Flint and Steel

Fire from Sparks

One side of the Fire Triangle is

Heat

. Without heat, you're doomed to having no fire. One way to get very hot, very intense, but very short-lived heat is by creating sparks. Sparks are usually tiny bits of super-heated metal that have been forcibly scraped from a larger chunk of metal.

Flint and Steel


flint and steel Probably the most widely known primitive fire starting method, flint and steel has been used in guns, lighters, and fire making kits. When flint is struck against the steel, pieces of the metal are scraped off and blaze with white light and high temperature, but normally for less than a second. The quality of rock and metal being used make a big difference in the efficiency of the fire starter.

The flint should be large enough to hold firmly and should have a sharp edge. A clear gray or black flint piece such as is used for gunflints is a good choice. The flint is really any hard mineral around 7 or 8 on the Mohs hardness scale that can keep a sharp edge similar to an arrowhead - agate, jade, bloodstone, chert, flint, jasper, quartz can all work.

The steel needs to be a piece of tempered high-carbon steel since it is the carbon which burns in the spark. Old metal files usually work well and can be found at garage sales cheaply. Steels are normally shaped into a 'C' or 'U' so they are easy to hold and manage. But, I just use a small, broken file from my Dad's old tool box.

You need one other special item for flint and steel fire starting - that is your char cloth. Char cloth is 100% cotton cloth such as old T-shirts or hand towels that has been turned into charcoal. Charcoal is fuel that has been heated to high temperatures without any oxygen. This converts flammable solids into gas, but does not allow it to burn. What is left is black cloth that very readily catchs and holds a spark and begins to burn as a red coal ember. It's easy to make your own char cloth.

Creating Char Cloth


Here are the simple steps to make your own supply of char cloth: It is actually pretty fun to make charcloth and then try lighting a piece. If you don't have a tin, you can just wrap the cloth pieces in aluminum foil and seal it well, then poke a hole.

Using Flint and Steel

  - Beginners
Before making your fire, make sure you have plenty of fuel and kindling prepared and ready. Once you get flame from your spark, you only have a short time to turn that small flame into fire. Now, that is fun!

Using Flint and Steel

  - Advanced
Once you've mastered the Beginner version of creating a fire, this method is more efficient and easier. You don't have to be bent over the ground on your knees to do it this way. It's more comfortable and you are better able to control the tinder, keeping it safe from any rain.

 

Magnesium and Ferrocerium Fire Starters


magnesium fire starter The 'flint' in a cigarette lighter is a perfect example of this type of spark generator. There are many products available using the same concept and most do just what they advertise. The price range is very wide, but the Coghlan brand magnesium product is around $7.00 and does a good job.

This product includes the spark as well as its own tinder. Using a knife, you scrape shavings from the relatively soft magnesium block into a pile about the size of a nickel or quarter. Then, flip the block over to expose the edge that has an embedded sparking rod and scrape it with your knife. The resulting sparks catch in the magnesium shavings and burn a very intense, white-hot flame for a few seconds - long enough to start your additional tiny kindling burning.

If it is just a bit windy, the light magnesium shavings will be a challenge to keep in a small pile. Also, when striking down with your knife, it is easy to disturb the shavings. But, with this tool, you can get a spark and fire, even in the rain.

flint fire starter There are a slew of different products ranging in size from tiny to mammoth and with different bells and whistles - all of which provide a shower of sparks from a ferrocerium rod. They are all providing pretty much the same service as the flint and steel. Use them to generate spark which you will catch in charcloth or other tinder.

This one pictured is pretty standard. It consists of a rod of material and a steel striker. This is about the size of a key and should last for hundreds of fires unless you lose it or break it.

Move Along: Fire by Friction



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