Problems with Flint & Steel

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TDM

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I'm curious to know if I'm the only one who has been unsuccessful at starting a fire with flint & steel. I have tried 7 or 8 times over the past few years and no luck. I first bought a cheap kit, then bought a better steel from TotW and more flint. I even bought some denim to make new char cloth, but I haven't done it yet. I've gotten a few red glows on the char cloth that came with the kit, but couldn't keep the spark alive. What's your experience?
 
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my experience?
wife caught me kindling a tiny, tiny fire in the middle of the garage floor, and took my char cloth away. silly her! it wouldn't have worked anymore anyway with all of that white stuff that comes out of a fire extinguisher on it.
but before Red Adair of the north swooped in i had a respectable lick of fire going. used the spine of my patch knife for the steel and the brand new charcloth i made of 1000 count cotton sheet. most of the commercial cloth i have used was too loose of a weave.
when i throw a sparck on the tight stuff the ring of fire travel slow but steady.
i even have time to put tiny slivers of pitch pine on it and catch these a fire.
then i snuff the char cloth for further use.
i wonder if that white stuff would wash out?:dunno:
 
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I'm curious to know if I'm the only one who has been unsuccessful at starting a fire with flint & steel. I have tried 7 or 8 times over the past few years and no luck. I first bought a cheap kit, then bought a better steel from TotW and more flint. I even bought some denim to make new char cloth, but I haven't done it yet. I've gotten a few red glows on the char cloth that came with the kit, but couldn't keep the spark alive. What's your experience?
I bought a kit from a member a few weeks ago and haven't really even looked at it yet. If I can remember tomorrow I will try my kit and see if I have any better luck.
 

TDM

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my experience?
wife caught me kindling a tiny, tiny fire in the middle of the garage floor, and took my char cloth away. silly her! it wouldn't have worked anymore anyway with all of that white stuff that comes out of a fire extinguisher on it.
but before Red Adair of the north swooped in i had a respectable lick of fire going. used the spine of my patch knife for the steel and the brand new charcloth i made of 1000 count cotton sheet. most of the commercial cloth i have used was too loose of a weave.
when i throw a sparck on the tight stuff the ring of fire travel slow but steady.
i even have time to put tiny slivers of pitch pine on it and catch these a fire.
then i snuff the char cloth for further use.
i wonder if that white stuff would wash out?:dunno:
I really should take the time to make my own char cloth. I've collected good cotton lint from the dryer filter and several hand fulls of red cedar bark in my bag. I even have a couple of old broken files to make a new steel. All I need is the energy to do it. ;)
 

Notchy Bob

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I'm curious to know if I'm the only one who has been unsuccessful at starting a fire with flint & steel. I have tried 7 or 8 times over the past few years and no luck. I first bought a cheap kit, then bought a better steel from TotW and more flint. I even bought some denim to make new char cloth, but I haven't done it yet. I've gotten a few red glows on the char cloth that came with the kit, but couldn't keep the spark alive. What's your experience?
You are not alone! It took me a long time to pull it all together, and there are still some times when it seems more difficult than it should. However, once you get it all together, you can usually count on getting a fire going sooner or later, the old time way.

You need four things to make a flame: A good steel, a good flint, proper char cloth, and very dry, highly flammable tinder.

The best steels I own were handmade by artisan blacksmiths. I've not had good luck with the mass-produced commercial ones. Your old files should work, but you may need to grind the teeth off the striking surfaces.

There was a good discussion of flint for fire making here on the forum not too long ago: Flint and Steel? I don't think I can add to that.

Your cedar bark, well pounded up into fibers, should make good tinder if it is really dry. Living where you do, you may be able to find dead Spanish moss. You want the black, fibrous stuff. I pick it up in the woods near where I live. If it is picked up off the ground, it may need to lie out in the sun for a while to get good and dry. I don't know if you have palmettos there or not, but if you do, the brown fiber on the trunk of the plant can be pulled off for tinder, and it works really well. However, the best tinder I have used is jute fiber. You get a ball of jute twine from Home Depot or Lowes. Cut a piece about two feet long and unravel it completely. You'll get a nest of fluffy fiber about the size of a baseball. It isn't very woodsy, but it works great and it's easy to carry a few extra feet of it in your pouch.

I haven't tried it but I've heard that oakum makes outstanding tinder, and may not even be allowed in some fire-starting competitions because it is so flammable. Oakum is hemp or jute fiber treated with tar or a tar derivative. It is used for caulking boats, and in years past it was used in plumbing joints. It is still available from wooden boat suppliers. I'll probably try some one of these days.

Regarding char cloth, this is the book that got me on track: Making Sure-Fire Tinder, from Track of the Wolf. Oddly, TOTW does not carry the tin containers recommended in their book, but you can get them from the Log Cabin Shop in Lodi, Ohio. Follow the directions carefully and you'll get first-class char cloth.

