Char-cloth has been around at least as long as charcoal. It’s essentially the same thing, the carbon that is left behind after burning off the hydrocarbons. The only real difference is that this carbon comes from cloth, whereas the carbon for charcoal comes from wood.
The really great thing about char-cloth, besides its light weight and compact size, is that it ignites very well from sparks. So, it’s an excellent form of tinder to use along with the various methods of fire starting that we’ve discussed, which create sparks.
To make char-cloth, you’ll need to start out with some cloth. Heavyweight cotton works very well for this. You don’t want to use a lightweight fabric, as the resulting char-cloth will break too easily. In addition to the cloth, you’ll need a small metal container with a lid, such as one from Altoids mints. Poke a small hole in the top of the metal container with an awl or an extremely small drill bit. Cut the cloth into pieces which will fit well inside of the metal container. Opinions differ as to a “prefect” size, but something around 1 inch by 2 inches is a good starting point. Stack these pieces of cloth loosely in the tin, so that air can move around and through them.
Place the closed tin, with the cloth inside on a fire. The next time you’re burning steaks on the barbecue grille might be a good time for this. The cloth can’t burn inside the tin, so the hydrocarbons will turn into a gas and leave through the hole, where they will burn. Once they stop burning, your char-cloth is done. Retrieve the container with tongs and allow it to cool.
The finished char-cloth will be black and look like little rectangles of burnt fabric. It needs to be kept dry until you are ready to use it. Since it is fragile, you want to keep it in something that will keep it from breaking. Storing it in the same tin that you made it in sealed in a zipper storage bag works out well.