Making Charcloth

Posted in Tutorial on June 3rd, 2006 by admin – Comments Off

Time for a tutorial.

Let’s assemble the necessary ingredients for successful charcloth making. You’ll need:

  • A small tin
  • A means to poke and plug a hole in the tin (a small nail works well here)
  • A heat source
  • 100% cotton

The setup I used today included a small 8 oz. tin and an Altoids tin, the charcoal grill, and a hopelessly stained cotton kitchen towel and approximately two feet of cotton webbing. (The Altoids tin and cotton webbing are missing from this picture. Also, the brown t-shirt material didn’t make it into charcloth today.)
I had already used this tin several times so the vent hole has been put approximately center in the lid. This allows the gases to vent during the charring process.
Prior to placing the cotton towel in the tin, I like to roll it up and I’ll often slice it into lengths for easier packing once it is charred.
Now the towel is packed into the tin. Sometimes the material is packed tightly and sometimes packed loose. I have found little evidence that one way works better than the other.
Looks like the charcoal is nice and hot. I’ve added some nice dry wood along with the hot coals just to give the sights and sounds of a campfire to this project.
I normally place my tins on the outside edge of the coals just to get things moving. I have found the lids tend to pop during the first few minutes and, if you’ve got a tin right in the center of the fire, you’re going to be less likely to try and remedy that situation. If the lid does pop, and you don’t get it back on, you may end up with ash instead of charcloth.
The Altoids tin quickly begins to smoke. I suspect that’s because there’s far less material inside and the flatter shape allows the internal temperature to rise more quickly.
And now, from a different angle, the larger tin begins to smoke. It always amazes me how much pressure builds up inside these tins.
The Altoids tin is already finished. Once the smoke stops coming out of the tin, it’s done. You now need to pull the tin from the heat, find a way to plug the hole, and let it sit until it’s cool enough to pick up. I turned these tins top-down today just to see if it would work.
Since the larger tin is tall I will add coals to the top just to assure even charring.
The Altoids tin is now cool enough to open. The cloth looks good. It’s nice and black and breaks easily. Opening the tin too soon may cause the charcloth to smoulder and, eventually, burn up.
NEVER wait until you need it to make sure your charcloth will hold a spark. As soon as it’s cool enough to touch, I take some out and test it with my firesteel.
A quick strike with the spine of my knife…
…and VOILA! We have a nice ember.
Time to check in on the larger tin. It has stopped smoking, been placed top down to cool, and now I’ve pulled the lid. Compare this photo to the one above to see how much the cloth shrinks during the charring process.
One more test…
…and success! Another good batch.

Making charcloth is NOT a terribly difficult endeavor but impatience can cost you in the end. Make sure the tin has stopped smoking before pulling it from the fire or you may end up with an incomplete char.

These two batches of charcloth will last me for months. I enjoy making it almost as much as I enjoy using it. The process could also be repeated using pieces of wood or any other flammable materials but I find using kitchen towels that are no longer even worth washing to work very well. Waste not want not.

I hope you found this tutorial helpful and useful. Try it and let me know how it works for you.

Thanks for reading,