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starting a fire with flint and steel
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Joshua Gilbert
(joshcgil2) - F

Locale: Seattle
starting a fire with flint and steel on 07/23/2007 11:28:52 MDT Print View

I was reading two gear reviews of the light my fire firesteel, and they were at opposite ends of the usability spectrum, one said they worked well, one called it completely usless.

this got me to thinking that I have never tried to start a fire with flint and steel (I have a firesteel, haven't used it yet)and I've never received any instruction on proper techniques for using one, so, can those of you with some expierence weigh in on ways to get your flame on with these most basic of tools?

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: starting a fire with flint and steel on 07/23/2007 12:13:24 MDT Print View

For 'real flint and steel' (or a pretty hard rock and steel), I needed a lot of practice, it's not necessairly intutitive on where the spark is going the first few times, or how to hold and strike so you get the best results.
It's pretty easy to wack your fingers, and you clearly need eye protection.

Getting sparks is not a difficult task, but making fire assumes you have a good tender pile in place before you start. This is where I think most people have the more difficult time.

For the firesteel / firestick types of products, I found these to be very easy to use.
First, make sure you have a very dry very fine tender pile that is large enough to catch the sparks. Something the size of an 8 oz cup works for me. Very dry, and as fine a material as you can find (small twigs may be too big, but if you shave these down, that can work)

Next scrape off some of the firestick material onto the tender pile, if you're not sure how much, 10-12 scrapes should work, but you have to do this relatively slowly to keep from generating sparks.

Once you have the tender pile ready to catch sparks, build the kindling around it, and build up from there. Make sure you have access to the tender pile.

Last part is to start striking / scraping fast with a knife or other appropriate scraper. This is much easier than flint. You can get pretty good fairly quickly, getting a shower of very hot sparks that will ignite most any dry tender, and the direction of the sparks is very aimable.

You should be getting a very nice shower of very hot metal going onto your DRY TENDER, that can ignite by itself or with a little blowing.
From there, just build it up.

Much safer than rocks, and much faster than making a fire bow (aka rubbing sticks).

If you're going to try flint and steel, please wear eye protection!

Hope that helps,

Richard Matthews
(food) - F

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: starting a fire with flint and steel on 07/23/2007 14:04:34 MDT Print View

Practice by lighting your compressed gas canister or alcohol stove. Much more reliable than BIC lighters.

The art is preparing your tender - the spark part is easy.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: starting a fire with flint and steel on 07/23/2007 15:16:59 MDT Print View

To the above sage advice, I have one minor point to add. In heavy winds it helps to put your tinder in a depression prior to creating the spark shower.

Ironically I watched a Survivor man rerun last night where he was unable to start a fire using his Firesteel. He was trying to start a fire in a rainforest, in the rain. He couldn't keep his tinder dry long enough to catch fire. He then made the comment that this was the first time in his life that he was unable to start a fire using sparks from the Firesteel method.

Edited by richard295 on 07/23/2007 23:43:07 MDT.

Simon Harding
(SimonHarding) - F
trading sticks on 07/23/2007 22:38:50 MDT Print View

Another thing, which I am amazed few people seem to know, is that rotten logs and stumps are a trove for what they call back east "fat wood." The pitch migrates toward the center of rotten stumps and logs leaving a hard core. Break one apart sometime and see. Makes great firestarters, for once you DO get that tinder lit! I carry a couple of sticks in my plastic matchsafe with the matches.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: starting a fire with flint and steel on 08/07/2007 00:58:13 MDT Print View

I agree that it's all about the tinder and firebuilding skills. Those that have trouble with the firesteel would also probably have trouble with a match. The spark is very reliable - finding something suitable to catch it with is up to you. BPL sells Tinder Quik for this purpose.