You will want to select your fabric carefully. I understand linen works very well, but I haven't tried it. Cotton works fine and may be easier to get. It does need to be 100% cotton, without any synthetics. I've been using the cotton flannel GI cleaning patches from Brownell's with good results. One thing to watch out for, in scrounging cotton fabric, is that a lot of clothing (especially pajamas) has been treated with a fire retardant. You can make char cloth out of it, but a spark will just smolder, with a dull color. A spark on good char cloth will be bright orange, and will spread very quickly when you blow on it. If the charcloth won't keep the spark alive, I would suspect the base fabric was either not pure cotton (or linen) or it had been treated with a fire retardant.

I still have trouble controlling exactly where the sparks land, so my technique is kind of haphazard in that respect. Generally speaking, I have found if you strike the flint with the steel, the sparks will fly up and out. If you strike the steel with the flint, the sparks go down. That affects how you hold or where you place the char cloth, so it will catch a spark. One tiny little orange spark is all it takes on the cloth to get a fire going, if you have good char and dry tinder.

That little book from Track of the Wolf should be a big help.

Good luck with it!

Notchy Bob
 
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Flint Striker

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I'm curious to know if I'm the only one who has been unsuccessful at starting a fire with flint & steel. I have tried 7 or 8 times over the past few years and no luck. I first bought a cheap kit, then bought a better steel from TotW and more flint. I even bought some denim to make new char cloth, but I haven't done it yet. I've gotten a few red glows on the char cloth that came with the kit, but couldn't keep the spark alive. What's your experience?

I’m a wizard with flint and steel! It sounds like your charcloth might have drawn moisture. You could try laying on a window sill under some direct hot sun for a bit, or put the char tin back in a fire for a couple minutes. It’s also pretty simple to make some new stuff out of the denim you have. I prefer a can that seals better than an altoids tin for making char.

Hold the charcloth in your left hand over the edge of the flint, then strike down with the right and cut through the char as you strike. Should work every time.
 
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You will want to select your fabric carefully.
Good lead with that TOW book, it's the basic technique with good instructions.
Want the best? Monks cloth. (wash it first)
Don't waste your time with worn-out clothing,,
These threads always lead to chest the thumping pro's. Top time is usually 2-4 seconds from strike to flame.
Catching the spark is easy with a good steel an char,,
,,it's the nest,,
 

Brokennock

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I really should take the time to make my own char cloth. I've collected good cotton lint from the dryer filter and several hand fulls of red cedar bark in my bag. I even have a couple of old broken files to make a new steel. All I need is the energy to do it. ;)
What is the dryer lint for?
It sounds to me like either your charcloth isn't a tight enough weave and therefore isn't producing enough heat or has some dampness. Maybe the glowing spot just moves around as you blow on it? Or your nest that you are trying to ignite with the coal of your charcloth osnt fine enough.

Honestly I find charcloth to be a pain unless lighting a candle. Charred punk wood is far better. It produces more heat, stays hot/lit longer, and that ember stays in a concentrated spot better.

It also takes more practice than 7 or 8 times over a matter of months. But, once you get it, it will get easier and easier.
 
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my experience?
wife caught me kindling a tiny, tiny fire in the middle of the garage floor, and took my char cloth away. silly her! it wouldn't have worked anymore anyway with all of that white stuff that comes out of a fire extinguisher on it.
but before Red Adair of the north swooped in i had a respectable lick of fire going. used the spine of my patch knife for the steel and the brand new charcloth i made of 1000 count cotton sheet. most of the commercial cloth i have used was too loose of a weave.
when i throw a sparck on the tight stuff the ring of fire travel slow but steady.
i even have time to put tiny slivers of pitch pine on it and catch these a fire.
then i snuff the char cloth for further use.
i wonder if that white stuff would wash out?:dunno:
I really enjoy your little stories😋
 

Tom A Hawk

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Hold the charcloth in your left hand over the edge of the flint, then strike down with the right and cut through the char as you strike. Should work every time.
Yes, place the tinder at the edge of the flint.

These clips are using milkweed ovum and mullein pith but the principle is the same.





Here's charcloth with oakum

 
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I'm curious to know if I'm the only one who has been unsuccessful at starting a fire with flint & steel. I have tried 7 or 8 times over the past few years and no luck. I first bought a cheap kit, then bought a better steel from TotW and more flint. I even bought some denim to make new char cloth, but I haven't done it yet. I've gotten a few red glows on the char cloth that came with the kit, but couldn't keep the spark alive. What's your experience?

First thing I also do is make sure I my flints are very sharp. I use large flint arrow heads and wall gun flints that are over 2” long ,even a knapped flint knife works great.

The material you use is your choice, char cloth will of course catch a spark. Personally I use a slow match with the end charred.

