Tag Archives | tinder

The making of char cloth tinder

There are many ways to light a fire and some of the basic deliver the most satisfaction. So have you ever tried to light a fire from a simple spark using a piece of flint and a steel? This should not be confused with a firesteel, one of those ferro or ferrocerium rods. When a firesteel is scraped properly it provides a shower of bright, white and extremely hot sparks to ignite a tinder bundle. Chipping away at a piece of flint with a steel by contrast creates paler sparks that are a cooler orange and far more sensitive to the tinder used.

Why do I need char cloth? To ignite a fire with a dull or pale spark, you will need a very dry tinder. With a very hot spark (e.g. firesteel), you may be able to light tinder that is damp, all be it not obviously so. With a piece of flint struck with a steel, the tinder will not ignite if the tinder is even slightly damp. This is why you need a very dry tinder called char cloth.

Materials prepared for making char cloth

Materials prepared for making char cloth

Char cloth is made from a cotton fabric, pretty much any 100% cotton fabric will do the job nicely. I make char cloth using, pieces of old denim jeans (no I don’t have any of that stretchy lycra stuff in my Levis), handkerchiefs that are passed their best and in this example (above) the remains of a Judo jacket (my sons).

Char cloth is made in a similar way to making charcoal – the material is heated to drive out all the moisture whilst not allowing it to combust! For char cloth, use a small tin can (e.g. a black treacle tin) that has a tight fitting lid – a small hole is pierced in the lid (more on this later). The cotton fabric is cut into strips, sufficient to fill the tin but still let enough air circulate around it – don’t over fill the tin.

Cotton cloth charring on the campfire

Cotton cloth charring on the campfire

The cotton material is placed loosely in the tin, I find that it’s best not to overfill. It’s ok if you do, it’s just that the charring process will take longer and some pieces may not be fully charred. The lid is then firmly pushed down to create a good seal and the tin containing the cotton placed on a heat source. Yes, that saying “which comes first the chicken or the egg” comes to mind! A fire is the obvious choice, but any heat source will do, a gas stove for instance. I wouldn’t recommend doing this in your kitchen on a cooker – not good at all.

So what is happening here? The heat is drying out the cotton – yes even though the fabric may feel dry to the touch, it really does have a moisture content that would fail you for your fire lighting. Thinking about the fire-triangle for a moment, the need for heat, fuel and oxygen. Placing the cotton in a tin with a tiny hole in the top means that the moisture driven off by the heat, escapes through the small hole. Because the small hole has steam flowing out, the oxygen flow is significantly reduced or hopefully eliminated, hence your cotton cloth does not combust in the tin!

Stopping combustion of the charred cloth

Stopping combustion of the charred cloth

Now don’t go away and forget about your char cloth in the making. As soon as it is completely dry, the flow of steam will cease, oxygen will enter the tin and your lovely char cloth will ignite leaving you with a tin of ash! Keep an eye on proceedings – a small tin like this will take somewhere between 20-30 minutes. As soon as the steam appears to have stopped, block the hole with a pointed stick and carefully take it of the heat and leave it to cool.

What happens if you don’t wait for it to cool? Yes, I have done this, in the interests of science of course. Using some fireproof gauntlets, I carefully removed the lid when still very hot, and not too surprisingly, the charred cloth burst into flames!

Not-quite fully charred cloth

Not-quite fully charred cloth

And what happens if you remove your tin from the heat to soon? Here is an example, the cloth is not fully charred, some of the cotton is brown rather than deep black. No, need to worry, just pop it all back in the tin and repeat the process – it’ll more often than not be fine. Of course, you could try the partially charred cloth to see what happens – it’s unlikely to work, but good to appreciate what happens if not fully charred.

Char cloth ready for fire lighting

Char cloth ready for fire lighting

This is what you are looking for, a jet-black, fully charred cloth. The fabric should be brittle and easily fall apart. A word of warning, you fab char cloth will now be soaking up the ambient moisture in the air – so I suggest you store it in an air-tight container ready for use!

Char cloth ignited by a spark

Char cloth ignited by a spark

Time to test the char cloth using a small piece of flint struck with a steel. With a super-dry piece of charred cloth, you should be able to drop a spark and ignite the cloth with comparative ease. Now of course this does rather depend on how much practice you have given to using the flint and steel.

If that has sparked your interest in fire lighting, then you may like to learn more fire lighting methods, on either my Art of Fire (both modern and primitive methods of fire lighting) or Bushcraft 101 (fire lighting along with other essential wilderness living skills) courses.

