less prone to misinterpretation.

Also when someone comments, you should not assume that they are attacking you. Your reply was very obviously defensive and I for one did not see an attack by Laral. Some moderation in tone can help not only make your point be better recieved but make the reader much more open to the ideas you present. I am anxiously looking forward to see how you make char cloth in less than a minute. I hope you are able to post that soon.

Laral (author)bsumner12015-09-20

Thank you!

Laral (author)ChrisP322015-09-20

There is absolutely no excuse for your aggressive, condescending, arrogant, insulting response. OBVIOUSLY I was making a valid point to your very vague blanket statement "I very seldom sharpen my knives because each has it's own purpose." Period! If you want to clarify your vague statement then do so without the BS! OK? Otherwise you are yet another troll on this site.

jsholloman (author)2015-09-20

Native Americans used to make char cloth so that they could use flint and dry grass to start their fires for cooking and warmth.

loneoak (author)2015-09-20

To find a use for char-cloth do a google search for "fire Piston". The best way ever to start a fire in an emergency situation when you don't have a lighter or matches.

Donutman77 (author)loneoak2015-09-20

my next instructible was actually going to be on how to make a cheap fire piston

AlejandroR26 (author)2015-09-20

Goes great with my fire piston.

About This Instructable




Bio: I like fire
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