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Fire making with Flint and Steel

Get rid of that disposable lighter!
Strike a spark, and breathe it into life in period style. With a bit of practice, fire making with flint and steel is quick, easy and reliable.

When you strike a spark, you are shaving tiny pieces off the steel with the sharp edge of the flint. The sparks come from the steel, not the flint. The harder the steel, the smaller, and hotter, the pieces will be. The sharper the flint, the more s parks you will get. Strike down the steel with the flint at a shallow angle. Point the steel into your tinderbox to direct the sparks into your tinder. Learn to use short, choppy strokes so you can hold the steel close to the tinder without hitting the tinder with the flint. Keep your fingers back from the edge of the steel so you don't cut your self with the sharp flint. When your flint becomes dull, chip it back to a new, sharp edge.

You can also use many other minerals as your "flint". Agate, carnelian, jade, bloodstone, chalcedony, quartz, and chert all work well. Any hard stone, which fractures to a sharp edge, will do the job. Keep your striker with you and when you see an interesting stone, try it.

You will need some prepared tinder. This can be almost any dry natural vegetablefiber. Cotton, linen, jute (burlap), sisal, hemp, or weeds from the field all work. A mixture of two fibers kindles more easily than any one fiber. Cotton and jute is an excellent combination. You need a wad about the size of your fist. It is best shredded fine and well mixed before you form it into a "birds nest".

Only partly burned fiber catches a spark easily. You can use partly burned tinder, or greatly increase your speed by preparing "char-cloth". To do this, place some cotton or linen cloth in a tin with a loose lid hold it over a flame. When it stops smoking, the cloth is done. If you place a scrap of the charred cloth on top of your tinder, it gives you a larger target for your sparks. It really speeds the process, but I haven't been able to document the use of char-cloth prior to 1910 or so (Boy Scout movement). In the early period they used a product called amadou made from fungus, to speed the process.

To make fire, lay a scrap of char-cloth on your tinder. Strike sparks into the tinder until it glows. Fold the tinder around the glowing ember and gently blow on it. As the glow spreads, blow harder. If your tinder is dry, it will quickly burst into fl flames. With good materials, the whole process takes only 10 or 15 seconds. Transfer the flame to your candle (or whatever) and smother the tinder in your box for the next time.

If you smoke a pipe, or shoot a matchlock musket, you don't need an actual flame for a light, only an ember. In this case you may find a tinder tube to be handier. This is a tube 1-2" long, about 1/4" in diameter, with a length of cotton rope inserted. The end in the tube is charred. To use, push an inch or so of the charred end out of the tube. Hold the charred end on top of your flint near the edge. Strike down the edge to spark into the charred end. Blow gently to spread the ember over the surface o f the rope end. After lighting your pipe, snuff by pulling the end back into the tube. Be careful not to rub off the char, or it will be difficult to get a spark to catch the next time. The whole point of the tube is to protect the char.

This is much handier than loose tinder, but does not produce an actual flame. Of course you can always transfer the ember to your tinder, and puff it into flame. Have fun!

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