For someone as impractical as me, I've been spending far too much time watching the videos from The Outdoor Adventure of late. From a light-weight alcohol stove made from old drinks cans to a DIY wood gasifier, Paul Osborn creates easy to follow, accessible and entertaining instructional videos on skills we could all do with knowing. (I also posted his survival tips for kids over at Parentables.)
This latest video is no exception, as Paul shows us how to turn old t-shirts into highly effective fire lighters.
While most modern pyromaniacs and backpackers may not have heard of it, charcloth is a traditional material used to light fires that can, according to wikipedia, hold a fire created with a single spark. It's lightweight, easy to make and can be fashioned from recycled materials. So it's cool to see how it is actually done.
Much like making DIY biochar, making charcloth is simply a process of burning organic-based textiles in a restricted oxygen environment. As Paul explains here, you simply stuff small squares (or triangles - the shape is presumably unimportant!) of cloth into an old tin can, fit a lid over the top, and then heat it up until it starts smoking.
The result is a charred, blackened piece of cloth that can—as the video shows—catch light from just a few sparks and then hold a glowing flame until you get your kindling ignited and start your fire for real.
As with biochar, this process is, of course, far from environmentally benign. Burning any organic matter, especially slowly and without much heat, emits particulates that could be considered pollutants. But I think we're a long way off from a point where DIY charcloth makers are stinking up our skies and causing air quality problems. In the meantime, it's just one more cool reminder that simple, practical skills can make us more self-sufficient and connected with the world around us, and can replace the harsh chemicals used in commercial firelighters.