Introduction: Making Char Cloth in Just a Couple of Minutes!

About: Hi, I'm Tim. I work on the railways during the day, run a scout troop and have a blog (see above website link) where I discuss my allotment and projects!

There are many different ways to start fires however some of the most difficult involve catching a single spark.

In this instructable I'm going to show you how to make one of the most useable materials for catching that spark. It can be done anyware outside - I did this in a field in Gilwell, the international center of scouting over an MSR pocket rocket. If you've got an open fire that'll work just as well, but it's harder to control the heat - one of my scouts tried using a coke can and unfortunately because the fire we'd built was too hot, the coke can melted and the cloth caught fire.

The second advantage of using char cloth is that the embers burn much hotter than they would in fluffy seed heads or perhaps silver birch bark shavings. It actually burns longer too.

What you need:

100% cotton material - could be socks, tea towel, old rag or in this case, an old t-shirt ruined a year beforehand when I poured a very expensive bottle of red wine over myself. I did my best to reclaim it all by sucking on the t-shirt however it was all in vein.

Lighter - (optional) but makes it easier to see when the job is done. Plus I like burning things!

Knife/scissors - to cut material.

Metal container - in the pictures I used a air rifle shooting pellet container. These were left over from the shooting course I ran in June. Any tin will be fine like an altoids container!

Heat source - as mentioned before, I used an MSR pocket rocket, but you could use an open fire. The important part is it must always be done outside.

Something to spark the finished product!

Beer - Optional.

Step 1: Cut the Material

Using your knife/scissors, cut cloth to the same size as the tin. It will shrink when you start the process and the gases are released (you can make it bigger to take this into account). You can do more than one piece at a time, so why not pack the tin out to save time? You will have to peel them apart carefully!

Step 2: Making a Hole in the Tin

Not really a very technical step. I used a very sharp knife point to stab my tin. This is because the tin is very thin metal and I knew the knife wouldn't be damaged.

If you're using a bigger/thicker tin, the size of the hole won't change, however the method you use to pierce it may. You can use a thin metal drill bit to make a small hole, but obiously in the field this might not be possible.

One of my scouts tried using a small coke can. After the first one melted, we tried again with a lower heat. He sliced the top off the can, stuck the material in, folded over the middle of the can so that it was roughly sealed in and put it on the heat. The results were the same.

Step 3: Light Up the Stove or Stick on Fire Step.

A simple step, just don't burn yourself.

However a small warning!

The smoke emitted from the can are quite toxic/poisoness, hence why you shouldn't do this inside. They are also flamable.

The process of turning the cotton into char cloth is taking place under your very eyes - the cotton is shrinking and blackening. When the smoke stops being emitted, the process is complete. Because I don't like to waste a chance to burn things, you can actually set fire to the gas coming out of the top and you can therefore keep an eye on the flame - once the flame goes out, the cloth is done.

Below is a video of me lighting the gas.

Step 4: Done!

As you can see, the finished product has shrunk quite a bit, however as long as you keep it dry, it's the perfect tinder...

Step 5: Lighting the Char Cloth... (fin!)

In the below video you can see me lighting the char cloth with a sweedish firesteel. You could use other methods such as striking a flint and steel or two flints. As you can see, the sweedish firesteel emits far more than one spark, which does mean the char cloth lights in far more than one place. This does mean it burns far faster, but just as hot. I did blow on the cloth to try and show the glowing embers in the bright August sunshine and because it is no more really than a very thin piece of flexible cloth charcol it blows away quite quickly!