How to Make Charcloth




Introduction: How to Make Charcloth

About: I like fire

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

-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

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!

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...

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

Step 5: Uses

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.

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70 Discussions

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

1 reply

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

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.

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

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.

11 replies

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

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.

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

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.

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

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?.

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.

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.

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.

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.

1 reply

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

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.