Fire Making with Flint and Steel

Last updated: November 20, 2011


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Introduction

There are many ways to make a fire without matches. The Flint-and-Steel approach is one that has been around for a long time.

Here's a short youtube video showing how I do it

I make up a kit containing the material to create a hot spark (one hardened tool steel Striker, one piece of flinty material called chirt), a cloth bag to hold them, and these instructions. The user will need to furnish receptor material and kindling material.(See below)

Cotton clothes dryer lint works well as a receptor and unraveled jute cord works well as the kindling material. I prefer to use home-made Char-Cloth instead of cotton clothes dryer lint as a receptor for the spark because it is more traditionally correct.

A fire is started in 3 steps, as follows:

(First, of course, you must lay a fire with fine and then coarse kindling, so the Match we are about to create has something to light).

1. Create a spark that must land on a receptor that will “catch it” and begin glowing.
-Locate a sharp edge on the piece of flint (or chirt as it is called in this country)from the kit. Hold the flint one hand with the sharp edge “out”.
Practice:
-Grab the Steel in the other hand, putting your fingers through the oval hole with the edge of the steel facing the sharp edge of the flint. Your knuckles should be protected from the sharp edge of the flint. If this is not the case, don’t proceed. The flint is very sharp and could cut your knuckles!!!
-Now, holding the flint with one hand, strike a downward blow with the steel, contacting the flint. You should see several sparks. If not, practice this movement several times until you are confident that you can make sparks every time.
Go for it!:
-Now, place a piece of charcloth on top of the piece of flint (or chirt as it is called in this country) so one edge of the charcloth is aligned right at the sharp edge of the flint.
-Strike the flint with the steel using the downward blow mentioned above. Watch carefully for a spark to land anywhere on the surface of the charcloth. As soon as a spark does land and glow, being blowing gently, right at the spark. The charcloth should catch the spark and the glow will begin to spread. Don’t expect a flame from this part of the process. Once the charcloth has caught, it will usually keep glowing on its own. Caution! The charcloth is very hot!!!

2. Surround the glowing receptor with a material which will catch the glowing heat and will kindle a flame.
-I usually make my kindling for this step from jute twine (not sisal). I cut 2 inch lengths and unravel it and pull the ravellings apart until it is just a series of individual fibers. I stuff these fibers into a zip lock bag to keep them dry when I am not using them.
-One “frizzled” 2” section of jute is enough to provide the “match” for one fire. But for your first fire, use 2 or 3 section of ravellings.
-Anyway, I quickly wrap the frizzled jute around the glowing piece of charcloth and begin blowing at the “sandwich” that you have made. The glowing portion of the charcloth must be in direct contact with the jute to get it to ignite into a flame.
-It may take a few practice runs to get the feel for the amount of blowing and the amount of squeezing that you have to do to get the flame to occur.
-Once the flame occurs, you have a fire between your fingers, so use care to avoid burning them.

3. Apply the kindled material to the fire to be started.
The flame will last for 10 to 30 seconds, so it is important to get the burning jute to the fire you have laid before it burns your fingers.

To make Charcloth:

Cut cotton jeans into 2 inch squares. Put 10 or 20 pieces into an empty quart paint can. Punch a hole in the lid of the paint can with a 10d to 16d nail. Save the nail.
Place the squares into the paint can and put the lid on the same way you would to save paint from drying out. Make sure the nail is out of the hole in the lid.
Heat the can very gently (a small campfire is good for this) until smoke begins to issue from the hole. The smoke may catch on fire. This is normal. Keep heating gently until the smoke quits coming out of the hole. Put the nail into the hole in the lid. (This will keep air from re-igniting the charred cloth as the can cools.) Now remove the can from the fire and allow it to cool all the way to room temperature.
You now have 10 or 20 squares of Charcloth. Remove the pieces gently from the can and place them into a zip lock bag to keep them dry. If the Charcloth remains unused for several months, it will gain enough moisture that it will become harder to ignite with the single spark from the flint and steel.