American Survival Guide
The primary means of starting fire for European cultures over the last 1000
years (possibly longer) has been flint and steel. Building the flint and
steel fire has become one of the sporting events common to black powder
rendezvous. Because of this flint and steel sets and the knowledge
required to use them are available to anyone who wants to learn the
The four items needed to start a flint and steel fire are:
1. Flint, or some other hard rock.
2. A fire steel.
3. Something to catch sparks.
Flint has been the traditional stone because it is hard, and
breaks into keen edged fragments. Other stones will work, particularly the
quartz based minerals. Look for stones that break into relatively flat
sections with sharp edges.
The steel is struck against the sharp edge of a hard stone which shaves
off very small splinters of steel which are heated white hot by friction.
To strike a fire hold the char on Top of the flint, close to the edge and
strike the stone with a long sweeping downward stroke of the steel. Char
cloth can be wrapped around the stone. When a spark catches in the char, a
small glowing spot will appear. Blow on the spot gently and it will spread
into the char material.
The most critical is number 3, the spark catching material. The most common
material is charred cotton or linen cloth.
Char cloth is produced by heating in a low oxygen environment, producing a
charcoal like substance. Get a metal can that can be resealed. Put the
cloth to be charred in the can and seal it. Punch a small hole in the can
and put the whole mess in a fire. Watch for smoke escaping through the
hole in the can. When the smoke decreases slightly, remove the can from
the fire and stopper the hole with a nail or something. After the can
cools, look at the cloth. If it's dark brown, it wasn't heated long
enough. If it falls apart at the slightest touch, it was heated to long.
Experiment. The cloth needs to be 100% cotton, and free of dyes and other
synthetics. The heavier the cloth, the better.
Another good material to treat in this way is very rotten punk wood. Wood
so rotten that it can be broken off with your hands. Maple is the
preferred wood, but others work well also. Gather several different types
and see what works well. Experiment. Charred punk is not as consistant as
cloth, some will catch sparks very well, some won't at all. If it does
catch, it is next to impossible to kill. Don't throw away the charred punk
that won't catch sparks, it'll be useful later.
Char material will glow, but it does not produce an open flame. That is
the job of the tinder. Lay the glowing char in a birds next of fine dry
tinder. Shredded paper, dry grass, and cedar bark all work well. Gently
blow on the ember until the tinder bursts in to a flame.
On sunny days, a magnifying glass will get an ember going in the char
material very easily. From there to getting the tinder going is no
problem. The charred punk that you couldn't light with a spark will start
ANOTHER WAY - Bow and Drill
The four items needed to start a bow and drill fire are:
1. The bow.
2. Drill, or drills.
3. A flat plank.
4. A bearing block.
And some char material and tinder of course.
The first item required is a bow. 30" long and .5 to .75 inches thick. A
little bit of flex, but nothing like an arrow casting bow. Notch the ends
of the bow and tie on a heavy cord, leaving just enough slack to wrap the
cord around the drill. Nylon boot laces work very well, but any cord will
wear out rather quickly.
Drills should be bone dry, with no pitch or oil. Relatively soft drills
work better. Western Red Cedar, Red Alder, and Willow work well. Also try
White Cedar, Cottonwood, Birch, Aspen, and Poplars. Drills should be 6 to
8 inches long, with the bark stripped off, and .5 to .75 inches thick.
Round one end, and make a blunt point on the other.
The flat plank should be 2 to 3 inches wide and .5 to .75 inches thick. It
should be made from one of the woods used as a fire drill above. Cut a
triangular notch roughly .25 inch into the fireboard, this is to catch the
sawdust. At the point of the V gouge a small hole for the drill tip. Work
with that notch. To shallow and the dust forms a ring around the drill, to
narrow and the sawdust doesn't have the mass to support an ember.
Lastly, is the bearing block. This is what you hold in your hand to hold
the top of the drill. It should be slightly, or more bowl shaped, so the
the top of the drill doesn't wonder out. Common materials are hollowed out
stones, hardwood knots, and carved bones. The author recommends a one
ounce shot glass, as the shot glass is almost friction free when the drill
turns inside it.
Place something flat and dry under the fireboard (plank) to catch the ember
when it forms. Wrap the cord around the drill. Take shotglass in the
other hand to hold the top of the drill. Put the point of the drill in the
small hole at the V. Spin the drill with long smooth strokes of the bow.
Use moderate pressure. You want some pressure to create friction. In a
bit there should be smoke rising from the drill hole, and a wood dust pile
rising in the notch. Watch the sawdust pile, and when it seems to be
smoking on it's own carefully lift out the drill. If the sawdust
continues to smoke there is an ember in there that will burn its way
through the sawdust pile.
Now you can put some tinder on the pile and blow it into a flame, or light
a piece of char with the sawdust ember. Since the sawdust pile is hard to
move, and easy to blow away, it is easier to light the char with it.
Again, this is a good use of punk wood that won't work with the flint and
The time to think of matchless fires is sometime before your match supply
runs out. Collect the materials now, and they will be bone dry when you
Making Sure-Fire Tinder, by David S. Ripplinger, published by Track Of The
Primative Fire & Cordage, by John McPherson, P.O.Box 96, Randolph, KS,
Mountain State Muzzleloading, RT.1 Box 154-1, Williamstown, WV, 26187
Track Of The Wolf, Box Y, Osseo, MN, 55369
Jas Townsend & Son Inc., P.O.Box 415, Pierceton, IN, 46562
Dixie Gun Works, P.O.Box 130, Union City, TN 38261
Arrowhead Forge, RT.1 Box 25, Wilmot, SD, 57279
Prairie Forge, P.O.Box 234, Lavina, MT,59046