Once the slow match lights, I poke it into a nest of dry material or brush, and i usually get flame after a few minutes of giving it air.

one thing that helps is resin or pitch from a pine tree, scrape off a little into the nest, just a small amount and it helps in more damp conditions.
 
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I’m a wizard with flint and steel! It sounds like your charcloth might have drawn moisture. You could try laying on a window sill under some direct hot sun for a bit, or put the char tin back in a fire for a couple minutes. It’s also pretty simple to make some new stuff out of the denim you have. I prefer a can that seals better than an altoids tin for making char.

Hold the charcloth in your left hand over the edge of the flint, then strike down with the right and cut through the char as you strike. Should work every time.
One thing I do to add to this is have my tinder nest right there around the char. When you get your spark you can puff on it as you drop your rock
Differnt cloths will act differnt. Denim makes a harder char, it’s harder to get it to catch the spark, but burns hotter, a little glowing sun in your hand.
Old t shirt or diaper cloth catches real easy, doesn’t glow as hot
 

TDM

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You are not alone! It took me a long time to pull it all together, and there are still some times when it seems more difficult than it should. However, once you get it all together, you can usually count on getting a fire going sooner or later, the old time way.

You need four things to make a flame: A good steel, a good flint, proper char cloth, and very dry, highly flammable tinder.

The best steels I own were handmade by artisan blacksmiths. I've not had good luck with the mass-produced commercial ones. Your old files should work, but you may need to grind the teeth off the striking surfaces.

There was a good discussion of flint for fire making here on the forum not too long ago: Flint and Steel? I don't think I can add to that.

Your cedar bark, well pounded up into fibers, should make good tinder if it is really dry. Living where you do, you may be able to find dead Spanish moss. You want the black, fibrous stuff. I pick it up in the woods near where I live. If it is picked up off the ground, it may need to lie out in the sun for a while to get good and dry. I don't know if you have palmettos there or not, but if you do, the brown fiber on the trunk of the plant can be pulled off for tinder, and it works really well. However, the best tinder I have used is jute fiber. You get a ball of jute twine from Home Depot or Lowes. Cut a piece about two feet long and unravel it completely. You'll get a nest of fluffy fiber about the size of a baseball. It isn't very woodsy, but it works great and it's easy to carry a few extra feet of it in your pouch.

I haven't tried it but I've heard that oakum makes outstanding tinder, and may not even be allowed in some fire-starting competitions because it is so flammable. Oakum is hemp or jute fiber treated with tar or a tar derivative. It is used for caulking boats, and in years past it was used in plumbing joints. It is still available from wooden boat suppliers. I'll probably try some one of these days.

Regarding char cloth, this is the book that got me on track: Making Sure-Fire Tinder, from Track of the Wolf. Oddly, TOTW does not carry the tin containers recommended in their book, but you can get them from the Log Cabin Shop in Lodi, Ohio. Follow the directions carefully and you'll get first-class char cloth.

You will want to select your fabric carefully. I understand linen works very well, but I haven't tried it. Cotton works fine and may be easier to get. It does need to be 100% cotton, without any synthetics. I've been using the cotton flannel GI cleaning patches from Brownell's with good results. One thing to watch out for, in scrounging cotton fabric, is that a lot of clothing (especially pajamas) has been treated with a fire retardant. You can make char cloth out of it, but a spark will just smolder, with a dull color. A spark on good char cloth will be bright orange, and will spread very quickly when you blow on it. If the charcloth won't keep the spark alive, I would suspect the base fabric was either not pure cotton (or linen) or it had been treated with a fire retardant.

I still have trouble controlling exactly where the sparks land, so my technique is kind of haphazard in that respect. Generally speaking, I have found if you strike the flint with the steel, the sparks will fly up and out. If you strike the steel with the flint, the sparks go down. That affects how you hold or where you place the char cloth, so it will catch a spark. One tiny little orange spark is all it takes on the cloth to get a fire going, if you have good char and dry tinder.

That little book from Track of the Wolf should be a big help.

Good luck with it!

Notchy Bob
Great advice from everyone! I appreciate it. I need to order some stuff from TotW, I'll add that book. And watch some more videos. Look over the older thread too. If I could just do it once, I'd be pleased!
 

