My lunchtime project yesterday (03/13/18) during the big snowstorm was to make a tin of charred cloth (char cloth or char paper) for use with a steel striker and flint (not to be confused with a ferrocerium rod & striker which throws a spark at around 5,400F versus steel at around 2,500F) for a Woods Walk and Blizzard Fire when I got out of work. So I thought I would share the process. It’s very simple.
Note: This is not a comprehensive tutorial on fire making, that will be coming soon with a history of all the tools and how to prepare materials. Book a class with Fox-Trick Adventures and you’ll walk away with the skills and knowledge to start a fire anywhere. This will serve as a brief intro to charred cloth.
Char cloth is used as a spark catcher usually from flint and steel and is an initial tinder for fire making, to be combined with a “nest” of dry delicate tinders such as grasses, barks, plant fibers, etc. that generally have an autoignition temperature of around 660-800F. Charred cloth has an autoignition temperature of around 660F, if done properly, to upwards of 880F. Once a spark is caught provide a slow and steady, focused flow of oxygen applied from an exhaled breath to the ignited charred cloth. Then transfer to a prepared kindling formation and then built up to a blaze with larger and larger sticks/logs and so forth until your fire is stable and large enough for its desired purpose. Until the fire is stable your tinder must be treated with utmost care – slow, intentional movements.
I’m not going to go into the science of Charred Cloth (that’s what Wikipedia is for right?), but for reference sake, the process is called Pyrolysis.
What you need:
- An Altoid tin works great. I don’t care what anyone says, don’t poke a hole in it – it’s unnecessary because the tin is not airtight in the first place. Because I’m not a frequent user of Altoids I’ve used tuna cans with aluminum foil as the top.
- Cotton fabric squares (Jeans work great – linen – jute – duck cloth) – the thicker the better
- Hot coals
- A knife or scissors to cut the cloth
- Tongs or a couple sticks to place and remove the tin from the coals
- Patience of a Saint
Other Recommended items:
- Coffee or tea
- Something to cook over the fire, if outdoors, so your fire is fully justified and satisfies state fire codes thus avoiding the need for a permit ( Chapter 102 section B. 1.)
OK – so you’ve got your cotton source and a fire going (in a fireplace, in your front loading wood stove or fire pit outside) – cut a few 2” x 2” squares – I usually cut up enough squares that will take up enough time for me to consume a cup of coffee around a fire. Let’s say a dozen.
Place a couple squares of cotton in your tin, close it and place it on a bed of coals. It won’t do anything for maybe a minute. Suddenly flames will burst from the hinges and lid – don’t worry – just take a sip of coffee and observe your surroundings, the hemlocks drooping under the weight of fresh snow, the Grey Squirrels chasing each other from tree to tree. Now take a look at your tin, it’s probably just smoking now – just a little while longer and it’ll be ready to remove from the fire. Once it’s done smoking completely remove the tin and place it on a surface that will not ignite and do not touch it until it is cool.
If you open it before it is cool:
- You’ll burn your fingerprints off
- The charred cloth will immediately ignite when exposed to oxygen at a high enough temperature
While you wait for cooling, enjoy your coffee, maybe it’s night time and it’s a clear night revealing the wonder that is the stars and your wife or husband is as good as my wife and she’s baked you a blueberry coffee cake that can’t be beat. Enjoy it, listen for the raspy bark of Grey Fox or the Barred Owl inquiring “Who Cooks For You Aaaaall”.
Now it’s time to open your tin. You’ll notice if the charring process is complete by the color. Blue jeans or any colored char cloth will have that color tint remaining (like the below picture).
A properly charred cloth will be jet black and not too fragile so it can be rolled up. Often times I prepare a roll instead of squares – it just takes a little longer to prepare.
That’s alright – bring extra coffee & cake and a little more fuel for the fire.
Store your charred cloth in a small tin and carry it in your woods bag (we’ll talk about a proper woods bag later on) with your fire kit and survival kit. Keep your kits stocked well and practice with every piece often so you are proficient. Practice fire starting in all conditions – each condition poses its own challenges and delight. Blizzards are particularly enjoyable and satisfying.
I hope this article was helpful – please reach out with any questions.
Keep a sharp lookout for a Firemaking Course at FoxTrickAdventures.com or on our Facebook @FoxTrickAdventures.
If you don’t see a course scheduled – speak up & we’ll book it!
May The Woods Welcome You
Written By: Kasey Marsters “Fox”
Edited By: Crow