How To Make "Char Cloth"

Posted by Stacy on 4/18/2013

This is a good video on making char cloth which is used to help start a fire.  Char cloth is a good thing to keep in your survival bag as it is light weight and doesn't take up that much room. Use it with your prefered fire starting tools and you have your survival fire.


Speaker 1: All right, guys. I'm going to make some char cloth in this video. There's already a bunch of good videos here on YouTube that show you the process of making your own char cloth. However, there's been a lot of requests, so I figured I'd just pop it on my channel so all my viewers can take a peak at it and try it on their own.

Tools you'll need, just a knife of some kind. I have a separate Swiss army knife here, because I'm actually going to be using the awl on this. A lot of people ask me all the time, "What kind of use do you have for an awl?" And we'll be using it in this video. So put that to the side.

I have a container here. You want the container to be metal. It doesn't necessarily have to be tall, skinny, flat, anything like that, but you do need a lid that closes. Okay, we're going to be using the awl to make a little hole in the top here. You can use all different kinds of stuff. I've used cans in the past. If you have just an empty soup can or something, take the label off, and just use tinfoil for a lid, and poke a hole in the tinfoil. But anyway, I happened to have this container lying around, so I'll be using this.

Then lastly, the most important part, is some cotton cloth. This is cut off a t-shirt. The reason you want a knife is because you want to process this down to smaller pieces. Of course you can use scissors. It's actually even easier with scissors, but I love my knives, so I figured I'd whip out a folder for this. I made a nice long strip here, this is probably 13"-14" long, and it's just a white t-shirt. The thing is, you want to have cotton. You don't necessarily need to have white. White's easiest, because you can physically see the difference from going white to black. But if you use a colored shirt, that's totally fine. It's not going to change anything. But you do want to make sure it's cotton.

So what I'm going to be doing is, this actually curled up a little bit on me, but I'm going to be cutting some pieces off this. I'm just going to cut a bunch of little squares and pop this right into the bottom of my container here. So let's do that right now. I'm just making a couple pieces just for demonstration purposes for this video. I actually already have a bunch of char cloth on me already. But here we go. So I have four or five bigger pieces here.

Now, you put your knife away, and you want to make a hole in your lid. So that's where the awl comes in. Put your lid on a flat surface here, or you can hold it up in the air, but just be careful. Obviously if you're holding it like this and you punch a hole through, you might hit your . . . Whoops. You might hit your tripod. No, I mean, you might hit your hand. So obviously it's better to do this on a flat surface. But keep in mind, I'm doing this on a glass deck table, so I'm actually going to put my lid right on my container here to make sure I don't puncture through and break the table.

What you want to do is just in the middle, just kind of puncture a hole. So you're pushing down, and it goes right into the aluminum here, and actually twist a little, just to make a round hole. Very simple. So that's one use for your awl on your Swiss army knives. All right, so now we have our container. We have the hole on the top, and we have the cotton cloth on the inside. Now, let's get that fire started.

For fire, you can do this over an open campfire, which is very convenient if you happen to be out camping. If you have a little fire started, you can make your char cloth while you have your fire going. But for the convenience of this video demonstration, I'll be showing this on the grill. Now what you're looking at right here is just a regular propane gas grill. Before the video started, I actually already preheated the grill, so it's nice and hot. What you want to do is just take your tin full of your cloth. Let's take a peak at that again. You just have your cotton cloth, cut into little squares if you want. And pop that right over the heat. It's that simple. Now you just want to let it cook. So I'm actually going to do a little bit of fast forwarding here where I'll jump right to where it starts to smoke.

All right, guys. I skipped ahead here about 10 minutes. Right now, as you may or may not be able to see. I'll zoom in a little bit. Maybe that will help. But there's just beginning to start to smoke out the top of that hole, little wisps of smoke, kind of coming and going. Doesn't really look steady yet. I would say about 15-20 minutes into this process, there will be kind of heavy smoke, and obviously as we go along you'll see that.

