How To Make Fire With Flint and Steel
This special guest post was written by Sam Kelly of Twin Hawks Outdoors. Sam is a primitive skills practitioner with extensive experience in flint knapping, bow building, hunting with primitive equipment, and much more. He was also a vendor at the 2022 Georgia Bushcraft Fall Gathering, and we hope he'll join us for the 2023 event season.
In many ways, flint and steel embody a time period when primitive and modern technology was merging. Modern steel combines with ancient flint to create the ultimate energy of fire.
The flint and steel, used for centuries on frontiers across the globe, is probably my favorite fire ignition method. It takes preparation, forethought, and a way of life. It was a crucial method of obtaining fire on the early American frontier and, as such, has a place in every modern American woodsman's tool kit.
So how do the flint and steel work? The flint or chert material is used to strike the hardened steel and throw sparks onto charred material, creating an ember. The sparks created are actually super-heated metal shavings driven off the steel and heated by the striking of the flint.
They land on the charred material, usually char cloth, and start to grow into a larger ember. This ember is then transferred into a tinder bundle, or "bird's nest," and blown into flame. This, in much the same way as any friction fire coal, is encouraged into a fire.
The concepts of fire craft are no different with this method than any other. Preplanning, patience, and knowledge of tinder and fuels still apply. A bit more preplanning is required, however, in order to have proper "char" available for ease of fire lighting. I have personally used flint and steel to start an ember with nothing more than punk wood, but this is not ideal. In order to efficiently catch a spark, the char material is held on top of the flint to catch sparks that are thrown upward when the steel strikes in a downward motion. If done properly, it should only take one to three strikes of the steel to light the charred material.
This method of fire lighting will force you to take the proper care when building a fire, the same care that should be used with any other method, be it matches, ferro-rod, or a lighter. There are some particulars to learn, such as how to hold the char material or how to strike the flint with the steel. Find someone that can teach you the techniques that will bring you success and consistency. I highly recommend picking up a flint and steel kit and giving it a try. It will take you back in time as you utilize a time-tested method of lighting your fire.