Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Charcloth and Charpaper

I am not sure where or when was the first time I encountered the idea of charcloth. Over the decades I have lived in a variety of locations, none of which had a garden so certain experiments could not be conducted. The making and testing of charcloth was one of these. Today’s blog will mainly pass on some links and impressions.
To make charcloth you need some form of vessel. This needs to be nearly airtight, only requiring a small hole for pressure equalisation and to allow the escape of smoke. The internet shows a number of different vessels used. One of the most practical uses a soda can. Sadly, these can often be found in wilderness areas. The vessel is made by cutting the can in half and slitting the walls of the lower part so the upper can fit snuggly over it. The tab is pushed back up so only a small vent hole remains.

The bottom of the can is packed with torn-up pieces of old cloth. These can be cotton, linen or any other vegetable derived cloth. You can use some of the cotton wool you got for the fire kit! No synthetics or mixes. The upper half of the can is fitted and the can placed on a heat source. The heat source can be a campfire, barbeque or camp stove but it should be outside since the charring cloth will produce a lot of smoke.

Continue to heat your vessel while the smoke is produced. Once the smoke production begins to die off carefully remove the can from the heat and put it to one side to cool. Give this plenty of time. If you try to open the can while the contents are still hot you will probably burn your fingers and the inrush of oxygen will cause the charcloth to catch fire.
Once cool, you should have some charcloth, suitable for tinder.
Charcloth is sometimes called charpaper. Charcloth is made from vegetable materials so an obvious question is can you make charpaper from paper? We seem to spend much of our lives surrounded by excess paper, so why not turn them into something more useful?

This video shows an interesting method for making charpaper from a paper tissue. It might work with other layered pages too.
Can you char paper in a vessel in the same way you process cloth? From what research that I have been able to do the result resembles burnt newspaper. It may take a spark but has little structural strength, making it less than practical. Waste cardboard, on the other hand, may be more practical. I have encountered suggestions that newspaper should first be mixed with water to form a sort of papier-mâché, allowed to dry into a solid mass and then charred in a vessel. This seems a bit involved and I wonder if the lengthy drying phase can be done away with given that you will be heating the mass anyway.
Both cardboard and wet paper are materials worth experimenting with for charpaper production. Alas, I will have to leave that to those who have better access to the open air than myself.