An Easy Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

by Todd Walker

To build a fire, you need three items: fuel, heat, and air (oxygen). Eliminate air from the fire triangle and all you’ll get is smoke and charred material.

That’s the point, right? We’re making char cloth.

Doing the Stuff with Fire: Easy Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

Char cloth in a tinder bundle

Charred plant-based material is created by using two sides of the fire triangle – heat and fuel – and withholding oxygen.

It’s a simple process that takes little time but creates valuable a starter for fire building. Here’s what you’ll need to make your own char cloth. As a bonus, I’ve included my accidental char pads made from 100% cotton makeup remover pads!

I made this DiY fire piston and needed char cloth for a test run. It was an epic fail! Well, not epic really. I made the groove too deep on the wooden shaft causing the o-ring to loose air pressure when I slam the piston together.

Doing the Stuff with Fire: Easy Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

My failed attempt at a DiY fire piston – I’ll let y’all know when I work out the kinks.

You learn by Doing the Stuff with your DiY gear. Fail forward, remember! I’ll share what I’ve learned on this fail in a later post.

For now, let’s make some char cloth… and char pads.

DiY Char Cloth Material List

100% cotton fabric – I used an old bath towel (turned shop towel). You can use a bandana, t-shirt, dish towel, or, as I discovered, makeup removers.

Metal container – Altoids tin, paint can with lid, or bucket. Your container doesn’t need to be air-tight.

Doing the Stuff with Fire: A Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

Cutting tool, cloth, container, punch

Heat source – Camp fire, grill, fireplace, backpack stove, or any fire will do. I used my cooker with a spare grill grate to support my tin.

Step 1: Cut up strips of cloth into 2×2 inch squares. Procession not required.

Step 2: Punch a small diameter hole in the top of your container to allow smoke/gas to escape when heat is applied. This step could probably be skipped with Altoids tins as the lid hinge holes allows smoke/gas to escape as well.

Doing the Stuff with Fire: Easy Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

Any sharp, pointy object will work

Step 3: Loosely layer the cloth squares in your container. A tightly packed tin may not char all the surface area of your material. I placed 7 squares of thick towel in my tin.

Doing the Stuff with Fire: A Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

Step 4: Close the lid and set the container on your heat source. In under a minute, you should begin to see smoke streaming from the vent hole. This smoke/gas is flammable and will ignite if it comes in contact with the fire source.

Doing the Stuff with Fire: A Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

When the smoke or fire stops coming from the vent hole, your char material is ready.

Your cloth should only take a few minutes (3 to 5) to fully char.

If you open the lid while the container is in the fire, you’ve added the third side of the fire triangle and your material will burn instead of char.

Step 5: Remove the container from the fire and allow to cool. Open the lid and remove your charred material. The charred cloth is delicate, so be careful when separating.

Doing the Stuff with Fire: Easy Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

Charred cloth is ready!

Now to test the charred cloth. I used a modern ferro rod. Char cloth will catch a spark from old school flint and steel as well.

Doing the Stuff with Fire: Easy Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad TutorialBefore you lay sparks to your char cloth, gather and build a dry tinder bundle. It’s been raining for two days here. I found some dead grass and leaves under shelves behind my shop and shaped it into a bird’s nest. I placed the char cloth inside the nest and showered sparks on the char.

Once lit, cup the bird’s nest in your hands and gently blow into the bundle. Done correctly, you will create…

Doing the Stuff with Fire: Easy Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

Fire!

Store your char cloth in a sealed container in your fire kit. I dug around in my surplus B.O.B. box to find an empty 35mm file canister. In my rummaging, I found a package of 100% cotton makeup remover pads purchased years ago.

Aha moment! What can I say. Thought they’d come in handy one day. And they did…

Accidental Char Pads

These pads are marketed for removing makeup and nail polish without leaving cotton fibers behind. I loaded my tin with 5 pads and followed the same procedures for making char cloth. This won’t work with plain ol’ cotton balls.

Doing the Stuff with Fire: Easy Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

I’ll bet the ladies already have these on hand.

To my surprise, the char pads caught and held a spark even better than the char cloth.

Doing the Stuff with Fire: Easy Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

Puffy char pad

Doing the Stuff with Fire: Easy Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

Film canister filled with char pads

And yes, this is one of the reasons I pack Killer Cotton in my emergency kits.

If you enjoyed this DiY preparedness tutorial, please share it with your friends! As always…

Keep Doing the Stuff!

Todd

You can also connect with us on TwitterPinterest, and our new Facebook pageThanks for sharing the stuff!

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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness | Tags: , , | 11 Comments

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11 thoughts on “An Easy Char Cloth and Accidental Char Pad Tutorial

  1. Pingback: Prepper News Watch for December 16, 2013 | The Preparedness Podcast

  2. A suggestion. When you take your finished char cloth off the fire, allow it to cool completely. Even though the container may not feel hot, the cloth inside can still light off if it isn’t completely cool.

    The last time I made char cloth I used three containers. I opened one of the containers prematurely and instantly had a can full of fiercely burning cloth.

  3. Sam

    My favorite char cloth is made from old denim jeans. It chars well, holds a spark well, and is a little more resilent than that made from finer material. Sam

  4. Pingback: Weekly Survival Reader: Dec 16-20 | Prep-Blog.com

  5. Toni T.

    To FIX YOUR FIRE PISTON: Remove the O-Ring & Brush on or spray on a coat of liquid plastic or a similar wood sealant product onto the wood insert, ensuring that some gets into the groove. Don’t allow it to dry on it’s side or it can come out lop-sided, but after it dries completely replace the O-ring and test to see if it’s now a tight fit. If it’s still too loose then apply another THIN coat and allow it to dry upside down this time and test it again; you get the idea. Before you do this you might want to add a second O-ring slightly below the 1st one to ensure a very tight fit. Of course you can also just make a new insert piece but the sealant/varnish should fill in your groove enough to salvage it.

  6. Pingback: Blowing The Lid Off Char Containers | Survival Sherpa

  7. Pingback: Char Cloth Tutorial » Camping Survival Blog

  8. Pingback: Here’s Your Sign: Turning Trash Into Survival Treasure | Survival Sherpa

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