Classic charcloth is made inside tins that are placed over coals. A loose fitting lid or restricted vented lid prevents the cotton cloth from catching fire while transforming the cellulose material into carbon for catching sparks produced by striking carbon steel on flint or sharp-edged silicate rocks. It is quite satisfying to re-enact the fire making process using this method. In fact, in my collection of strikers I have one dating back to the third century A.D..
Making charcloth takes time and sometimes can be difficult to achieve the optimal conditions and cook-times for the best results. Like any process, consistency gives you the ability to produce predictable results which leads to perfection. I suppose that folks throughout history that used this fire method on a daily basis had the process down pat, but for those of us in the modern world who are “citified” are inconsistent in this process. However, modern technology can be our friend.
While visiting a local “flea” market I came across an electric single burner hotplate; a counter-top appliance that is typically used to percolate coffee or cook a one-pot meal. It had a rheostat to control the temperature and it dawned on me that I could use this to cook cotton fabric into charcloth. So, for two dollars, I walked away with what I hoped to be a solution to charcloth perfection, and as a bonus, no fire or coals were needed.
In a previous article “Making Charcloth” I showed how I form little cotton patch “burrito” rolls laid side-by-side inside of an Altoids tin. This is the set-up that I placed on the burner element set on “high”. At about two minutes brown smoke began to emerge. After an additional five minutes the smoke began to diminish and I pulled the tin off of the burner to cool. When I opened the tin I could see that I needed to adjust the timing slightly but still had usable charcloth. I will continue to experiment with the dynamic of temperature and time to find the right combination for optimum results.
Now I have the capability to make charcloth without the need for fire or coals and with the predictability of quality. So keep on the lookout for a single electric burner next time that you visit a flea market or yard sale so that you can produce and keep a ready supply of charcloth on hand for your next flint and steel fire.