Charcloth is a very traditional firestarter which, according to some, has been around since before the middle ages. It is commonly used as the tinder in spark based fire starting methods, such as with a ferro rod or flint and steel. Charcloth does not burst into flame, but will easily turn into a red, slow burning ember with just a spark. This makes it an excellent way to ignite handfuls of dry grass, pinestraw or leaves when a lighter is not available.



There are just a few things to keep in mind when making your own charcloth. The first is that you have to use natural fibers for the end result to work correctly. The easiest source of starter material is a handful of 100% cotton gun cleaning patches. They are precut, inexpensive and large enough to provide a good target size for sparks and acceptable burn time when lit.



The other key concept is that charcloth is created as the result of a pyrolytic reaction, similar to charcoal. The main difference is that we’re starting with cotton instead of wood. So, we need to heat up our cloth squares in the absense of oxygen. One of the simplest and cheapest ways to do this is with a piece of aluminum foil. Just fold a large piece of foil in half and put about twenty of the cotton patches inside. Then tightly fold and roll the three edges of the foil to form a good seal. Finally, poke a small hole, about half the size of a pencil eraser, in the center of the top piece of foil.



Cooking the charcloth is best done outside and a gas grill works perfectly. After the grill is fired up, just put the aluminum foil “packet” on to cook, making sure that the center hole is facing up. Leave the grill lid open. The hole acts as a timer to let us know when our charcloth is done. It won’t take long before smoke starts coming out. This smoke is from the cotton cloth offgassing and lets us know that everything is working as planned. As soon as the smoke all but dies off, carefully take the foil off of the grill and let it cool for a few minutes. All the cloth inside should be a dull black and I usually spark test a piece from each batch to make sure it works as intended. The rest of the charcloth can be stored in a sealed, dry container or Ziploc bag so that it will be ready when you need it.



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