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Campfire Classroom: Flint & Steel

Posted by Andrew Groves on

Introducing the Vulcan Steel Striker! Until the advent of the self-igniting match, the flint and steel method would of been the most convenient way of lighting fires both in the wilderness and in the hearth at home. Our strikers are beautifully hand forged by skilled blacksmith Alex Pole (who also made our Micro Utility Knife blades) and have been designed and crafted to be sturdy and long lasting in order to provide many years of fire lighting enjoyment.

Flint and steel

The steel works by being struck against a piece of natural flint, the friction of which liberates tiny shards of iron from the steel (steel is a composite of iron and carbon) which ignite upon exposure to oxygen thus creating hot sparks. These sparks can then be used to ignite tinder with which to kindle a fire. A little skill and knowledge is required to use one successfully and therein lies the appeal for us. It’s also a fun way to learn about some of the plants and fungi that can be used as tinder (and more besides) and also a good exercise in experiencing how early outdoor adventurers would of set about getting kettles boiled and feet warmed at the end of long days on the trail. The key to striking success lies predominantly in selecting and preparing the right tinder; in this post we’ll show you how to make char cloth which is a tinder prepared at home and carried in a pouch or tin, along with your steel striker and piece of flint. 

You will need:

100% cotton fabric (old t-shirt, tea towel or similar)

Metal tin with lid (biscuit tin, altoids tin or similar)

Heat source (gas stove, embers of a fire)

Shard of flint

Steel Striker

Flint and steel char cloth

First up, punch a small hole in the lid of your metal tin using a bradawl, nail or drill. This will allow gases and smoke to escape when you begin to char your cloth.

Cut several pieces of cotton fabric to fit your tin. It’s important the fabric is 100% cotton for this; anything with nylon or polyester in will melt rather than char. T-shirts, jeans and tea towels are all good.

Place the fabric inside the tin, put the lid on tightly and place on a heat source. You can use the embers of a fire or a hiking stove but don’t do this indoors as the process produces smoke and fumes. Take care not to get the tin too hot as the fabric will simply ignite and burn away to dust which is not the objective!

Flint and steel char cloth

Smoke will start to be released through the hole as the cloth begins to char; when the smoke slows and stops remove the tin from the heat source (carefully) and allow to cool.

Flint and steel char cloth

Inside the tin you should find your fabric has turned completely black; if so, you have successfully reduced the fabric to pure carbon by burning away all other chemicals, impurities and toxins in the material. If the fabric is only brown and lightly scorched, put it back on the heat a little longer until the desired result is achieved.

Flint and steel char cloth

Now you’re ready to try igniting the char cloth with the flint and steel. Before you do so however, prepare the next stages of your fire so you have everything ready; preparation is key with firelighting. The sparks from the steel will ignite char cloth to produce a hot glowing ember; this ember then needs to be transferred to a bundle of soft, fluffy, easily combustable tinder and coaxed into flame. There are a whole host of natural tinders to be found in the woods but the one we like the best for this is honeysuckle bark. Often seen spiralling around the stems of hazel trees, Honeysuckle is a deciduous woody climber with bark that peels and sheds as it matures. We can imitate the hazel dormouse who strips honeysuckle bark to build its nests, by collecting the naturally peeling bark ourselves and making a grapefruit sized bundle with a nestlike depression in the centre.

Flint and steel char cloth

Now take the steel in one hand and the flint in the other. Place a piece of folded char cloth on top of the flint and strike the steel against the flint in a downward, dropping motion. Small orange sparks should fly upwards, hopefully landing on the char cloth.

Flint and steel char cloth

It might take a few attempts to get this right, but once you succeed the char cloth will begin to glow and form an ember. This can be improved by increasing the oxygen supply.

Flint and steel char cloth

Next, carefully transfer the glowing char cloth into the depression in your bundle of honeysuckle bark.

Flint and steel char cloth

Blow gently onto the ember, making sure some of the fibres of the bark are in contact with the ember but being equally careful not to smother and extinguish it.

Flint and steel char cloth

Yellowish smoke should start to billow out from the tinder bundle followed shortly after by our intended objective: fire! From here simply add kindling (which should already be prepared) and build up as required. Check our previous post on building a fire for more details on this.

If you try this with one of our strikers do let us know how you get on - happy striking!

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