How To Make Char Cloth for Fire Starting

Char Cloth is a flammable piece of material which is usually used in conjunction with a ferro rod flint for fire starting.  The Art of Manliness explains that char cloth is created through a process of pyrolysis, which Wikipedia tells us is the “thermochemical decomposition of organic material at an elevated temperature in the absence of oxygen.” 

Basically, char cloth is created by combusting an organic material in a way that releases its gasses without burning it up completely.

Having char cloth on you can be a life saver, especially if you're trying to get a fire started in damp conditions.

Want to make your own char cloth?

As far as survival hacks go, this one is relatively easy.

You will need the following supplies:

  • Tin can (an Altoids box works great or a coffee can for large batches)
  • 100% cotton (find old jeans, a shirt, or handkerchief)
  • Cutting tool (scissors or knife)
  • Puncturing tool (something to puncture the lid. A knife will work too) 

1. First punch a hole in the top of your tin

A small nail is the perfect size for a hole punch. You don't want your hole to be larger than the circumference of a pen because it could allow too much oxygen into your tin during the charring process.

2. Cut your cloth and put it in the tin

Now it's time to cut up your old jeans or shirts that you want to use for your char cloth. The cloth will shrink during the process so make sure your pieces are large enough. Use your knife or scissors to cut out some pieces out at the size you desire.

If your tin is too small, your fabric will need to be bunched up or folded which will take more time in the charring phase. 

3. Set your tin on an open flame

It's important to do this step outside or in a heavily vented area. The gases coming from your vent hole when this thing heats up will be toxic and shouldn't be inhaled.

How long does it take?

The amount of time it takes is based on how much cloth you're using, the size of your tin, and how hot your flame is.

Typically it should only take 10-15 minutes and you'll know when it's finished when it stops smoking.

4. Cool down and storage

When your tin stops smoking, remove it from your heat source and let it cool down for a few minutes. If you open the lid immediately, the cloth could still be hot enough to combust, and the sudden rush of oxygen is enough to make that happen.

Store in a waterproof container or bag. Personally, I removed the other items from the EDC keychain and replaced them with my char cloth. 

This way I'll always have dry char cloth to start a fire, even if I'm in the middle of a hurricane.

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  • Survivor Rick on

    Hi Tim, what are you using for a cooking tin? Did you remove all non-cloth from your shirt like buttons and tags? How long did you char the shirt for? Did you put a hole in your tin and wait for the smoke to stop?

    The process can take a few tries to learn.

  • Tim on

    I just made char cloth using an old cotton tshirt by following your instructions. I gathered some dry tinder and used one cloth to try and ignite it. I used my flint/steel and the cloth caught but just smoldered into nothing without igniting the tinder. I used another and tried again, this time crumpling up the cloth into a loose ball. Same thing. It just would not ignite the tinder. Normally, I use cotton from pill bottles and that ignites easily with a visible flame. I’ve used it for years to ignite even damp tender. I’d like the char cloth to do the same. So why is it not working as such?

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