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Make a Fire

How to Make Charcloth: A miracle material for catching sparks and making fire

How to Make Charcloth: A miracle material for catching sparks and making fire
How to Make Charcloth: A miracle material for catching sparks and making fire

Catching a spark and blowing it into a flame is a skill that can save your life.

How to make charcloth, a material for catching sparks and starting fires.

Put the pieces of 100 percent cotton cloth in a tin with a hole in the top for ventilation, then heat it until the smoke comes out and ignites.

by Leon Pantenburg

WEB-Firestarter(1)Charcloth is a material that has been “cooked” like charcoal is at high temperatures until it becomes black. Properly-made charcloth will easily catch a spark and grow into an ember.  This ember can be transferred to a tinder bundle and blown into a flame.

Once you discover how easy it is to make charcloth, you’ll never have an excuse for running out, or not having some in your survival kit. This is the method used by Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, Or.

Every scout is expected to know how to make and use this material, and charcloth is part of every survival kit. It should be part of your kit, too!

Here’s the items you need, and what you need to do:

A regular-sized Altoids or other brand of mint tin, with a small hole punched in the top. The photos show a larger tin can for increased production.
Blue denim from old Wranglers or Levi 501s or work jeans works very well as the material to be charred. Other 100 percent cotton items and some organic materials can also be used. Another favorite material is 100 percent cotton insulated underwear. We favor denim because there is never a shortage of old jeans in any group of growing boys!

Also, if you ever need to make charcloth in an emergency, chances are somebody will be wearing jeans!

Finished charcloth should be completely black, but flexible and not brittle.

Finished charcloth should be completely black, but flexible and not brittle.

And don’t forget that a 100% cotton bandanna can provide lots of charring material. (But test every batch before including it in a survival kit – you never know when some charcloth might not work!)

A source of heat – campfire coals work well, and so does a backpacking or camp stove. You can use a barbecue grill or propane heater in your backyard. Charring is a smoky process, so make sure you go outdoors. (Check out this video! Making charcloth)

Once these items are assembled, tear up the denim and pack it loosely (so the contents have some spring to them) to the top of the can.

Place the can on the heat source and cook.

Actual cooking time will vary, depending on heat intensity, outdoor temperature etc. The heat should be high enough that the can starts to smoke through the hole in the top.

At some point, in about five to ten minutes, the smoke should ignite. Then adjust the heat, if possible, so the flame stays about two-to-four inches high. When the flame dies down, and the smoke lessens, take the can from the fire and let it cool completely. When you open the can, check the charcloth to make sure it is completely black and somewhat flexible.

#charcloth #firemaking survival #survival

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View Comments (2)


  1. Jasmine

    06/10/2016 at 00:38

    Thank you for sharing! Actually this is the first time I’ve heard about charcloth. The video is really helpful.

  2. Andrew

    10/15/2015 at 17:46

    100% cotton rope works equally well as char rope.

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Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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