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.