|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
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
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!