Brian UL

Locale: New England
starting a fire with flint and steel on 08/07/2007 05:18:17 MDT Print View

There is nothing wrong with the firesteels sold on this site. People who are having any trouble lighting fires with it simply need to work on thier fire building skills plain and simple.
Fire building is one of those things that really needs to be taught face to face, its one of those things thats so simple yet so complex and difficult to explain but easy and clear when demonstrated.
A few weeks ago I took a weekend course at "Jack Mountain guide and bushcraft". I learned a ton there but the main thing I was looking for was to learn solid fire making skills. I would suggest signing up for something like that- a good solid foundation and understanding of fire building increases your saftey and confidence in the backcountry a 100 fold. Remember in the worst possible conditions you will need fire the most, wet, windy and cold. With fire making skills you always have a way to:
keep warm
purify water
cook/boil food to make edible
help keep the bugs and wildlife at bay
keep in good spirits

Joshua Mitchell
(jdmitch) - F

Locale: Kansas
Building Fires = Fading Art on 08/07/2007 07:38:54 MDT Print View

Sometimes I take for granted the skills I learned from my dad, and scouts, and boy's handbooks (scouts or otherwise)... man we figured out how to light fires with just about everything... (including... well, I'm not going to post that on a public forum as I don't want anyone making bombs... suffice it to say 'strong oxidizing agent' + 'petroleum product' = '6 foot diameter fireball'... yes, that was WITH my dad)

Anyhow, aside from that digressions. Firebuilding is an art that you have to learn. It's also one that's quite easy to forget, temporarily (just ask the my scouts who I give a hard time when they forget). Of course if you have the skills nearly anything is possible (my scouts managed to get a campfire going IN a downpour... IN a puddle... with like half a egg-carton+lint+wax fire starter... the entire area was beyond saturation).

Point is, learn how to build a one-match fire FIRST. Then start messing around with alternative methods of firestarting. Building fires isn't getting a flame and tossing sticks on it...

Joshua Gilbert
(joshcgil2) - F

Locale: Seattle
fire building on 08/07/2007 10:46:42 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the advice.
One clarification though, I can build a fire, including in damp and or windy conditions, with very little in the way of kindling. I was asking about the use of flint and steel specifically, not about general fire building technique.

Joshua Mitchell
(jdmitch) - F

Locale: Kansas
Re: fire building on 08/07/2007 10:57:13 MDT Print View

"One clarification though, I can build a fire, including in damp and or windy conditions, with very little in the way of kindling. I was asking about the use of flint and steel specifically, not about general fire building technique."

Then you shouldn't have any issues, as long as you realize you need some pretty fine tinder (Tinderquik, cotton balls + vaseline, milkweed puffs)... it won't lite leaves or grass...

Brian UL

Locale: New England
starting a fire with flint and steel on 08/07/2007 11:01:30 MDT Print View

It will be same process you already use for a match, the only thing thats changed is the ignition source.
Traditional flint and steel works somthing like this:
step 1: tinder. by definition "tinder" is a material that will create a coal when hit with a spark.
step 2: use fine kindling to turn that coal into a flame.
step 3 - you now have a flame and can proceed as you would normaly with a match/lighter.
As you can see a flint/steel is just more bothersome than a match, but the advantage is that the flint/steel will work when wet (you still need dry tinder and kindling of coarse)and can be used a whole lot before its used up.
I will add that today it is even easier than this because cotton mixed w/ vasilene or tinder quik tabs will turn a spark directly into a flame skipping the coal into fire step.

Joshua Gilbert
(joshcgil2) - F

Locale: Seattle
starting a fire with flint and steel/tinder choices on 08/07/2007 11:37:42 MDT Print View

I have some tinderquick tabs, which seem to work really well, does anyone have suggestions for natural "fine tinder" if grass doesn't work, would dry pine duff, or is there something else I should know about?

I saw mention of milkweed puffs, not a lot of those in the cascades, I'm sure I could figure it out, I'd just like to have my bases covered

Edited by joshcgil2 on 08/07/2007 11:41:08 MDT.

Joshua Mitchell
(jdmitch) - F

Locale: Kansas
Re: starting a fire with flint and steel/tinder choices on 08/07/2007 12:02:12 MDT Print View

Do a search for something like natural fire tinder for spark fire... you'll find lots of stuff... shreded birch bark is good. Cattail fluff is pretty decent.

tinder quick and cotton balls + vaseline (make sure to use real cotton not cosmetics balls, which are plastic) are so good, and so light I'd never NOT carry them. However, if you read some of the links google pops up, you should get some good ideas on what to look for / try in your area of the country. Ultimately the finer and drier the better...

hmmm... that link bug is cropping up again...

Edited by jdmitch on 08/07/2007 12:03:24 MDT.

Kelly Gray
(rdw12and35) - MLife

Locale: an inconsistant state of being
the dust? on 08/07/2007 13:35:00 MDT Print View

I couldn’t agree more with many of the past comments.

