Suitable project for scouts OR cubs under experienced adult supervision!
The char-cloth works well with a fire piston or on it's own to hold a fire spark for longer.
One of the easiest ways to get a fire lit from a spark is to make char-cloth tinder. Cub Scout Leader and bushcraft specialist Austin Lill shows us how.I find that the Cub Pack I work with always seems to be up for a fire in one form or another, and I would imagine that most other Scout sections are too. One thing that seems like magic to the Cubs is blowing a large tinder bundle into flame, and char-cloth is not only a fairly foolproof way to achieve this, but is also quick and simple to make. You essentially ‘cook’ the cloth like you would if you were making charcoal, using a sealed tin to keep oxygen out and stop the material setting on fire.
You will need:
Something that is made of natural fibres.
The most easily available items are cotton and linen, from old trousers to dusters (usually the cheaper the better). If you’re using old clothes, check for buttons, zips, labels, printed designs, faux leather patches and so on, and cut them off to leave the basic material.
An old treacle or paint tin for your ‘oven’.
Make sure that the former is washed out or the latter is carefully burnt clean on a fire. Using a hammer and nail or bradawl, put a hole in the lid, so that, when the tin is placed in the fire, steam and impurities can escape as the charcloth ‘cooks’, while still keeping the air out.
- Place your chosen material inside the tin and put the lid on. You now need a heat source. While a fire is best, you can also get reasonable results with a small tin on a barbecue. There is supposed to be an optimum temperature to make charcloth, but realistically, any good fire will do.I usually place the tin on its side, pointing away from people. On rare occasions the lid may pop off. You don’t want this happening because, aside from possibly hurting someone, oxygen will get in and you’ll end up with ash very quickly.Put some glowing coals around the tin and you’ll notice an increase in the plume of steam coming out of the hole in the lid, often with the odd flame and hissing noise. This is the water and impurities being driven from the material.
- When the steam stops, take the tin out of the fire with care, place it somewhere safe and immediately push a sharpened stick into the hole to block any air getting in. Don’t be tempted to have a look inside the tin until it’s fully cooled. If you let the air get to it while it’s still hot, the cloth can ignite.When you do look, you’ll hopefully find charcoal-coloured cloth that tears fairly easily. If it hasn’t fully charred then that’s no problem, simply remove the good stuff and bake it some more the next time you have a fire.
- You’ll find your charcloth takes a spark very easily, good news for budding fire-makers of all ages and abilities. A firesteel would be the best spark-making method, but to demonstrate how easily it lights, I’ve used the sparks from a broken lighter to light a piece with the edges frayed. You know when it’s lit because a deep orange glow appears and grows with the occasional spark.
Don’t fancy cooking your clothes?
You can get similar results with countryside alternatives. I have made fantastic charred seed lighter out of cattail (also known as bulrush or reed mace) and thistledown, using the very same process. Interestingly, the cattail (a reed-like plant from river margins with brown, cigar-shaped seed heads) smells very similar to fence preservative when charred. I’ve been told that the smell is the seeds becoming waterproof.
The only possible drawback for seed tinders is that they can blow away easily on windy days. You could also try cotton wool, though I don’t find it as good as the material and seed options.