Char cloth (also called charpaper) is a swatch of fabric made from vegetable fiber (such as linen, cotton or jute) that has been converted via pyrolysis into a slow-burning fuel of very low ignition temperature. It is capable of being ignited by a single spark that can in turn be used to ignite a tinder bundle to start a fire. It is sometimes manufactured at home for use as the initial tinderwhen cooking or camping and historically usually provided the “tinder” component of a tinderbox. It is often made by putting cloth into an almost airtight tin with a small hole in it, and cooking it incampfire coals until the smoking slows and the cloth is properly charred.
Charcloth ignites with even the smallest spark, and is therefore commonly used with a flint and steel.
Well we can certainly count on Wikipedia for a precise definition and some extra information.
Now that we know what char cloth is and what it is used for, let me give you a few tips on making sure it will work effectively. (I am no master at this… it was simply discovered through my trials and errors…that happens a lot.
If you’ve been using the flint and steel for many years you probably do not need to read this next chapter. Ahhh… Read it anyway you never know, you may learn something.
You probably have experienced (while using the flint and steel) that even though you have showers of nice hot sparks falling on your char cloth that it seems to still take ages to catch. It can become a little frustrating at times. I know I have been there…
It can be one of two problems and most likely it is the second one. First your material is not charred enough or it’s over cooked.
Like any great meal to be a success the cook has to carefully take care of his meal for it to be perfect (don’t need to go into details…right?) Even though I would want to go into details I couldn’t really because I am not a cook.
My point that I want to bring is the right preparation . Like in everything, “good prep” is a must if we want successful results.
Char cloth is no different. For it to work well for us it has to be well prepared. The right material should always be cotton, linen or jute. The thickness does not really matter for the cooking process but will matter in the burn time. You can use an old cotton t-shirt or some nice thick jeans. That is totally up to you!
What I am wanting to tell you today is... DO NOT OVERCOOK YOUR CHAR CLOTH!
That is the general problem that we create…overcooked char cloth. After you have charred you cloth take a look at it.
A well charred cloth will be uniformly black and will feel soft.
If you see that your char cloth is kind of rough like a very fine sandpaper; you are going to have a hard time getting her going. Here is a VIDEO for you to watch.
That is why when charring cloth it is vital to keep a close eye on your tin box. As soon as you see that the smoke has stopped coming out. Get that thing off the fire!! Wait until it cools off and check your masterpiece.
One last thing! What is nice about charring is that you can do it with natural material you find in the bush. If you plan on using this method all the time it is important that you know what works in the natural realm because if you don’t the clothes on your back will disappear quickly! We don’t want that now do we!
Here are a few natural materials you can use. Cattail, punk wood, Horse hoof fungus (amadou) and there are others. I will let you discover what works in your part of the woods. That is another thing that is fun to do. Experimenting with natural products by charring them to see if they work.
Little tip! You want stuff to be small and compact so it can be easily carried. We could char a cord of wood but I don’t think it would fit in an altoids tin.
Remember this should not be a difficult chore. Hey! You need to enjoy yourself as you work hard to find and discover awesome ways of making your flint and steel method work.
CHAR AWAY I SAY!!
Here’s a VIDEO where you see me start a fire with the Flint and Steel method.