Char cloth.... what am I doing wrong?

Discussion in 'Fire' started by Beach Hiker, Aug 19, 2019.

  1. Beach Hiker

    Beach Hiker LB 42 Supporter

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    Hello!
    I have been playing with some steel strikers I was gifted.

    After a mildly frustrating learning curve, I finally got "the knack" of it, and am now able to happily start fires. The char cloth I got as a gift from @pellegrino, which was made by @Red Yeti is excellent. All of the strikers are great! Nice, easy sparks. Thanks @gohammergo who sent several strikers and lots of flint....

    Anyway, I have been trying to make my own char cloth. Everything seems fine.... but the cloth doesn't take, or "hold" the spark. I can see the red spark land on the cloth, but unlike with the cloth which @Red Yeti made, the spark simply disappears.

    What am I doing wrong? I have tried jean, cotton pads, thinner cotton.... They come out looking fine.... black and charred. But they won't hold a spark.
    Help!
     

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  2. gohammergo

    gohammergo I like sharp things.... Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    Try getting a spark to catch when the char cloth is still kinda warm. See if it works then. I have heard that some jean material has other stuff in it. Nylon or Rayon or something? That is supposed to not work as well.
     
  3. ExAF1N1

    ExAF1N1 Member of a small but fierce tribe. LB-42 Supporter

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    I'm watching. I "know" how one is to make it, and how it all works, but haven't done it myself. It's on the list of 5000 things to do...

    Try and see if the same happens with a ferro rod? If it's still happening maybe you need to char it longer?

    Some folks with waaaay more experience than me should be replying, I'm curious to the answer as well.

    Good luck!
     
  4. Beach Hiker

    Beach Hiker LB 42 Supporter

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    Hmmmm.

    Good idea!....
    By the way, it's all very fun and addictive.
     
  5. Beach Hiker

    Beach Hiker LB 42 Supporter

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    So.... @ExAF1N1
    I just went out and tried it.... nope, it won't light with a ferro rod. The spark sits there, long enough to blow on it even, but it won't catch.
    I tried with a piece of the @Red Yeti cloth and it catches (obviously).
     
  6. gohammergo

    gohammergo I like sharp things.... Supporter Bushcraft Friend

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    I think maybe if you cook it longer it might work better. :)
     
  7. kelly24179

    kelly24179 Scout

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    Put fire to a corner of your char cloth and see if it will work, if it will still not burn you may not have let it "cook" long enough.
     
  8. ExAF1N1

    ExAF1N1 Member of a small but fierce tribe. LB-42 Supporter

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    The synthetic fibers mixed in as stated above is something I hadn't thought of. Wouldn't those melt or something with the heat from charring and become more brittle, so you'd know there's synthetic?

    I wonder if you can char jute twine?

    Still watching!
     
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  9. NWPrimate

    NWPrimate Supporter Supporter

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    Skip that step and start playing with the materials you've been walking past. :)
     
  10. goon

    goon Scout

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    It has to be 100% natural fiber to work - so 100% cotton is your easiest bet. (I’ve never used linen, but it should also work.) You could try the twine... also t-shirt, terrycloth, cotton bed sheets. The color of your cloth looks like a pretty good flat black, so I don’t think it’s your technique. I suspect something is wrong with the material.

    A ferro rod should definitely get viable charcloth smoldering on the first strike. The sparks are more numerous and much hotter than from flint and steel.
     
  11. Red Yeti

    Red Yeti Mostly Harmless Hobbyist Supporter Bushclass I Bushclass II

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    Hmmm, well I could shine you on with some stuff about the lunar phase, latitude or magnetic north, but there does not seem to be much mystery to it. My guess is that your fabric is a blend of cotton and something else. I have experimented with some jeans material that was a blend with 10% rayon and it was not very good, and did hold the spark.

    I use only 100% cotton like denim, canvas duck, t shirt material, or old washcloth (best). No blends. It needs to be well laundered, If you try to use new fabric, like scraps left over from some sewing project, it can have some type of stabilizers in it that seem to inhibit ignition.

