Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How to make char cloth

I've mentioned before the importance of having multiple ways to make fire. It is a fact that lighters can become broken and lose their fluid, matches wet and ruined, and a ferrocerium rod lost on the trail. Having 4 or 5 different ways to make fire in an emergency is an absolute essential. A handy bit of firemaking kit to have is a flint and steel fire making kit. You needn't spend a lot of money either. A piece of flint found on a hike, a broken piece of a file, an old ALTOIDS tin, some jute twine, and some char cloth are easy and cheap to assemble.

Fint & Steel kit

Above is a photo of my trail flint and steel kit. The round tin holds everything...a striker, a batch of char cloth, jute for tinder, and flint stones. The small flint is from a flintlock musket. The AMERICAN MOUNTAIN MAN striker was a gift from a buckskinner friend and can be used as a ramrod puller, flint-knapper, and has a turnkey [screwdriver] blade. It's a cherished possession. But you don't need a fancy steel. A piece of broken metal file will work just fine, and rocks that will spark are found everywhere.

The key to making a flint and steel kit work is making char cloth. Basically, it is cotton cloth that has been charred and brought to the edge of consumption, but retains the ability to capture a spark and begin the burning process all over again. Making it is an easy process and can be done on top of a COLEMAN stove or campfire. It is an extremely smokey process and must be done out of doors. Here is the process:

In the photo above, I have loosely packed squares of cotton fabric in the char tin [these jeans have seen a lot of miles on trails and I felt the best way to use them was to keep them involved in my outings].  The char tin is just a can with a snug lid. The hole in the lid allows smoke to escape during the charring [gassification] process:

In the photo below, the char tin has been placed on the Coleman stove and the burning process begins. Takes about twenty minutes to complete the process [NOTE: Never do in the house too much'll have every smoke detector screaming!]:

After about 20 minutes you'll notice the smoke getting whispy. This is the signal to stop the burning process. I use a little wooden peg to plug the hole in the lid and remove from heat, but you could also just bury it in sand to smother the fire. Either way, be sure to wait for the tin to cool before opening it and retieving the charred cloth:

In the photo below, we see the finished char cloth. It is almost, but not completely consumed and can easily be set alight again by using a spark:
This charred cloth will allow you to perform spark-based firemaking such as flint `n steel or using a ferrocerium rod, such as the ones shown below:
In the photo below, we have an image of a spark that has been caught in the char cloth and begun burning again:

To make a fire, a small piece of the char cloth would be placed inside a prepared nest of fine tinder [dry grass, wood shavings, jute nest, etc.] and blown gently into a flame. Char cloth burns for a LONG time, so you don't need much and you do not have to get hasty and throw it in your tinder nest. Blow slowly and fully into the tinder nest so the char can ignite it. It takes a little practice, so do it in advance at home so you understand the process before going out on the trail.
As a final reminder, all firemaking kits and components should be wrapped or stored inside a waterproof container to prevent damage by moisture. Even a lighter will not function if it becomes wet, until it is dry once again, so protect your kit! 


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