Fire lighting with Flint & Steel

Originally, Stone Age- and Bronze Age man in Europe created fire by striking flintstone on marcasite and catching resulting sparks on tinder made from horseshoe fungi. Marcasite is crystallized pyrite (iron sulfate mineral) and is not readily available but has to be traded over long distances. When finally Iron Age arrived, times got easier for firemakers. Because at this age, fire lighting was done with flint and steel.

The hardest stones with very fine crystal structures (besides diamond) are either chert or flintstone and also very dense quartzite. High carbon steel was used in the Iron Age and later on, as a striker, as such kind of steel was only available at the beginning of this time, and it drew nice sparks. And as tinder, char cloth was used to catch the sparks.

Difference between Stone Age and Iron Age fire-making methods

Due to the high strength of steel compared to marcasite mineral, it was possible to change the sequence of spark creation around. When in the Stone Age, marcasite was the most valuable part, which was prone to breaking along the crystal boundaries, the flintstone was stricken onto marcasite and resulting sparks (glowing Fe particles from marcasite) fell to the tinder. Now, with long-lasting steel as a striker, the flintstone was hit hard and iron particles were abraded above, which created sparks behind the steel in the movement direction. Therefore, the tinder had and has to be located above the flintstone.

How to create an ember with flint and steel

For right-handers, the left-hand holds a piece of chert or flintstone in such a way, that a sharp edge is exposed to the striking steel, and with the left thumb, a piece of char cloth is held securely down onto the stone, and next to the striking edge. In a circular and smooth motion, the striking steel will be moved down along the stone edge, trying to keep the steel as long as possible onto the stone edge. Sooner or later a spark will be caught by the char cloth and will start glowing into an ember. The ember should not be touched but should settle and thereafter be transferred into a tinder bundle and treated like embers from all other fire-starting methods.

Lessons learned from fire lighting with flint and steel

  • Securely hold the flintstone striking edge exposed with the char cloth held above
  • The steel should be moved in a circular action along the stone edge
  • Try to keep the steel as long as possible on the stone edge when striking
  • The resulting ember is very sensitive and should be treated carefully

Global Bushcraft Symposium 2022 (GBS2022) and Terry Longhurst

GBS2022 was held from 27th-31st July 2022 at a location at Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake), within Snowdonia National Park, in North Wales, UK.

Terry has nearly 40 years experience of in outdoor activities. He volunteers with The Scout Association and is a founder member and the National Manager of the National Scout Active Support Unit called Bushscout UK, which runs skills days for adult leaders in Scouting throughout the UK. Terry has a wealth of practical experience and has contributed to The Scout Association Haynes Outdoor Adventure Manual, Scouting Magazine, and The Bushcraft Journal, whilst also spending the last 10 years developing Bushscout UK. He also shares his exploits via his social page Old Man Woodcraft. Terry was leading the Youth Engagement Camp in the GBS Theme Camps.

Terry Longhurst was reviewing this post on August 14, 2022, and had no objections.

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