A tutorial on Charring

Tuxdad from the TSP forum put together this AWESOME article on “charring”, admittedly something I know nothing at all about (not surprising). Seems like a good bushcraft skill to tackle. Add it to the list. Thanks again Tuxdad!!

Hope it helps in some way with your firecrafting..

First off, I don’t just make charcloth, I make char material, be it just about any plant source, from punkwood, to thistle down, to sphagmum moss in a few cases.. This is just so you all know it’s not all about using cloth as a source for your material, but whatever it is, it MUST be a natural material..


Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get down to charring…

The things needed for this are as follows, and shown in the pic :

Charring Tools

A nice big pair of pliers(large enough to pick up you can with, and hold it if needed as you move it to a spot to cool)..
A good heavy pair of fireplace or welding gloves(you may wanna wear another set of gloves underneath these, its entirely up to you)
A can(either with a friction fitted lid or screw on lid..) for holding your material..
And last but not least, your charring material( you can cut it into squares if you like, for me it seems to work better for the process).. This can be an old cotton t-shirt, or old jeans, or cotton pads, or wood, or whatever other natural material you may have on hand.. In my case it was a couple of old t-shirts..

Also you’ll be needing a fire, in my case it’s our woodstove..

Wood Stove

(Note: If you plan on doing this indoors as I am, and have, BE SURE TO MAKE A CLEAR PATH TO THE OUTSIDE.. For 2 reasons, one my SO, as I’m sure a few of he other ladies may also, hates the smell of the charring material, and 2 it makes things safer if you plan them out ahead, such as you having a vent hole in your can possibly.. You DEFINITELY wanna make your plug for it BEFORE you do ANY charring.. We’ll get to that in a bit..)

Now, you want to fill you can with your charring material.. You want it NOT completely full, as you need room for the charring process, and gases to escape.. You also want to make sure with your friction fits(cans) that it’s on good, but not too tight as it will get pushed off from the gas build up(as mine did in this case), or if you prefer you can poke a vent hole(nothing large, just enough to allow the gases to escape..).. I usually use a brad or some other small tack for this purpose, but an awl(the one on your multitool for example) will be just fine…

Now that you’ve got you can filled(but not too full) with charring material, and the lid one snugly(remember not too tight), or if you’ve chosen to use a vent hole you have a plug made for it ahead of time, you’re ready for charring..

As you can see in the next couple of pics that I’ve got a nice bed of coals(and maybe a log on the fire as well), to get things going for the charring(cooking) process… You may also notice as the gases escape that they are QUITE flammable from the first pic.. In the pic of the second can, you can see the gases heating and escaping through the vent hole.. Now all you do in my case is close the door to your stove, or if you’re outdoors, just let it go until the gases burn off(by way of lighting the gases, or they’ll ignite on their own).. Once the gases have burned off, you need to get your can off the fire (and plugged if you have a vent hole) ASAP.. Over cooking your charr will cause it to be brittle, and not much of any good.. Now you just let it cool, away from the fire.. Depending on the time of you year, this may take 10 mins or up to an hour.. The best advice is when the can is cool to the touch it’s now safe to inspect your “charrings”.. Again you will need to plug the vent hole if you have one in your can.. This will stop the “cooking” process, and starve it of air.. This is VERY important ! If you’re not patient, and you open the can too soon, you may get the “woof” effect, which will be accompanied by a flash of flame in some cases and the result being just a can of ash and some singed or burned body parts.. NOT A GOOD THING ! (No I didn’t experience this first hand but was able to witness this, it was rather interesting to see a man of some 300 pounds move about 45′ in literally about 3 or 4 steps..)

You may wind up with some of your material not completely charred, which is alright.. You can either save it for the next batch of charring or remove the finished pieces, and place the unfinished charr back in the can and back into your fire.. Your charr should be soft and easy to tear apart, and there should be little soot on your fingers from it, but if there is, this is fine as the last char is to try and catch a spark with your flint and steel.. I guess in the colonial times(or to a mountain man, or whom ever) it wouldn’t have mattered much whether the charrings were clean or not as long as the charring were able to catch a spark, and that’s pretty much I see it as well since that’s the most important part of it all..

testing each batch of charrings..

I also charred a bit of punkwood as well for this, just to show it able to be done..

Also in a couple of pics, you may have noticed that I used another can as a cooling spot for my hot can, this can work great as you have an added heatsink(for cooling your can), and a stable platform for carrying your outdoors to cool, with less worry of dropping it…(just thought I’d throw that out there).

Questions? Leave them in the Comments


Author: Nick-LaDieu

Webmaster of SaveOurSkills.com. Budding skill enthusiast and modern survivalist. When nick isn't plotting his next project he is probably running with his dogs, riding his mountain bike, or fiddling with his home theater.