Red Owl

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TDM- I'll throw in a few other things.
1. Like you, I've always struggled trying to light a fire with flint and steel. The sharper the flint the better but if you don't hold the steel correct that sharp flint can give you a bad cut.
2. I agree that char cloth can get old, absorb moisture, not work as well.
3. Some steels are better, I bought one that didn't work at all.
4. The sparks often seem to go on top so you need to hold the char cloth accordingly.
5. You have several things going on at the same time, striking to get the sparks, catching the spark in some sort of char, then blowing the ember into a flame. YOU CAN BREAK THIS DOWN.
a. Make a "tinder tube" I am currently reading a book about cattle baron Charles Goodnight that used one before matches came around. Get a short piece of 1/2" copper tubing at a hardware store, 3-4" long is right. Then go to Joann Fabrics and get 1/2" OR LARGER cotton cord and try pushing twisting it until you get a size that fits TIGHT in the tube, Buy 6" of the cotton cord. Force the cotton cord into the tube so that an inch sticks out one end and light that with a match and let it burn a little and then pull on the other end of the cord to force the burning end back into the tube and put your finger over the tube end to extinguish the flame.
b. Get a magnifying glass, preferably one with a small, more powerful insert.
c. On a sunny day twist the cotton cord and push it so the charred end sticks out. Hold the magnifying lense so there is a TINY dot. You'll move the lenses closer or farther away from the charred end until there is a tiny dot and once you have this tiny dot you'll get an ember in a couple of seconds and that ember will hold.
d. For tinder, tow or jute is PC so buy some jute at Joann's and cut it into 2" lengths and unravel it to make a bird's nest and bunch that over the ember. It will usually burst into flames on its own. You might have to very gently blow on it.
BY doing the above you get lots of practice in blowing an ember into a flame. Then you can go back to flint and steel and char and work with that. The tinder tube is pc on its own and it shortens the learning curve on going from an ember to a flame. Good luck.
 

TDM

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TDM- I'll throw in a few other things.
1. Like you, I've always struggled trying to light a fire with flint and steel. The sharper the flint the better but if you don't hold the steel correct that sharp flint can give you a bad cut.
2. I agree that char cloth can get old, absorb moisture, not work as well.
3. Some steels are better, I bought one that didn't work at all.
4. The sparks often seem to go on top so you need to hold the char cloth accordingly.
5. You have several things going on at the same time, striking to get the sparks, catching the spark in some sort of char, then blowing the ember into a flame. YOU CAN BREAK THIS DOWN.
a. Make a "tinder tube" I am currently reading a book about cattle baron Charles Goodnight that used one before matches came around. Get a short piece of 1/2" copper tubing at a hardware store, 3-4" long is right. Then go to Joann Fabrics and get 1/2" OR LARGER cotton cord and try pushing twisting it until you get a size that fits TIGHT in the tube, Buy 6" of the cotton cord. Force the cotton cord into the tube so that an inch sticks out one end and light that with a match and let it burn a little and then pull on the other end of the cord to force the burning end back into the tube and put your finger over the tube end to extinguish the flame.
b. Get a magnifying glass, preferably one with a small, more powerful insert.
c. On a sunny day twist the cotton cord and push it so the charred end sticks out. Hold the magnifying lense so there is a TINY dot. You'll move the lenses closer or farther away from the charred end until there is a tiny dot and once you have this tiny dot you'll get an ember in a couple of seconds and that ember will hold.
d. For tinder, tow or jute is PC so buy some jute at Joann's and cut it into 2" lengths and unravel it to make a bird's nest and bunch that over the ember. It will usually burst into flames on its own. You might have to very gently blow on it.
BY doing the above you get lots of practice in blowing an ember into a flame. Then you can go back to flint and steel and char and work with that. The tinder tube is pc on its own and it shortens the learning curve on going from an ember to a flame. Good luck.
More good advice! Thanks!
 

waksupi

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I make char from 100% cotton T-shirts. I cut it in about 2" squares before charring. When striking with the steel, fold the char loosely over the edge of the flint. That way it catches any spark immediately, if properly charred. I have another piece of char in my birds nest. Many run out of char before they get flame. I prefer old rope that has been shredded for the birds nest, or dry tree moss, called witch's hair here in the west. Usual ignition to flame is 5 seconds or less.
 
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FWIW, in the few times I’ve done it. I held the flint in my right hand and struck it downwards against the steel (in my left hand) showering the sparks into my open tin of char cloth. Then plucked the ember cloth from the tin into my nested bundle and closed my tin to extinguish and remaining embers.
Walk
 
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I really enjoy your little stories😋
there are times they are enjoyable! but when the thinned lipped Scot shows up, not so much. Living with this woman for 54 years has been a fantastically enjoyable ride. always wondered what she got out of it, other than gray hair?
when i made my char cloth i cut discs the size of one of the tins with screw lids that Frontier sells his lube in. sometimes i think i buy the stuff just for the tins.
i pack the tin with the 1000 thread count sheet material and screw down the lid.
i made a small alcohol stove with a tiny little wire mesh trash can i glommed onto somewhere, inverted over the flame.
set the lube tin full of cloth on it and wait for the smoke to clear. i have an ox-yoke ziplock bag that patches came in full hanging above the shelf and one in my pack.
i have never used a formed steel, have always used the back of my patch knife and a chunk of chert my arthritic hands can hang onto.
has come in handy on a couple elk hunts on high ridges when a freezing fog came in.
 
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