    Pack it into a tin (I use Altiods) and put it on a hot fire (gas camping stove works OK too). Have some tongs or other means to handle the tin Smoke will start to come out of the holes and then the smoke will ignite in little jets. Watch it. The little jets of flame will gain intensity as they burn more of the escaping gas. then they will start to slow. I usually turn the tin over so it heats evenly. Probably not necessary, but I do it. I take it off the heat before the jets stop burning. I think you can over cook it and the result is a little too much like ash rather than a nice flexible char. You might possibly be over cooking it. don't wait until the flames go out dead.

    Don't open the tin until it is cold to the touch. It can reignite if it is still hot.

    You can also char natural materials, like punkwood, finely shredded bark, cattail down is one of my favorites. There is a bushclass lesson on this where you can get more info.

    Try that out, see how it works for you

    Happy to work with you on this. its not hard.

    :38::38:
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2019
  12. kelly24179

    kelly24179 Scout

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    Yes and Yes
     
  13. Beach Hiker

    Beach Hiker LB 42 Supporter

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    Thanks all. I will continue playing.
     
  14. PAcanis

    PAcanis Supporter Supporter

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    I'm thinking you're having the same problem I was having when I first attempted to char some punk wood. You're cooking it too long.
    Try taking it off the flames when you are no longer getting a flame out the hole(s) in the tin.
     
  15. CSM1970

    CSM1970 Supporter Supporter

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    Goodwill terry cloth towels. 100% cotton only.
     
  16. OMRebel

    OMRebel Meanderer of the Piney Woods Supporter Hardwoodsman Bushclass I Bushclass II

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    I agree you may be cooking too long. When the flame or smoke die out, take it off the heat.
     
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  17. White Falcon

    White Falcon Scout

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    I cook mine next to the heat source, not over direct heat. Denim. DSCN3786.JPG
     
  18. Stone

    Stone Supporter Supporter

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    The secret to getting good char is to cook the material in the absence of oxygen. That's what happens when the gas escapes and ignites outside the can. The material is off-gassing and rather than that igniting and burning up the material, it doesn't burn until it gets outside the can...because all the gasses are going OUT and the oxygen can't come in.

    The way I make char is to have a good, tight-fitting tin and put a small hole in it. Load the tin with non-synthetic cloth (synthetic stuff tends to melt). Put it in the fire. And like Red Yeti says, the flame jets out the holes. My experience is that Altoids can's hinges leak too much. But he gets around that by taking it out of the fire while the gas is still pouring OUT of the tin.

    If the tin allows too much air in, the cloth will burn up and you won't have 'char.'
     
  19. Cascadian

    Cascadian Guide

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    If the Altoid can's hinges leak too much, perhaps poking a hole in the top is not necessary. Any thoughts?
     
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  20. kcardwel

    kcardwel Hardwoodsman Hobbyist Supporter Hardwoodsman Bushclass III

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    mine leak but I don't bother with a hole anymore; they always work fine. I use cheese cloth though too.
     
  21. Red Yeti

    Red Yeti Mostly Harmless Hobbyist Supporter Bushclass I Bushclass II

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    Yes, more holes are not needed when you have a hinged tin like an Altoids. If you have one that is other wise pretty tight, then you need hole.

    :38:
     
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  22. goon

    goon Scout

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    You can try taking the lid off, squeezing the holes shut, and snapping the lid back on if the tin lets too much air in. I prefer non-hinged tins and hoard any I lay hands on, but we gotta salvage what we can where we can.
     
  23. Stone

    Stone Supporter Supporter

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    True. I don't use Altoids tins, personally, because I think they leak too much. At least they wouldn't be my first choice.
     
  24. Stone

    Stone Supporter Supporter

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  25. Cascadian

    Cascadian Guide

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  26. Moe M.

    Moe M. Supporter Supporter

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    Sadly, trying to find 100% cotton cloth in this day and age is difficult at best, manufactures of cloth products especially clothing, towels, and bed linens sneak acrylic fillers into their blends for a multitude of reasons, they may be marked 100% cotton or wool, but chances are they are not 100%.
    I've found over the years that some products offer a better chance of success than Tee shirts, denim, or bed sheets, if you can still find 100% cotton clothes line rope, or an old fishnet type hammock made with cotton rope they are a good bet for char.
    But there are other better and more period correct materials that you can use to char that will give you much better results, one is punky wood that can easily be found in most any forested area of the country.
    I'm not going to get into the methodology of making char to catch and hold a spark from a steel and a piece of flint or other hard stone, there's plenty of tutorials on line and in print that explain how to do it, the most important part of getting it right consistently is using the right materials to begin with.
    One suggestion I can offer is to google Keith Burgess, He's a guy in Australia who has more or less adopted the lifestyle of the colonial era in the mode of the 18th. century eastern long hunter, the guy is chuck full of useful information and has a ton of videos that offer both academic and practical views on the primitive skills of that era.
    His "down under" accent can be a little distracting at times, but he really knows his stuff and is well worth your time to investigate his channel.

