Fire starting and fire-making is your birthright. We are the only species on the planet that has the ability to harness fire at will. Many scientists believe cooked protein was one of the keys to our massive brain growth.
Eating meat led to smaller stomachs, bigger brains – Harvard Gazette
While some fire starters are easier to use than others, I have never practiced or studied a fire starting method that didn’t deserve some attention, particularly from those interested in survival skills. The flint and steel fire starter is a lot older than you think but you can still start a fire with them.
In this article, we are going to teach you how to use flint and steel.
Old School Fire Starting
The desire to start a fire with sticks has always eluded me. In the survival and bushcraft communities, we tend to go crazy over natural materials. We wanna make fire with sticks, we wanna make knives with rocks and I just never got caught up in that craze.
I think the reason is that I know so much about the history of survival skills and the superiority of metal in general.
We have been striking metal to make fire for 3,000 years! While it might seem like you are doing something with ancient fire-starting skills when you create a bow drill fire, I am here to tell you that flint and steel is ancient technology, too!
Flint and Steel | Master Woodsman
My ancestors were using metal to make fire long before they came to America and even before the New World was in the conversation.
How Do Flint and Steel Work
There is a bit of magic to it. You hit these two hard objects together and somehow you can make a spark. You might think that the spark comes from hitting the rock or the flint. However, the steel is actually where the spark comes from.
The flint is a dense rock that can be made to be very sharp. That sharp edge is what you are after.
Here are some other materials you can use in place of flint:
It is the strong cutting edge of this material that creates the spark. When the sharp edge hits the high carbon steel of a survival knife or in this case actual fire steel it shaves a small piece off!
The first time I learned this I couldn’t believe it. When you shave off that high carbon steel with the sharp edge and friction that tiny piece of metal becomes the spark.
The trick with the flint and steel is to have the right kind of tinder that can easily catch that spark and create an ember.
How to Spark Your Flint and Steel
There is a technique to hitting the flint and steel that will give you success. It is not rocket science but the better you know how to use your tools the easier making fire will be. You should practice just striking the flint and steel before you set off to catch a spark and start a fire.
1. You begin by holding the steel in your non-dominant hand so the flat edge is facing your other hand and ready to take the strike.
2. Your striker or flint should be held in your dominant hand between the index, middle finger, and thumb. You need a good grip on it.
3. Position the cutting edge so that you will hit the steel at a 45-degree angle.
4. Strike downward on the steel and start to develop your strike. A great tip is to do this in a dark room so you can see the sparks when you hit them. In broad daylight then can be hard to see.
Once you establish a nice comfortable strike then you should start thinking about adding some charcloth to catch the spark and make your first ember.
How To Catch a Spark Using Flint and Steel
There are two parts of starting a fire with flint and steel that can be tough. The first is catching the spark and the second is blowing that spark into a flame. If you have lots of dry tinder then you can make this part much easier.
Using char cloth or a cotton ball, press it against your flint. You want it to lay right on the flat edge of your flint striker. It has got to be close so when you strike it will hit the tinder. Hold this combo in your dominant hand.
Now grab the steel with your non-dominant hand and make sure the large flat part of the steel is facing towards the striker you are going to use.
You are ready to strike just like you practiced above.
What is Char Cloth?
Char cloth makes starting a fire with flint and steel much easier. This is because this cloth has been allowed to carbonize. Charcloth is made by turning small pieces of cotton cloth into a charcoal-like substance.
This is done by using indirect heat in the same way that you would create wood charcoal. This little piece of carbonized cloth is the very best way to catch that spark from your flint and steel.
Once the charcloth catches that spark it becomes an ember. The heat from that spark creates a tiny little ember on the cloth. If you blow on that ember then you will watch it expand. This ember is what will catch your larger bundle of tinder on fire.
Other Materials to Use with Flint and Steel
There are other materials that you can use to catch that spark, too. While I prefer to use charcloth, you might want to try some other things. Here are some great options to use when starting a fire with flint and steel.
- Cotton Balls
- Jute Twine Pulled Apart
- Cotton Pads for Cleaning Makeup
Turn Your Survival Knife into Flint and Steel
When it comes to choosing a survival knife there is a set of criteria. We outlined that in our article about choosing the best survival knife. Let’s look at the two most important aspects that affect fire starting. I wouldn’t recommend your knife being your go-to fire starter but if your knife has these two features it can be turned into one.
1. Your survival knife should be high carbon steel. This is so you can strike it just like you would the steel portion of your flint and steel firestarter. Your high carbon steel will put off sparks just the same way. Be careful with how you hold the knife when striking it.
2. Your survival knife should have a 90-degree spine. This gives you a nice flat surface to strike with your flint. You will get a much better spark when you are striking a flat 90-degree spine.
If your knife has these two features then you can start a fire with it just like you would with a typical flint and steel setup.
Enhance Your Collection of Survival Skills
In the world of fire starters, flint and steel are not as effective or as efficient as a lighter, matches, or even alloy metal like ferrocerium. We have just gotten better at starting fires. However, this is a survival skill that you should practice because it adds to that collection of skills and tools that you have a true survival situation.
If we could put the next disaster or emergency on our calendar and be ready for it, well, that would be a different story. The truth is we never know when the next one will hit. We cannot be prepared all the time and if something were to catch us off guard, you want as many skills under your belt as possible to get yourself and your family to safety.
If you have a rock and you have high carbon steel then there is a chance you can throw sparks and get a fire started. The more you practice it the better you will be at that skill if, heaven forbid, you are called to use it.
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