Monday, January 9, 2012

Char Cloth - The Key To Starting a Fire With Only a Spark

I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire! In keeping with the theme for the month I am doing a short series on pre-made tinder. This is part 3.

Finding good tinder is possibly the most difficult aspect of building a fire. A wise hunter will bring a small amount of tinder with him to the field or camp site. Tinder can be any material that will catch fire quickly. In the woods you would look for dry grass, leaves, or bark. However, there are some man made items that work even better than the stuff nature provides.

Char Cloth is the magic behind quickly making a fire with just a spark. It is actually hard to categorize. It will not create a flame by itself, so it is not an ignition source. It also will not light kindling by itself, so it really is not tender (by my definition). Char Cloth is a way to move a spark to a tender. It does not actually flame up.

Once it starts burning you can only put it out by smothering it or drenching it.
Char Cloth is cotton cloth that has been burnt, but not caught on fire. It catches fire amazingly fast and is very difficult to put out. In fact, it burns better when it is windy. It is not waterproof at all.

Char Cloth is very traditional. It has been used for ages. If you are into all natural, traditional living, then this is the stuff for you. Sometimes the old ways are still the best. Char Cloth is an example of this.

You need to have tinder ready to accept the coal from the char cloth.
It is very easy to make. You will need the following things:

  • A tin - I use an old pellet tin, but a soup can will work just as well.
  • An old t-shirt - Any 100% cotton fiber will work
  • Fire - I use a camp stove, but a plain old camp fire will work

Cut up the t-shirt into squares. I make mine about 2 inches wide, but any size will do.

Loosely place the cotton in the tin.

Tightly close the tin. If you are using a soup can, tightly cover the open top with foil.

Poke a hole in the top of the tin. This allows the oxygen to escape. The cotton cannot catch fire without oxygen. This is what we want. We do not want the cotton to catch on fire.

Place the tin on a camp stove turned on high or in the coals of a hot fire. Let it cook for ten minutes or so. Be careful removing the tin from the fire. It will be very hot.

Let the tin cool completely. If you open it too soon the rush of oxygen can light the Char Cloth.

Open the tin. Is the cloth completely black? If yes, then you are done. If there are brown sections, then it is not completely charred and you need to start over.

How easy is it to start a fire with char cloth? Watch the following video. I start a fire using only the spark of an old lighter.

It was snowing outside, so my tinder in the video was damp. That is why it took so long to catch.

Char Cloth is perfect for windy conditions. In fact, it is easier to start a fire with Char Cloth and a spark than it is to start a fire with a match or lighter in the wind. It is literally a life saver when you do not have dry matches. If you can make a spark, you can make a fire. There is a technique to using it with a weak spark, but that is a whole nother topic (which I will cover shortly).

Char Cloth is poor when it is wet. It needs bone dry tender to work well. There is no point in using it if the wind is calm and you have matches. Matches by themselves work better.

Char Cloth is not best for every instance, but it is valuable enough to earn a spot in my fire starting kit.

DreamHost Promotional Code