Home Survival 101 Sparking Fires with Flint and Steel

Sparking Fires with Flint and Steel

by Survival Dispatch Staff

You can start a fire easily with a variety of household objects such as matches, a lighter, dry tinder or cotton balls. However if you happen to be camping or in a survival situation near the wilderness, it’s always wise to have flint and steel by your side.

When camping, a typical method for getting your fire going is by striking a metal object against flint with the help of steel, for example a knife found on the ground or a piece of spare iron. While lighting a fire with flint and steel is a well-known method, creating the perfect fire out of it requires careful preparation.

Not to worry, because we have the perfect guide for the experienced and amateurs alike! This article will cover the following topics on creating fire with flint and steel:

  • Getting the proper equipment
  • Tips and tricks in mastering the flint and steel method

Getting the proper equipment

A traditional flint and steel fire kit is made out of a hardened piece of high carbon steel and a sharp bit of stone that could be even harder than the hardened steel. This would typically be flint or some similar stone. 

The flint and steel fire kit, which was faster and more dependable in damp conditions than rubbing two sticks together, became the favored way of starting a fire some 3,000 years ago, and it remained popular until matches became ubiquitous in the 1800s. The supplies you’ll need and the procedures you’ll need to practice this intriguing heritage skill are detailed below.

For starters, the typical flint and steel system is divided into three sections:

  • Finding the right steel

The appropriate piece of steel is the first component you’ll have to get. The tinder can be easily made outdoors, and the “flint” can be collected on the ground — but the steel is an essential component of the kit that cannot be easily found in the wilderness.

Indeed, steel is made of iron, and iron is made of ore, which may produce small sparks. For countless generations, iron ore pieces have been used to start fires, but an experienced person knows that a steel striker is more effective

Strikers are generally custom-made objects designed specifically for the goal of creating fire. The striker must be made of high carbon steel that has been quenched and heated to harden it. However, a few tools and blades already contain the necessary hardness and carbon content to strike sparks. 

For this particular purpose, a broken piece of steel tool, such as a bit of a file or a knife blade, can be used as the striker. A blacksmith can make the striker from old files, springs, key stock, and other materials. 

  • Picking up a flint

Almost any type of stone that’s harder than your steel striker will work. You’ll want to look for something with at least one edge that’s 90 degrees or sharper. To get the right natural flint stone for your fire-making needs, you’ll need a stone that is harder than iron or steel. 

Obviously, flint is ideal, but other common stones can also be used. Chert, agate, jasper, granite, and quartz are just a handful of the materials you may choose from. Some materials you may want to consider include thin, flat bits of stone or even a sharpened rock from the ground. It should fit well in your hand, and it doesn’t hurt if it fits in your tinder box either. 

To test stones, you must simply check whether it will spark when struck against your blade and if it works for tinder as well. If you have a knife or tomahawk with a blade made of iron or steel, you can perform this test yourself. 

  • Making a char cloth

A char cloth is a plant-based material that has been burned and blackened in order to capture sparks. It is usually required for flint and steel since catching such tiny sparks in anything else may be difficult. 

Cotton and linen were typical char cloth materials on the ancient American frontier, and they still perform well today. Just make sure you’re working with 100% cotton or other plant-based products.

You’ll need a tiny metal container that’s almost airtight to turn these random materials into char cloth. The hinge holes on a rectangular candy tin with a hinged cover will provide just enough air passage. You may also use a circular tin and a nail to poke a little hole in it. 

Fill your can with char cloth material and place it in the middle of a bonfire. After a few seconds, smoke should begin to billow out the container’s hole. The smoke may transform into a small jet of flame after a minute or two, and the smoke will generally disappear within five minutes.

With a stick, carefully push the hot metal container out of the fire and, if possible, plug the vent hole. Allow the can to cool to the touch before inspecting the contents.

Your char should be black and brittle, and it should have decreased by 10-15%. Give it a genuine test if it looks like this; check to see whether it can capture sparks. If you burn char cloth long enough in a low-oxygen atmosphere, it should catch sparks and light. To turn these embers into flame, all you have to do is add tinder and blow!

Using the right technique


You’d witness a bizarre show if you could observe flint and steel being used under magnification. By rubbing steel and stone together, a small particle of steel is shaved off and begins to shine a dazzling orange hue. The spark can be caught in your fire-scarred material, placed into dry tinder, and blown into flame in that split second or two of extreme heat.

It’s a lovely act, and with experience, you’ll be able to generate a hot spark with only one stroke. However, you must practice to get that degree of proficiency in a knuckle-busting learning curve. So, to avoid scraping off more flesh than steel, you need to try out these fundamental techniques.

Mastering the strike

  1. Wearing eye protection is a good idea for this exercise, to begin with. A tinder bundle of fine dry materials with a few pieces of char cloth material in the center is also required. Hold the striker with your non-dominant hand over and close to the tinder.
  2. To scrape off steel sparks, hit the flat stone down quickly across your steel while holding it at a 45-degree angle. The safest and most practical method is to move the stone down rather than up.

Any sparks that fly will be sent downward (into your waiting char cloth), and any stone chips that break off will be directed below as well (not up into your eyes). 

  1. Sparks should be aimed straight at the char if you’re holding your steel right over a tinder nest. The char cloth will begin to glow red when one of these fragile tiny sparks strikes it. Keep an eye out for this, and when you see it, put down your steel and stone.
  2. Fold the tinder bundle over to provide fuel for the burning ember, then gently blow through the tinder (like a whistle). If everything goes properly, the tinder will continue to smoke until it catches fire.
  3. When utilizing fabric for your char, you can wrap the char cloth around the flint’s edge, strike through the brittle cloth, and then insert the flaming char cloth into the tinder as an alternative.

Outsmarting your troubles

If this skill isn’t working as well as you expected, there are a few basic troubleshooting techniques you may attempt. Try these tricks if you’re having problems generating sparks.

  • To hold the striker, put on a thin leather glove. Fear of scratching your knuckles might prevent you from hitting as forcefully as you should.
  • Change the angle you’re holding the flint at.
  • Strike with the striker more forcefully. Use a lighter touch if that doesn’t work.
  • Make use of your wrist! Make a fast and swift hitting motion, as if you were banging on a door.
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