    Good luck, and keep trying. :dblthumb:
     
  27. sons of scotland

    sons of scotland Supporter Supporter Bushclass I

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    jumbo/extra large 100% cotton balls.... for me by far, cotton balls have worked way better then any other char material i have ever tried. and store them in a moisture proof container.
     
  28. Hawkce541

    Hawkce541 Tracker

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    For my first try at char cloth I used an old pair of denim jeans. I first cut out all of the seams and put what I could fit in a altoids tin directly in the fire. When the flames stopped pouring out of the sides I pulled the can off and let it cool. It lit off first try. First time go at this station...WOOHOO. After a couple of days sitting out it wouldn't work at all. So, I put it back in the tin and heated it up to dry. Worked like a champ. Did you leave the cloth out long enough to absorb some moisture?
     
  29. goon

    goon Scout

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    That too - it can get damp. I keep some in a brass snuff box I got from track of the wolf years ago, and even that little bit of “sealing” up will keep it dry for a year.
     
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  30. to Ha

    to Ha Supporter Supporter

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    One hole in the tin.

    Directly over flame for me.

    As SOON as smoke stops (watch it closely) I remove it completely from heat source.

    Done...perfect. (as long as it's 100% cotton) Oh, and I don't fill the tin completely - but I have no idea if this matters.
     
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  31. Scotchmon

    Scotchmon Supporter Supporter

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    I’d guess the char cloth is not cooked enough or it’s not 100% cotton.
    Good reason right here to test before adding it to one’s kit.
    Note: it looks like one of the strikers @gohammergo sent you lost it’s handle.
    SORRY TO SEE THAT! Still sparks though, right?
     
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  32. Beach Hiker

    Beach Hiker LB 42 Supporter

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    It does indeed spark extremely well! I'm using it all the time as I practice.
     
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  33. mage2

    mage2 Tracker

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    I have tried 95% cotton and 5% spandex. it made char cloth with some stretch, its odd, but catches from chert/steel easy enough.
    If its a newer cloth and a tight weave you could be raining sparks down on parts with no exposed "fuzzy bits" its all about surface area. i usually tear and break up and expose the torn edge to the sparks.
    I would try cooking less and shredding it up a little. see if catches
    Also take pics of the char cloth you are making. as for my personal way of making char, i have made it in a Altoids, no hole just tossed it on some coals from a fire, made it in a steel water bottle using a steel cup as a cover etc.
     
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  34. Elgatodeacero

    Elgatodeacero Scout

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    cotton gun cleaning patches work good, but i have found cotton or hemp webbing about 1 - 2 inches wide takes a spark very well and is thick enough to burn with the coal a long time.

    i have not found it possible to cook the char cloth too long.
     
  35. White Falcon

    White Falcon Scout

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    Denim all the way for me.
     
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  36. NH Woodsman

    NH Woodsman Tracker

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    Old undershirts, makeup pads (from my wife of course...…) work well and burn fast for me. I typically use an old bb container with a nail-hole punched in the top. Downside is that these materials burn very fast, so get your bundle ready. I also prefer striking down into material instead of trying to bounce a spark on it. The thin material can disintegrate while holding it. Happy Striking!
     
  37. pellegrino

    pellegrino Much to learn... Bushcraft Friend

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    I have that exact same experience using old undershirts. Chars well and takes a spark easily, but it sure can shred.
     
  38. Mr. Chips

    Mr. Chips Tracker

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    I have done the tight fitting can lid with a hole thing and it works well.
    I have also just draped a foot or so of old blue jeans over a stick and ignited it, then when the flames go out, stuff the glowing cloth into a cookie tin, (that has a tight lid), and pop the lid on, which will smother the glow.
    The char cloth made using the external flame approach works just as well for me as the cloth made with the cooking in the can method.
     
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