Making char cloth: by a fellow woodsman

This is courtesy of a fellow woodsman, someone who spends as much or more time in the sticks as I do.

Well, I decided to do a little experimentation with making some char cloth. A friend indicated that the char cloth made from “material” was a bit fragile to deal with. One guy on y-tube said he preferred using cotton balls rather than pieces of old T-shirt or blue jean material. I decided to try the cotton balls instead of cloth material. 

I used a tuna can for the cooking process. The can opener I used cuts from the side of the can instead of a traditional can opener that cuts through the top. Cutting from the side is nice because it allows you to use the top of the can as a re-usable lid. 

I read that the benefit of char cloth is that the cotton is chemically changed when it’s heated to about 400 degrees. The end result is that you have something that will light at a lower temperature. The lid on the can keeps oxygen out, while the cotton cooks. A ferro rod throws sparks at 3,000 degrees and easily lights the char cloth. 

Here is the can opener and the tuna can I used for making char cloth. Note the pin hole I punched in the top of the lid which allows steam to exit

They charred cotton balls don’t fall apart when handling, nor do they blacken your fingers. 

A handy container for carrying the completed project: is an old medicine bottle or altoids tin

The few y-tube videos I watched showed guys putting their cooking can onto a bed of coals in a camp fire which worked fine. One guy even used an Altoids can which worked well too. I didn’t have an Altoids can, so I used the tuna can. 

I wanted to make the char cloth but didn’t feel like making a camp fire. So, I wondered if I could use my little alcohol stove to cook the cotton balls? 

I fired up the stove and once it bloomed I put the can on the stove. Steam came out the the vent hole and the along the rim of the lid. After 2-3 minutes the steam subsided and I figured the cooking was done. The cotton balls were fully cooked!

I tried igniting one of them with my ferro rod and with a couple of strikes it lighted right up quite easily. I think it’s a good option to use as a fire starter. Note that the cotton ball burns as an ember, it doesn’t flame up. Blowing on it will make it glow orange to give of more heat. 

However, my personal favorite choice for a fire starter is a cotton ball which I impregnate with petroleum jelly. They light easily with a Bic lighter, and if I don’t have the lighter, I pull open the cotton ball to expose the dry center and then use the ferro rod. It lights easily (flames up) with sparks and burns hotter and longer, which will obviously be a big plus when lighting damp tinder. 

Petroleum Jelly Cotton Balls (PJCB’s)

I think the char cloth cotton balls are a good option. They are easy to make in the field with a camp fire or alcohol stove. As stated, ignition with a ferro rod is easy, but assuming I have PJCB’s I’ll use them first.

Or, I can carry both. Use the char cloth with good dry tinder and the PJCB’s in damp conditions. I’m certainly no expert on this stuff. I’m just sharing this info and my limited experience in case you want to pursue char cloth as an option.

Free the mind and the body will follow.


About Jesse Mathewson

Jesse Mathewson is the author of the popular blog, and provides commentary to many varied places based on a background that includes education in criminal justice, history, religion and even insurgency tactics and tactical training. His current role in his community is as an organizer of sorts and a preacher of community solidarity and agorism. He also runs Liberty Practical Training, a self defense school specializing in the practical applications of defensive approaches versus the theoretical. As an agorist, voluntaryist and atheist his life is seen as crazy and wild by many, though once they get to know him most realize he is a bluntly honest individual who will give you the shirt off his back if he believes it is necessary to help you. Very simple, "That which is voluntary between all individuals involved is always right, if it is not voluntary, it is always wrong."
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6 Responses to Making char cloth: by a fellow woodsman

  1. cavpatriot says:

    Awesome. Definitely going to make some of these.


  2. The best thing I’ve ever found for char cloth is kerosene lamp wick. Here’s a video I made on making char:


  3. jeffreycanthony says:

    While i like the Petroleum Jelly cotton balls, they aren’t always practical with what happens to be lying around. Great for a short term kit for sure.

    I wonder how cotton pads would do for char style?

    The idea of char cloth to me is scavenging/recycling. As I walk along, I quite often have found other people’s trash metal containers and discarded clothing that is not fit for use in normal wear, but can be shredded and used. Start a fire with charcloth, and use the fire to make more, and you create a cycle. If i can help it, i wont even waste the ferro rod material, and use a lens if the sun’s available. Even scavenged water bottle can work as a lens.

    I could imagine the fun that could be had in Arizona, Florida or Texas for instance with the sun and fire… That youtube channel even goes into melting metal with lenses.


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