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Charcloth 101: How to make the best charcloth.

Tips and Tricks for Perfect Charcloth Every Time.


how to make the best charcloth
How to make the best charcloth- every time.


Charred cloth or "charcloth" is a common element found in most flint and steel fire kits. The process of making char cloth is very straightforward and hard to mess up, but there are some things you can do to make it even better. In my opinion, this is how to make the best charcloth. Let's begin...

Lift charcloth in the tin prior to char, this provides  even char.
Lift charcloth in the tin prior to char, this provides even char.


Tins

When you're searching for charring tins, look for two different styles and shapes. The first one should be tall enough to accommodate 10 or more pieces of denim and have extra space. It should also be easy to carry and suit your fire-making needs. These "mother" tins work well because they produce a lot of charcloth at once and have enough room for other items that aid airflow.

Once you've made your charcloth in the tall tin, transfer it to a smaller tin. This tin is designed to hold your fire-starting essentials, including flint, steel, and some charcloth wrapped in waxed paper. The waxed paper helps to extend the life of the coal and protect the contents of the kit, which is now more compact. Remember to drill a proper vent hole in this smaller tin as you may need to use it in the future to make more charcloth.


Cloth

When charring natural materials, some will ignite more easily than others, but they all work if done correctly. However, when charring modern fabrics, you must be careful of modern threads and dyes. Natural threads like silk or linen are safe but avoid poly blends and synthetics.

Char cloth made from a t-shirt with small lengths of modern thread will still work, but it won't be as effective due to by-products from these threads that attach to everything inside the container during the process. These synthetic materials create thick soot and plastic residue that settles into the weave, making the cloth brittle and less likely to take a spark.

Also, keep in mind that 100% cotton t-shirt fabric is not as strong as woven muslin or canvas material. However, you can use what you have as long as it has a tight weave. Blue jean denim is an excellent option as it's easy to find and makes great char cloth.


Space

When filling your char tin, don't pack it too tightly. Even though the material will shrink after burning away moisture and impurities, you need the heat to reach every part of the cloth and allow the smoke to escape quickly for consistent charring.

Overstuffing a tin will prevent the heat from penetrating evenly, scorching the contents that touch the sides of the overheated tin. Charcloth can be overheated, which makes it more brittle and harder to use and store. To ensure proper burning with denim, cut it into squares and stack them loosely with the ends staggered. The squares should be slightly smaller than the tin's inside width, leaving some space at the top for gases to escape freely.


Soot Catch

Let's talk about using a piece of denim as a protective layer in your char tin. Cut a square of denim slightly larger than the inside of your tin to cover the charcloth like a comforter on a bed, protecting the layers beneath.

The topmost piece of charcloth called a "soot catch" will be directly under the vented hole and will filter out soot and by-products from the layers below before exiting the tin. If your tin has the vent hole in a different location, remember that heat and smoke rise and the cloth closest to the top of the tin will be the last filter for the soot before it's burned off by the extreme heat inside.

In a round, flat char tin, place the soot catch between the denim layers below and the vent hole above. This piece will be very dirty after charring, so remove it once the process is complete.


Lift

Just to be clear, overcooking charcloth can make it brittle and fragile. While it may still work, it can easily be damaged during use and storage. To prevent overcooking, you can lift the cloth off the bottom or side of the tin closest to the heat source. This creates space for smoke to flow and carry impurities out of the tin. You can use small nails, wire, or even a pebble placed in the center of the bottom of the tin before stacking the denim squares on top. This will allow the smoke to exit easily through the vent hole


Vent Hole

To ensure a clean and effective vent hole, it's best to plan ahead and pre-drill a hole in the lid of a char tin before packing it in your fire kit. The size and shape of your tin will determine the size and shape of your char cloth. For example, if you want 2"x2" squares of char cloth, your tin should be 2.5"-3" in diameter with a clean 1/4" hole punched in the top/center of the lid.

Making the hole too big will result in burned cloth while making it too small will cause the cloth to be loaded with soot and take longer to process. Remember, you need a vent hole for gases to escape, or else the container will pop open, exposing too much oxygen and burning the cloth to ash. It's important to have a clean vent hole on both the top and underside of the lid.


Flames

For best results, cook char tins over an open flame, whether it's from a campfire, wood stove, or gas-burning stove. Using an open flame helps you manage the heat source better and provides a visual indicator of when the process is complete. Make sure you have enough resources to maintain enough flames to engulf the tin long enough for the gasses to burn off completely. This principle is simple, and the results are telling. If you see the flames doing their job on the outside of the tin, it shouldn't take long for the internal heat to char everything on the inside, which you can't see. Char cloth is hard to mess up, but if the tin is not completely charred, the quality will be sub-par. It's too risky to judge the temperature of coals, so why take the chance?


Pilot

When cooking char cloth in a tin, it's important to watch the vent hole. This hole will give you visual cues about what's happening inside the tin. Here's a step-by-step guide for cooking char cloth:

  • Choose a vented tin, cloth, and cover.

  • Put the tin over direct flames with the vent side facing up, making sure the flames touch the bottom and sides.

  • The first thing you'll see coming from the vent hole is steam (water vapor).

  • After that, dense smoke will start to come out of the vent hole. Use the cooking flames to light this smoke.

  • Watch the vent hole closely as you continue cooking. When the "pilot flame" inside the vent hole goes out completely, remove the tin from the heat source.

  • Cover the vent hole and let the tin cool.

  • After a few minutes of smoke escaping, try to light it with an open flame. This may take a few tries, depending on the amount of moisture in the tin and other variables like weather conditions, donor cloth condition, etc.

  • Once the smoke stays lit, maintain the heat source until the flames slowly disappear. When the lifting smoke fails to hold a flame, the char cloth is done.

  • Remove the tin from the heat source and cover the vent hole with a coin or a sharpened green twig. Alternatively, flip the tin over if the area is dry and free from debris.

  • Open the tin and use the soot catch first, then store the rest.

By watching the vent hole and following these steps, you can produce high-quality char cloth in under 30 minutes.

Storage

The charcloth is now soft and ready to catch a spark. However, keep in mind that like anything charred, it loses effectiveness over time. It's best to use the charcloth right after it's charred. To store the charcloth, compress the charred denim squares and wrap them in heavy butcher paper. This will prevent the cloth from moving around and getting damaged. The paper wrapping can also be used as a tinder or another buffer to further protect the precious charred cloth.


Conclusion

I hope these tips will motivate you to create high-quality char cloth or assist you in resolving any problems you encounter in your future attempts. Ultimately, it's only charcloth, so experiment to discover what method works best for you and practice it!

The process of making char cloth is simple and difficult to get wrong, but there are a few ways to enhance it.


 






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