Charcloth: How to make charcloth for fire lighting.

by Manse Ahmad


Charcloth is an extremely useful tinder especially for friction fire lighting as an ‘ember extender’ or if you are using a traditional ‘strike a light’ flint & steel or the modern sparking Swedish fire steel. It glows very easily from the slightest spark and can then be transferred into your tinder bundle to be blown into flames. If kept dry it is a very reliable and satisfying tinder to use.

Glowing charcloth with flint and steel

Materials for making charcloth

The cloth you choose should be of natural materials and definitely not man made. Good choices are cotton, silk or jute. You can use some old denim material from an old pair of jeans or pyjamas. Maybe a dishcloth or if you’re being flash some silk. Make sure your cloth hasn’t been treated to be fire retardant or it will char in the tin, but won’t light with sparks.

Charcloth production before start

We like to use the yellow dusters as they are very cheap from the pound shop (in fact about £1) and you get lots for your money.

How to make Charcloth

Burning tin with centre hole


You’ll need a fire with a good bed of embers and a suitable tin with a lid. A good choice is an old coffee tin (see picture), shoe polish tin, sweet tin (the sort you get from motorway service stations for travelling). Anything will do as long it has a tight fitting lid and of course the size will depend on how much charcloth you want to make.


Firstly get a fire going with some good hardwood such as oak or beech for a good bed of embers. Make sure you pierce the lid of the tin with a small hole with a nail or bradawl. This is very important as it allows the smoke to escape as the cloth is charring.

Duster rolled up and placed in burning tin

Loosely roll up the cloth so it fits neatly in the tin. Don’t pack it in too tightly. Replace the lid, and with some good leather gardening or old gloves place the tin on your fire.

Charcloth tin smoking

After a few minutes smoke will start to belch out of the hole in the lid of the tin. Turn the tin a quarter turn every minute or so until it has been turned 360 degrees. When the smoke starts to diminish take off the tin using your old glove and place upright on the ground in a safe place. The tin will of course be extremely hot!


Tin cooling after burning with hole plugged

Wedge securely, a pointed sharp piece of hard twig or stick into the hole in the lid. This will exclude any oxygen. If you don’t do this the cloth will continue to burn and you’ll end up with a tin full of dust. It’s better to check early if the cloth is charred correctly, rather than leaving it on too long as you’ll also end up with very brittle dust if you over cook it. You can always replace it on the fire if it needs a bit longer.


Finished product

You may find it’s charred on the outside of the roll but not on the inside, so just adjust the roll so the un-charred portion is on the outside of the roll and put back on the fire for another few minutes. Replace the twig after taking it off and allow to cool completely (30 minutes at least) before opening the tin. That’s pretty much it.


Storage of your Charcloth

Keep your charcloth absolutely bone dry. The smoker’s oilskin tobacco pouches are ideal and should be available on-line or from a good tobacconists, or use a zip-lock freezer bag which is just as good and cheaper. Double the bags up if you’re expecting it to be very wet.

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