Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fire From A Traditional Flint And Steel

I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire! This is the second post in a series on ignition sources.

You cannot make fire without an ignition source. For the next few posts I am going to highlight the most popular ignition sources. I will also review a few fire making tools, show you some novel ways to make fire, and give tips for using all of them.

Flint and steel. Fire from a rock and a hunk or metal. This is how the Pioneers did it. It is also how the Vikings, Knights, and Romans made fire. Flint and steel fire making kits have been recovered from as far back as 1000 BC. People have been using them for over 3000 years. Amazingly, they still rank fairly high in terms of ease of use, and, with the proper tinder, will make a fire as fast as almost anything.

Flint is not the important part of a flint and steel set.  You can use any hard rock. Quartz, Obsidian, Granite, and petrified wood will all work. Just look for a rock with a "glassy" appearance.

It should also be noted that it does not take a special steel for this to work. Any carbon steel will work, even the carbon steel from the back of a knife blade. This is another reason to carry a carbon steel knife instead of stainless steel knife. So, theoretically, if you master this technique you could easily make a fire from a rock you find and your pocket knife blade. In real life, it is a little more complicated.

To make a fire from a flint and steel, you strike steel against the flint. This shaves pieces of steel off and ignites them. The sparks it creates are fairly small. Absolutely nothing compared to a ferrocerium rod. However, I was able to make a fire with my flint and steel just as fast as with my ferrocerium rod.

There is a trick.

First you must use char cloth in conjunction with the flint and steel. Without char cloth it would be almost impossible to make a fire with a flint and steel. I recently wrote a post on char cloth and how to make it. The second secret ingredient is jute string. This is a highly flammable, natural fiber. I did not review this when I looked at tinder. I plan to remedy this.

Wrap the char cloth around the flint.  Cut a small hole in the char cloth. This will allow the steel to hit the flint and will give you the highest chance of catching a spark. Strike the flint with a quick, determined force. It may take a few tries to get a spark. Once a spark does land on the char cloth you must blow on it immediately. You will only have a few moments to get the char cloth lit. Once the char cloth lights, you have all the time you want. Place the char cloth in a jute string nest and blow on it until it ignites.

Here is a video I made of the process:

 It doesn't get much faster than that! In fact, it lit so fast I almost got burnt! Of course, this was in a controlled environment (my living room). Making a fire in the woods would be more difficult, especially if you had cold hands or if it was raining. That said, I was stunned at how easy it was to make a fire with a flint and steel. I bought the kit expecting to write a post describing how hard it was to do. I was pleasantly surprised. Ten minutes after opening the kit, I had a fire.

Is a flint and steel a good choice for a survival kit? Nope. There are easier ways to make a fire. With a flint and steel set you need three things; Flint, steel, and char cloth. Loose one and you are without a fire. Char cloth is not waterproof and is very delicate. This method takes practice and skill. In an emergency you want something that is fool proof.

As a camping tool, the flint and steel is awesome. It will impress you family and friends and is plain fun! It is also wise to learn the technique. If you are stranded somewhere and you have a knife with a carbon steel blade, you could possibly find a hard rock and make a fire. It would be difficult, but probably easier than rubbing two sticks together.

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