I kind of wanted to turn the camera back on not only to tell you it took about roughly 10 minutes to get to this point here, where the can is actually heated up properly and it's starting to cook the material itself. I also want to make a note on poking the hole on the top of the can. As you saw, I used the awl. That is the proper tool to use to poke a little hole in this cannister. You guys may be tempted to use your knife to poke the hole, and maybe think nothing of it. Just, yeah, I got a knife here. I might as well use that, poke the hole on top. That's what's going to damage your tip, especially when you're cutting into something like aluminum, which is a metal. It's very hard, obviously. Once you poke your knife into there and start twisting it, that's when you're going to have your edge roll, and more than likely, your edge is probably just going to chip off. So you're going to get severe damage to the tip of your knife. So just a little note there. Use the proper tool for the job.

So anyway, as I mentioned, this has been 10 minutes. The can is just starting to heat up. As far as timing here, this is just my personal experience right now. There's a lot of factors that's going to determine how long it's going to take, how hot your flame is, how big your container is, how much material you're cooking inside of it, and so forth. Don't go by the exact times here. Basically, you're going to go by the smoke. That's your indicator as to when it's done. So I'm going to let this continue cooking, and I'll get back to you in a little while.

All right, guys. I'm at the 30-minute mark. It's been 30 minutes since I first started this project, put the cannister on the heat. What I actually did was, at 20 minutes, I turned on the other flame on the other side, the other jets on my grill, and actually shut the top as well to keep the heat in to kind of speed up the process. About 25 minutes in, unfortunately my batteries died on me. I had to do a battery change. At that point, I was going to film it, because I had the continuous stream of smoke coming out. It's just going to look as if it's a chimney in the middle of winter. You just have a constant stream of smoke coming out of the hole on top. Right now, at the 30-minute mark, that's dramatically slowed down to almost no smoke. So I know right now it's done.

So what I'm actually going to do at this point, and you can see the whole can was kind of a straight color, a light gray, but now it's brown. It's been obviously on the heat and it's turning a darker color. But anyway, I'm just going to use some tongs here. Obviously, it's nice and hot. First thing you want to do, obviously, is shut the flames off on your grill. If you're on a campfire, obviously you can't do that. Just make sure you put on some gloves or something so you don't burn yourself. And take that right off your fire or off your grill.

I put that to the side, just on the side burner on my grill, which is cool right now. I'm actually going to give that time to cool down. The biggest step right now is to not open it right away. First of all, the cannister is hot, so you don't want to touch it anyway. But if you open it right away and introduce all that oxygen at once, it's going to make it go, it's not going to be good. What's going to happen is, and I've done this in the past by mistake, is I took that lid off, and the introduction of all that oxygen actually makes the char cloth catch fire, and then it burns up and it's no good. You can't use it. So at this point, I'm going to let this cool down for at least 5 or 10 minutes, so it's not going to burn my hand, and I'll show you what's inside.

All right, guys. It's been 10 minutes. This is completely cool to the touch now. What's going to happen is, as this is cooking, the lid's going to kind of seal on a little bit, because all the smoke and soot kind of makes a thin layer of film inside your cannister. So if you have a lid like this, as opposed to tin foil, it's going to be a little bit hard to open at first. But if you kind of give it a good twist, it almost like pops, and you can feel it loosen up. Now I can open it up. And you can see the whole inside turned black. Again, that's that heavy smoke. It almost looks like it's painted black. I don't know if you saw the inside at the beginning of the video. It's completely gray.

There you have it. There's all your char cloth. Nice big pieces. Now this stuff is pretty fragile once you get it, so you can actually tear this very easily into smaller pieces, just like that, if you need smaller pieces. So it's really easy to do. You can break it down to the size you want. Now this piece here is even still a little bit big for most uses, but the more the better.

I'm actually going to use the top here on the side. I'm going to lay that piece there. Let's throw some sparks at it and see how well it works. I have a Strike Force fire starter here. I'm going to use that for a demo. It throws a nice shower of sparks, big old fat ferrocerium rod. There's the striker. So I'm going to hit this with some sparks, turn this around, and let's see if we can get this lit. I'm trying to keep this away from the camera little bit so I don't hit the tripod, but here we go. You see there? The corner caught. So if I just blow on this a little bit, you see how that's lit. Of course you can fold this over and it would catch the top part of it as well.

There you go. Char cloth. Real easy to make. Very, very useful to start your fires. You can put this in a tinder bundle, or any other method you like. It stays nice and hot for you. So there you go. I hope you guys enjoyed the video. As you can see, it's real easy to make. So that's about it. Thanks for watching. I appreciate it. Take care.
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