Posted on: May 3, 2010

by ShineFox

It is not uncommon for me to sit down and make string using plant fibers, get out my magnifying glass in the dead of winter to start a fire, or weave something just because I can. Practicing the primitive arts is something that I do just for fun. While spending days coal burning a bowl or spoon is something that I don’t usually do in the spring it’s something I do while sitting next to the fire staying warm in the winter.
Recently I have been trying to teach my mate the various ways to start a fire without using matches, a lighter or a magnesium fire starters. I acquired a flint and steel striker set for him and while he could make sparks he just couldn’t get the hang of getting them to catch. I even made a number of tinder baskets for him using the most flammable of wild materials available but he still had problems getting the spark to land in just the right place. I decided that it was time for Charcloth. This material is made from cloth pieces that are brought almost to the point where combustion will occur. I used to make it using empty food cans.

The pipe tobacco can used to make the charcloth and the cedar bark used to make the tinder basket.

A large one like you would get commercially prepared stew in with two smaller ones inside. A large tuna can with a smaller can like a soup can placed upside down inside the tuna can with both being placed inside the stew can. Using these I could produce quality cloth but it was a tedious process and even the slightest movement could upset the cans causing the cloth to either burn up or not heat up sufficiently to produce charcloth.

I went looking online for a better and easier way to produce charcloth. I found an article that provided step by step instructions with pictures, not video, of a very functional process. In a matter of minutes I had produced a lot of charcloth. Once the cloth was prepared I sat down to see how long it would take me to produce flame. First I used a flint and steel striker set. I probably could have used a larger piece of charcloth and cut down on my spark to fire time but it worked well. I had flame in under 2 minutes. This article mentioned using a commercial butane lighter that no longer had any fuel left. Removing the hood that surrounds the steel wheel, the lighter is engaged causing the flint to send sparks. These sparks ignite the charcloth. Having a few of those lighters around I picked up the first one I found and within 15 seconds I had flame. I did use my tinder basket, which was very flammable and made from the bark of a dead cedar tree with last years Amaranth stalks and dried seed heads inside.

This is what the tinder basket with charcloth should look like before you set a spark to the cloth.

My fire-baskets are small less than two inches in diameter. I use the peeled and separated cedar bark to form a nest like a birds and crumble the stalks and dry flower heads inside.

I was impressed, impressed enough to share. While I can make fire without charcloth in under a minute using a flint and a steel striker it does take practice and patience.

This is what a spark to the charcloth should look like. Once you see the red ember on the blackened cloth it is time to gently blow on the cloth until it begins to smoke.

Using the lighter was a quick and easy way to produce fire. The most important thing to keep in mind is that using charcloth when its windy or damp, (even raining) will produce flame. Steel is easy to locate. A nail, a piece of rusted metal found alongside of a road or in an abandoned refuse pile or a tool like a shovel. Flint is also easily found. Most commercial gravel contains pieces of flint. While these small flint pieces are not big enough to use for making points, strikers for black powder weapons or tools they are big enough to produce sparks. But old lighters can be found in most areas laying on the ground. Litter in this case is your friend. Now those disposable lighters can be recycled. Flint and steel sets are heavier than an old disposable lighter. Keeping an old lighter in your Bug out Bag, or keeping one you have used instead of discarding it, along with a few pieces of charcloth will mean you can start a fire anywhere anytime.

The charcloth is hot enough to catch the tinder basket on fire.

A small tin like an altoids tin, or one of the many holiday type that have lids can be kept in the bag to be used to produce charcloth in any type of a fire in minutes. It is one of the more useful survival tips I have found in years.

See the wisp of smoke. Once the cloth produces a flame you should place the tinder basket onto your prepared kindling. Tipi or log cabin kindling sets work very well. Once the fire basket is placed in/on the kindling, your fire will start quickly even if it is damp or wet.

Practice your primitive skills. Fire is one of the five most important primitive skills you can have. It will keep you warm, provide hot food and be a source of comfort no matter where you find yourself.

Even after the fire basket has caught fire the charcloth is still visible.

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