Flint And Steel
Starting a fire is one of the most prime examples of human evolution, and all of it is thanks to the early humans’ hand tools. Homo habilis, the people of the Early Stone Age, first utilized hand tools to keep warm in cold climates, keep predators at bay, and cook food.
Historians theorize that they either used flintstones, a type of sedimentary rock that they banged together to create sparks, or rubbed two sticks together to generate enough heat to create sparks. Whichever they used, this method still survives today.
In fact, knowing how to start a fire with these simple tools is often considered a right of passage when entering the field as an outdoorsman.
Today, the method of using flintstones and steel continues to be a simple yet effective way to start a fire. But to truly understand and use flint and steel appropriately, you need to know the chemical balance that occurs behind the scenes and how to use it to your advantage, no matter the weather conditions.
Review the rest of our Flint And Steel frequently asked questions here:
How Does Flint and Steel Work?
Flint and steel, also called a fire striker, is a specific tool used in fire-making. It is made up of a piece of carbon steel that sparks when struck by a flint’s sharpness. When using the device, it’s a good idea to hold dry tinder next to the flint and steel so that it can catch the resulting sparks easily.
First, you take the sharp edge of the flintstone and violently strike the steel at an acute angle. The goal of this angle is to carefully—yet quickly—shave off small particles of metal.
The pyrophoricity oxidizes in the air and sparks. The oxidizing sparks ignite the tinder underneath the flint and steel tool, which catches and eventually turns into fire.
Why Do Flint and Steel Make Sparks?
It all comes down to the pyrophoric properties that are found inside of flintstones. Pyrophoric is a type of substance that spontaneously ignites in air at or below 129°F (for gases) or within 5 minutes after coming in contact with air (for liquids and solids).
But how exactly does flint stone catch fire? Consistent friction plays an important role, but it also comes down to how the elements in the rock react to oxygen. When iron is exposed to oxygen, it begins to rust.
When iron rusts—or oxidizes—it gives off a small amount of heat. This means that rusting is the same thing as burning, but you likely won’t notice this when you’re holding the iron in your hand. That’s because the heat is absorbed by its surroundings quickly.
But when you increase the amount of oxidation, like scraping a steel striker on it, you will see sparks.
Why Use Flint and Steel?
It’s safe to assume that true outdoors people are naturally drawn to original pieces like flint and steel.
Maybe it’s because being out in the field is a reminder in itself of why we’re out there, to begin with: To forget today’s modern technology and just bask in the wilderness, relying on our natural skills, just as our ancestors once did.
But if you’ve never used flint and steel before—perhaps you instead relied on a firestarter, gas, or a handy lighter—then take a minute to read about why this tool might serve you better in the long run.
Benefit #1: Longevity
The average flint and stone tool is designed only to scrape off micro pieces of steel at a time, which means there is usually enough metal to make thousands of fires and hundreds of thousands of sparks. So, depending on how often you make fires, one tool could last you for the better half of a decade.
Additionally, flint and stone tools are designed to be around for the long haul: Although they can get rusty when left out in the rain or damp litter, you can easily scrape it off and use the striker as if it’s brand new. They’re designed to withstand extreme conditions, which makes them the perfect tool.
Benefit #2: All-Weather
If you live your firestarter logs out in the rain, then you can forget about using them anytime soon.
But flint and stone tools are all about longevity: It doesn’t matter how cold, hot, or wet your striker gets. As long as you clean it off and use a sharp piece of flint, you’ll get your spark.
It’s hard to name another all-weather fire starter.
Benefit #3: Versatility
Let’s say that, for some reason, you don’t have a store-bought flint and steel tool on hand. Luckily, there’s a reason early humans used this tool so often: It’s easy to put together.
All you need to make your own flint and steel fire starter is a rock with a sharp edge that is denser than steel. Rocks like chert, agate, jasper, quartz will do the trick. Whichever you use, the flintstone has to be denser than steel. Otherwise, it will break against the steel striker or won’t ignite at all.
Then simply use your trusty steel file and begin striking.
What Types of Tinders Can Be Lit by Flint and Steel?
Let’s say that you’re out at your campsite and are ready to start a fire for the evening. You’ve got your flint and steel tools—but the second most crucial part about fire starting is using tinder that will actually catch.
After all, these sparks are so small to start with that you need to be sure you have dry and catchable tinder for a fire. Here’s what you can use:
- Dried grass: Gather some dead, dry grass and roll it up into a nest for igniting. Once it begins to spark and glow, place the grass under your firewood to get the process started. But you must have the utmost control over the dried grass: This is the most common way forest fires are started.
- Paper: Paper from junk mail or your local newspaper is the perfect firestarter. You can simply twist the paper into a tube to create your tinder. Of course, you’ll also need to make room in your bag to carry it. Finally, be aware that you shouldn’t use paper with a glossy finish.
- Wood shavings: You can use wood shavings from dead branches and pieces of wood—but make sure you’re not using wood shavings in place of firewood if you don’t have enough to last you through the night.
- Pine straw: There’s no shortage of pine straw if you’re in an area where there are plenty of pine trees.
- Leaves: Since leaves are aplenty in the woods, this is one of the most popular options for fire starting. You just have to be sure that they’re dead and thoroughly dried out.
What Is the Difference Between a Ferro Rod and Flint and Steel?
Ferro rods and flintstones are often confused for one another, but the two are vastly different.
For starters, the term “ferro rod” refers to a ferrocerium rod. It may also be called fire steel, Swedish fire steel, metal match, or a mischmetal rod.
This is a type of pyrophoric alloy that sparks when oxidized by striking the rod. It is the ignition source of many lighters, combustion devices, and strikers for gas welding and cutting torches. Ferrocerium is a synthetic alloy, and therefore, ferro rods are manufactured devices.
On the other hand, flint is a type of rock made up of chert. It has been around since the Early Stone Age and was used as a tool to start fires. You don’t need to buy flint from the store: You can find the suitable spark-starting rock just about anywhere.
What Flint And Steel Products Do I Need?
Time and time again, flint and steel prove to be reliable, versatile, all-weather fire starters that can fit in even the most petite pocket of your bag. The best part? They’re inexpensive and can be found in just about any survival store in a variety of styles, such as:
- A basic flint and steel kit, which is ideal for starting a primitive fire. You can use this kit in emergency survival situations or while camping, hiking, or backpacking.
- Flint flakes that come in various sizes, making them perfect for projects like making arrowheads, cutting tools, and starting fires.
- C-shaped steel and flint kit for the utmost comfort. The C steel is a comfortable size and shape for striking, meaning your hand won’t get tired after several attempts.
- Multi fire tool kits that include flint and steel with variable sizes are sure to meet your fire starting needs.
Specializing in all-things survival and outdoors, Self Reliance Outfitters offers quality products for any outdoor adventure. Plus, you can also check out the informative blogs and guides, as well as an official YouTube channel with videos that demonstrate some of the handiest tips and tricks while out on the field.
Whatever you’re looking for, Self Reliance Outfitters has got what you need.