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Fire Starting With Flint and Steel Is Easy and Efficient

Updated on September 12, 2014
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Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

Primitive Methods Have Serious Advantages

Lighting a fire is fairly easy in modern times, throw some kindling in, light a match and toss it in. But modern fire starting methods have disadvantages, matches get wet, lighters run out of fuel. For centuries man has been starting fires using the tried and true method of flint and steel, that is striking a piece of flint rock on a piece of steel to create sparks which are then used to ignite the fire.

This method requires you to carry a tinder box, which I'll go into later, but it has some serious advantages over matches and lighters. Namely it is easier to light a fire in bad weather using Flint and Steel vs. match.

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What do you need?

Wilderness Solutions Flint and Steel Kit
Wilderness Solutions Flint and Steel Kit

The first thing you need to start using Flint and Steel method for starting fires is, well obviously flint and steel, but you also need charcloth and some form of tinder Jute fiber or dryer lint works well. This kit from Amazon comes complete with everything you need to begin starting your camp fires with the traditional Flint and Steel method.

 

Tinder

Tinder is one of the most important parts of trying to start fires using Flint and Steel. Jute or dryer lint works great for tinder.

What is Jute

Jute is a fiber from a plant, it's fibers are long and stringy, it burns hot but slow enough to be perfect for fire starting needs. Jute is used to make burlap cloth, or twine, both of these can be broken down to use as tinder for your kit.

Dryer Lint.... Seriously?????

Yes seriously, dryer lint usually burns quite effectively and works as excellent tinder. Just save it up when you are doing laundry and you have a never ending supply of tinder for your tinderbox.

Tinderbox

A tinder box is an all purpose pocket sized box for carrying everything you need to start a fire. You want it preferably relatively waterproof to keep the tinder as dry as possible,

Altoids tins make excellent tinderboxes, it need not be big, just large enough to fit your striker (steel), your flint, your charcloth and some tinder.

Char Cloth

What is it and how do you make it?

Char cloth is pretty much exactly what it sounds like, chared cloth. Basically it allows you to move the spark from the flint to your tinder. Making char cloth is quite simple really, you take a piece of 100% plant fiber (cotton, linen, jute) and you bake it until it's black. There is a bit of a trick to making char cloth without burning it completely out.

Take a tin, Altoids tins work well (same type of tin you would use for your tinder box) and poke a small hole in the box. Cut the cloth into small squares (you don't need much for lighting fires so small squares that fit in the box works well). Place several pieces in the tin and close it tight. Place tin on the barbecue and cook until smoke stops coming out the hole. Remove tin from barbecue and allow to cool. Voila you now have new char cloth.

How to Actually Light a Fire With Flint and Steel

To light a fire using flint and steel the steel goes in your dominant hand take a small piece of char cloth and fold it over under the flint and hold both in your other hand. Hold the flint at approximately a forty five degree angle and strike the steel hard against the flint. Continue striking until a spark lands on the char cloth. Take the spark and char cloth and put it in a nest of your tinder and gently blow. While you are blowing the spark should get brighter and smoke should start showing up in the tinder, continue blowing and eventually the tinder will ignite. Move the tinder into your fire pit and carefully place kindling over the flame being careful not to burn yourself or to smother the flames. Once the tinder is burning nicely move on to larger and larger pieces of wood until you have a satisfactory fire.

This is a pretty decent video demonstrating how to light a fire with flint and steel. I don't recommend holding on to flaming materials like the pine needles like the person in the video, but it does give a pretty good idea on how to light a fire.

Other Simple Fire Starting Methods

There are more modern versions of flint and steel kits, some of them work better than the ancient method, but most are basically fancy packaging for the same ancient techniques.

© 2014 Jeff Johnston

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