How To Make Better Charred Punk Wood: Open Tin Char Method

This is a video I came across from NW Primate YouTube channel and wanted to share.

While you can cook punk wood and other natural materials in a closed tin using the method popularized for making char cloth; it is not always the best approach.

I have been getting a lot of questions and requests for videos about how I make the char that I have been using in my flint and steel videos, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to share this alternative approach that works very well for me.

In some cases, putting your material into a closed tin and cooking it over the flames is the best approach, but there are a lot of advantages to open tin charring; particularly with punk wood.

My understanding of the science behind charred materials, carbonization, and how this stuff actually works is rudimentary at best but you don’t necessarily have to heat material in an oxygen deprived environment to make it suitable for catching sparks. Materials that are snuffed out via oxygen deprivation can work even better.

The basic idea is to get some punk wood smoldering to the point where it flames up; letting those flames char the outer portions of the material, and then depriving it of oxygen. In this case I used a weak ember from a bow drill set, but an ember from an existing fire works the same way.

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Why is this sometimes superior to simply cooking it in the tin? This is where my understanding of the science fails me, and I can only speculate based on what I have seen and what I have heard from others. There is some disagreement about whether or not material can be over-charred, but I believe that this is a real factor and one of the reasons that people struggle with natural materials.

Char cloth tends to be more forgiving, but in my experience cooking punk wood, bark, wood shavings, fungi, and lots of other local materials, letting the tin sit on the fire too long usually results in an inferior or unusable final product. If I do cook natural materials in a closed tin, I have the best results when I remove it long before the flames stop shooting out the vent hole.

David West has put forth a theory that soot build-up may be a factor as well. The idea there being that if a tin is not well ventilated, soot and other particles are not ejected from the tin and collect on the charred material, creating a coating that can interfere with the sparks landing.

I don’t know if this is true, but it does make some sense to me, and could be one of the reasons that the open tin approach works so well.

Besides making the material more likely to take a spark, charring in this fashion also leaves more of the material (fuel) intact, resulting in embers that last longer and burn hotter. Material cooked in a tin seems to be consumed in the process and is much less likely to be able to produce flames without the addition of tinder material. Different species will have different properties. The black cottonwood punk I used here is great at taking sparks, but is somewhat resistant to flaming up. Cedar punk charred in this fashion will often produce large long burning flames with just the addition of oxygen.

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I have to stress how important it is to give the material plenty of time to smolder if it is damp. Gather more than you need because some of it will be consumed in the drying process. You might notice in the footage that during the drying process it will initially catch flame with forced oxygen, but the moisture in the materials puts it out quickly. Only once it is dry enough to catch and hold flames is it safe to put the lid back on. Remember, if it is dry to begin with, you can light it with an open flame, snuff it out, and skip most of the smoldering.

This approach also leads into the philosophy of the perpetual char tin. For the sake of efficiency I shot all of this in one sitting, but realistically, you could gather new punk wood each time you needed to make a fire, and the act of drying your new batch not only refreshes your tin, but also replaces the conventional tinder bundle for turning your embers into flames to light your fire.

I shot quite a few long takes without cuts showing the process over and over again to demonstrate both how consistent it is and how easily this material will take a spark. I can’t say that I always get ignition with one strike, but a combination of practice and a better understanding of materials has made that a much more frequent occurrence.

I have to thank the great members of Bushcraft USA for introducing me to the idea of open tin charring, and so many other nuances around flint and steel.


Question: What is the advantage to this vs a container the same size if commercial fire starter, accelerant, or similar?

Charred material will take a spark from a flint and steel (or knife/saw/etc) which is much weaker than what you would get from a ferro rod. Charring material allows you to get a fire started from a very weak spark, and using materials from nature to replenish the tin means that you will never run out.

Information source: Reddit

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