When starting a fire with sparks, I find the most critical part is the nest. I take the tender and roll it around in my hands. This wears down the tender and produces a fine dust. I find having a fair amount of this dust trapped in the nest drastically helps with the spark ignition. Think of the occasional grain silo that blows up because of the grain dust and static electricity. I’ll even roll out another nest and shake the dust into the nest I am intending to spark. Once I’ve rolled the tender around for awhile, I fluff it out in the shape a nest, toss a spark on it, get ignition, and set into my pre-built fire structure….. then poof. Aha. Look what I’ve created. I have made FIRE.

In Texas, I find that salt cedar bark produces the best natural nest; cypress bark and pine needles are decent while any old dried leaves suffice.

I know it isn't natural, but don’t forget how great thin gauge steel wool is for starting fires. If I am ‘flint’n steeling’, I'll bring a 2”x2” piece along. I keep it dry for emergencies or wet conditions. When needed, I fluff it out just like a natural nest. It catches sparks pretty well, burns real hot and seems to last a little longer than a natural nest. I honestly don’t know how it compares to the Tinder Quik, but steel wool has worked well in all of my flint and steel experiences.

Linsey Budden

Locale: pugetropolis
starting a fire with flint and steel on 08/26/2007 21:36:06 MDT Print View

The mountain man style is to utilize char cloth and it's easy to make, when I did it I: cut up squares of cotton flannel, placed them in a small lidded tin (Altoids) with some holes punched in it, set the tin in the coals of a fire for awhile. The resulting squares of black char cloth are amazing--to use, hold the char cloth on top of the flint and strike the edge with the steel striker. When a spark hits the cloth, tuck it into a tinder nest (I use strips of the inner bark of cedar trees [gleaned from somebodies woodpile])and blow or hold and wave around. This is so effective that I carry char cloth and cedar tinder for emergency use. Hope this isn't too late to be of any use.

Scott Ridgeway
(ScottFree) - F
The Striker on 09/14/2007 15:27:18 MDT Print View

The striker that comes with firesteels is practically useless. Instead, try a the back of a short piece a hack saw blade. The back of a swiss army knife saw works well too.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Using firesteel on 09/14/2007 15:35:23 MDT Print View

Check out the A-Z of Bushcraft podcasts on i-tunes. F is for fire shows very clearly how to use the swedish firesteel they sell here. Pull the rod back towards you and hold the scraper in one place. Seems counter-intuitive but wiil become clear when you watch it being done.

Sam .
(samurai) - F

Locale: NEPA
Re: The Striker on 09/14/2007 18:41:59 MDT Print View

>"The striker that comes with firesteels is practically useless."

What? My deck is twenty feet high and I'm six foot. I strike a spark and it's still sizzling when it hits the ground...twenty-three feet! Don't know what you're doing, but I'd read the instructions again.

Edited by samurai on 09/14/2007 18:43:07 MDT.

Brian James
(bjamesd) - F

Locale: South Coast of BC
Re: The Striker on 09/14/2007 18:50:18 MDT Print View

I loved the striker that came with mine; it doesn't work that well if you're using it backwards though.

My additions:

1) don't move the striker, move the flint. If you flick your striker at your tinder, you will knock it away and/or send sparks everywhere. Instead, hold the striker hand steady at the tinder and pull the flint *away* from the fire.

2) a lot of people make the tinder pile/nest too loose. Yes you need air in there, but you also need the heat from the spark to be trapped and concentrated.

3) if you get flustered, or if you have cold hands, or for whatever reason can't make it work: cheat and use some alcohol hand sanitizer. Just a drop will do you. That stuff is wonderfully flammable, and nowadays just about every person or group has some in a pocket somewhere.

4) in the west, we have moss growing everywhere called Old Man's Beard. This stuff is the perfect porosity and flammability; it works as tinder and kindling if you can get enough of it.

PS as another poster commented, this is actually the best way to light anything that needs lighting. Mine is about half-used now from lighting barbecues, lanterns, all manner of stoves, and campfires with it.

PPS if you have a knife with a serrated thumb grip, this may be an excellent striker. I use the back of my Spyderco Native III, in the closed position:

native 3

Edited by bjamesd on 09/14/2007 19:07:19 MDT.