char cloth failure?

May 14, 2009
I recently got my flint and steel, and made char cloth to go with it.
As I had no tin, I wrapped ripped up remainders of a well used 40 years old towel in several layers of aluminum foil, punched a small hole in the middle of what was going to be the upper side and placed it into some coals.
It started smoking after a while - it smoked a while and when the smoke stopped, I took the package out of the fire and let it cool down.
As I didn't have any idea on how to close the hole, I just let it be.

When it had cooled down, I unwrapped it, and I thought it turned out fine:
all black, and I had left the pieces somewhat bigger and when I ripped them in half to put them in a box, it still had a somewhat rippy feeling to it. It was easier to rip than the raw material, but it ripped and did not fall apart.

So I thought it would be alright.

But I do throw sparks, and I can catch them, but they don't go into a coal, they sort of light up and are out again before I can put the cloth into a tinder bundle.

Then I tried getting a coal with a goinggear firesteel. The globs bounced right off at first, after some adjusting the same thing: short coal (definitely charcloth doing that) but out before I even could touch the char cloth.

Took the same piece of charcloth, held a bic to it. And it went into a coal and this glowed somewhat longer.

So in principle it seems to work.

My ideas are:
  • the piece of cloth was perhaps too worn out - you can see through a single piece of char cloth.
  • due to the hole parts of the cloth burned anyway, and the remainder simply won't catch a spark.

What do the more experienced users of char cloth think?
Last edited:
Apr 14, 2008
Could be soap in the towel. Could be too much material and some of it was insulated inside the pack. Maybe fire not hot enough I put the can on a good bead of coals. It should be black and tear easily. Try putting less material in at a time. You also need to roll it around somewhat. I use a can with a small nail hole in it. When it stops smoking I use two sticks pick up the can and shake it then back on the fire and it smokes some more. Make sure it is done then let the can cool off then open it.
May 14, 2009
Loosearrow, some good hints:

soap in the arrow- it came out of the washing machine and was air-dried before use.
too much material - it was about 10 strips of material stacked
fire not hot enough - I can definitly rule this out, as I put it a bed of hot coals, and even had some coals on the foil.

it is black and tears easily

couldnt really shake it cause it was packed more or less tight in the aluminum foil.

So if it really was the tiny residue of soap after washing, I have a problem - cause I will have that on all fabric.

So one thing to try is get a can and put only 5 layers of material in.


Feb 28, 2007
Sounds like the problem with a charcloth. The first thing to do is test it with the firesteel. If it can't catch a spark readily from firesteel and hold it as a glowing ember, toss the charcloth and make some more. The charcloth holds shouldn't be that resistant to tearing although it will hold its shape on flexing. It should be completely blackened not brown.

Get new material and start over. Perhaps your towels were fabric softener'ed to hell and back. Fabric softener ruins everything including your drier.
Oct 31, 2007
get some old jean or an old piece of canvas firehose <makes thick pieces of char)

Rick Marchand

Donkey on the Edge
Jan 6, 2005
Are you SURE it was 100% cotton.. 40 years old... no tag?.... I'm thinking its not. Even 10% synthetic or wool will stop a spark dead in its tracks.

Describe the residue on the inside of the foil.

If you over cooked it, the cloth would just crumble... if you undercooked it it would be brownish and not tear easily.

Other than that... there is not much else that can go wrong.

May 14, 2009
Are you SURE it was 100% cotton.. 40 years old... no tag?.... I'm thinking its not. Even 10% synthetic or wool will stop a spark dead in its tracks.
Another very good hint, thanks a lot!

I think yes, cause my mother always only bought 100% cotton, but actually we're only 90% sure she bought it herself.

So that might be the problem.

The residue was black, just like soot and a little more sticky on the bottom of the package.
Sep 22, 2009
If you purchase and use shoe polish, keep the can when empty. these work extremely well for making char. There is a pin hole in the lid that is covered with a clear round sticker.
Mar 19, 2007
This was an old post of mine:

I have experimented in the last few weeks with making clar cloth. I was told that jeans worked - old T's worked (the older the better) - cloth diapers worked - and the like.

I tried all of these - but what I found not only worked best but was the easiest to prepare was 100% white (un-dyed) muslin cloth.

This can be found at the local fabric store for about 99 cents a square yard and is very easy to turn into charcloth.

Here is what I did:

1) Bought 2 yards of cloth. THis is a LOT. Buy a yard - you will have enough for a LONG time.

2) Cut the charcloth into 4" x 4" sections - this is arbitrary though - you can make yours 2" x 2" if you would like.

This gave me a stack of cloth about 8" high.

3) I used a quart paint can. Make sure it is fully cleaned and fully metal. I used a 16 penny nail and poked a hole in the top.

4) Loosely packed the charcloth inside and turned on my grill - low to medium heat. You can pack the cloth tighter - you just need to let it 'cook' longer.

5) TIGHTLY affixed the top - and set the can on top of the flame (taking the grill grate and heat sheild off) at about a 30 degree angle. I simply stacked some lava rocks up until the top of the can was propped up.

6) The can will start smoking. You want a nice stream of white smoke (and there will be a LOT) to come out. You don't want burning - you want charring. Wait for this smoke to stop - or come close to stopping. Rotate the can often to get all the cloth to char on the inside.

7) When the top stops smoking - stick a golf tee (worked for me) or a sharpened twig in the hole to smother any residual charring and let the can cool.

8) Take off the lid. If you have BROWN material - you didn't let it char long enough. No biggie - do it again. If you have black material that is fragile - but not dusty - you have it right. If you have dust... oops - too long - too hot. The charring took about 10-20 minutes and another 10 or so to cool. In 1/2 hour I had GREAT charcloth.

9) Test it - Muslin takes the first spark I give it every time and burns hot and fast! Be careful - in the sun you will have a hard time seeing the spark turning into a burning hole on your cloth. If your hand gets hot - it is burning.

10) you can certainly use a charcoal grill or a simple camp fire - use hot coals - rotate often.

Good luck.