flint and steel

This article was kindly submitted by James Walton who is the author of Come Unity; Community and the host of the I AM Liberty Show. In his article, James talks about Catching A Spark from Flint And Steel and Fire Building Basics.

Catching A Spark from Flint And Steel

Fire Building Basics

Fire is a process and it’s one that benefits from as much preparation as you put into it. Now, like all things, building fire can be broken down into any numbers of steps and processes. The more you know about each the better you can be prepared to have success the next time you sit down around the fire pit. Using a flint and steel can also be broken down into its various parts and pieces.

Let’s have a look at weaving your way from raw resources to a spark and then to the fire itself. You will be surprised at just how much prep you can put into the process of building a fire. While you will not always be fighting poor weather conditions, it can be beneficial to build a fire as if you are. That way you are well prepared when the struggle comes.


Start your fire hours before you actually start your fire. You can do this by collecting all sorts of tinder materials throughout the day. The best part about collecting tinder throughout your day is that you will amass quite a collection and you will also thoroughly dry that material in your pocket or bag that you carry it in.

Tinder is often combined to create something like a bird’s nest. Into this collection of tinder, a spark or an ember can be placed. With a little encouragement, you will have a short-lived flame that can start your whole fire.

Tinder comes from many sources and most of them are natural. However, one of my favorite sources is from the dryer. Yes. Dryer lint is some of the best tinder around. All we do is collect it and throw it away.

Here is a list of natural tinder materials:

  • Dry Leaves
  • Dry Grasses
  • Dandelion Head or Clock
  • Shaved Tree Bark
  • Birch Bark
  • Poplar Cotton
  • Tinder Fungus
  • Fatwood
  • Dry Pine Needles
  • Cattail Leaves
  • Cattail Fluff

Fire Lay

The fire lay is another important piece of the puzzle when it comes to building fire. Imagine building a fire directly on the moist and cold ground. How do you think that would work in terms of ease of fire? That is your goal, always. You want easy fire. Easy fire in the best conditions means you can make a fire in most situations.

Build a collection of sticks or split wood that is arranged 3-4 per layer parallel and the next set turned 90 degrees to the first stack. This can be made several levels high. It will rise your fire off the cold or wet ground and it will also provide a tremendous amount of oxygen flow to the fire from beneath. The fire lay is a very beneficial part of any fire building process.

Feather Sticks

A simple exercise in the carving of wood, or the testing of your knife blade, you can look at making feather sticks as both. Your goal is to find a collection of sticks or split wood about the thickness of a number two pencil. A little thicker won’t be a problem.

Using your knife, you are going to shave the outside of that stick until there is no more bark. Then you are going to start to try and shave fine curls into that stick. A completed feather stick should look like a larger stick at the top with a bottom that is full of smaller wood curls. These curls are going to light on fire in a hurry and create a quick blaze in most conditions.


No fire can reach maturity without quality, dry, kindling of the right size. You need to have a collection of sticks that are about the thickness of pencils at your side before the fire is started. The kindling will create a base of heat and fuel that allows your fire to burn larger fuel.

This kindling should be added, with airflow in mind, at the onset of your spark turning to flame. Let the kindling burn until you have a flame that is burning higher than the kindling itself. At this point, you should be able to add some of your smallest pieces of wood fuel.

While most people don’t think of it, kindling is probably where most fires die. People often smother fires with kindling or they don’t give the kindling enough time to burn before adding bigger fuel. Fast fire does not mean a race. It means efficiency in the process. Watch your fire and learn from it. It will tell you when its starved of oxygen and it will tell you when its ready for more fuel.

Flint and Steel Basics

The minimalist approach of using a flint and steel is very effective and it is also ancient. When you talk about lighting fire Europeans have been using steel to spark for 400 years! As soon as they realized they could use metal to start a fire, they tossed those bow drills into the fire. Metal is a far superior answer to fire making.

That said, you should spend more time concerning yourself with minimalist metal approaches like flint and steel as opposed to making fire with sticks and friction.

A full flint and steel setup is a stack system that practically assures you are going to catch a spark. What you do with that spark is what the above conversation was all about. However, if you are confident in managing that spark the full flint and steel setup is kind of flawless. A lot of it has to do with that 400 years of experience and innovation.

The whole process acts as a kind of stack and strike. Your flint will be stacked over your charcloth. Place that in your right hand and get a firm grip between your thumb and index finger. You want a good chunk of both sticking out. You want your stack angled up a bit to sheer off that steel as it strikes.

Placing the steel in your right hand you will strike in a downward motion. Play with the angle as you strike to get a spark. Suddenly your charcloth with catch a spark and that single ember will be your gateway to a fire. Follow the steps above and you will start a fire from a simple flint and steel. It’s a good feeling as it should be.

About The Author

James is the author of Come Unity; Community and the host of the I AM Liberty Show. He is also a freelance writer writing for survival and outdoor publications and blogs.

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One thought on “Catching A Spark from Flint And Steel – Fire Building Basics”

  1. I learned to do this as a scout over 50 years ago. My preference for catching the initial spark was to have a good piece of gray flint, some very fine steel wool and a short piece of an old file. I never found anything better than an old carbon steel file to create the sparks.

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