Fire Lighting and wilderness living skills on Bushcraft 101

Buckinghamshire Scouts – Back to Bushcraft

Everyone wants to be doing Bushcraft; an opportunity to learn new Bushcraft skills, sharpen up on old ones and put them all into practice.

Scout leaders relax in their natural shelter

Scout leaders relax in their natural shelter

Starting on a Saturday morning, you will be learning knife skills, fire-by-friction and other methods for lighting fires, building natural and man-made shelters.

In the evening we’ll be back country cooking and sleeping out, experiencing our new shelters. The sleepover will finish after breakfast on Sunday morning.

Real confidence booster for being a new leader

Itinerary:

  • Knife skills; the law, safe and practical use
  • Folding saw; techniques for safe use
  • You’ll be making a craft item using these skills
  • Building successful fires; tinder, kindling and fire lays
  • Fire by friction; using a bow drill to create fire
  • Other methods for fire lighting
  • Building shelters from natural materials
  • Putting up tarps and hammocks
  • Back country cooking

Fantastic experience, learning the basics, sleeping outdoors without tents, cooking on open fires and not relying on gas

Includes: teas and coffees, a light lunch, dinner and breakfast! Just as at camp, everyone will be expected to help with meal preparations, etc. To ensure everyone gets the most from this event, numbers are limited to 10 Leaders

Super location, animated and expert instruction, very useful refresher course for all Scout Leaders

Explorer Scouts Bushcraft Weekend

Setting the scene for the weekend, the Explorer Scouts sat by the campfire, in the outdoor classroom, a big cargo parachute. They listened to the weekend’s itinerary and safety brief. Whilst the camp is located on a Scout site, we were a ten minute walk from the main camp. Based in a small plantation, there is a nice variety of trees and under-story, so we disappear into the woodlands, out of sight of the campers on the main site.

Explorer Scouts learning Bushcraft

Explorer Scouts learning Bushcraft

All the Explorers were keen to be learning and or improving their knife skills. After discussion of knife safety, small groups were shown how to use a Mora knife, an important step up from their penknives. They, practiced cutting techniques and ultimately made tent pegs, to be used later in the day for shelters set up and construction.

Explorer Scouts learn knife skills

Explorer Scouts learn knife skills

Explorer Scouts learnt how to improve their fire lighting skills, covering fire steels, flint and steel and wire wool and batteries (always a favourite – just like a small firework display). Fire-by-friction can be challenge, so to help the Explorers be successful, they worked in teams. By having two Scouts holding the bearing block in place, and another two on the bow, each Scout had one task making the job far easier.

Explorer Scouts learn fire-by-friction

Explorer Scouts learn fire-by-friction

The Explorer Scouts, learnt how to build natural shelters from the materials found in the woods and then went on to learn how to set up a tarp and hammock. Here you can see them setting up the first of many tarps and hammocks. By the time it was getting dark they had a small village set up and enjoyed chilling out in the hammocks.

Explorer Scouts learning how to set up a tarp and hammock

Explorer Scouts learning how to set up a tarp and hammock

Along with ponassing fish and plucking pigeon, the Explorer Scouts helped to prepare a Muntjac deer. The dear had been shot a few days earlier and gutted immediately to ensure the meat was not spoiled. But the Muntjac still needed to be skinned and jointed. The venison joints were cooked in an earth oven / fire pit, with hot rocks cooking the meat, the heat sealed in with the earth dug from the hole.

Explorer Scouts learning game preparation

Explorer Scouts learning game preparation

In all there were 18 Explorer Scouts, from two units based near Aylesbury, with their respective leaders helping. A few of the Leaders had attended the Youth Leader Bushcraft Training course earlier in the year. Everyone had a great time, leaders too, helped no doubt, by the Explorer Scouts enthusiasm throughout the weekend.

More practical skills for Scout Leaders

Scout Leaders never tire of learning new practical skills. Blessed with a sunny day, it was out with the parabolic mirror to create an ember – success! We had fun with fire-by-friction, flint and steel and create magical firework displays with wire-wool and batteries.

Solar fire lighting with a parabolic mirror

Solar fire lighting with a parabolic mirror

Enjoyed the whole weekend, the tasks were very well explained – book a place, every Scout Leader should attend!

Youth leaders enjoying making lunch on their campfire

Youth leaders enjoying making lunch on their campfire

Creating successful fires, it was then time for some well earning lunch; kebabs cooked over an open fire.

Natural shelter, big enough for two!

Natural shelter, big enough for two!

The afternoon was spent building natural shelters and then setting up tarps and hammocks. Then it was time for more food after learning how to ponass trout and cook it over the campfire.

Great teacher with lots of knowledge and experience