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How to Start a Fire with Flint and Steel (or not)

Posted by on December 5, 2012
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Bob Ward

Fiction author with a zest for adventure travel. Blogs, tweets, videos, and pins for research and fun. He also hosts Ward's Adventure Travel Research & Trip Journal, a weekly podcast available on EFN, iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and more.

I’m sorry to have to do this to my good friend, who shall remain nameless, for the protection of his vanity. I’ll leave comments open on this post in case he wants to comment or insult me or point out my errors.

But here are the facts:

He has this notion that you should keep a tinderbox full of combustibles in a small pill container and carry it on you at all times, along with a fancy orange flint and steel striker, which he bought somewhere and takes great pride in.

I saw him hunched over a pile of brush the other day, trying to prove he could start a fire the way the original cavemen did just after the dinosaurs went extinct 60 million years ago (exact years don’t matter here).

Here’s the striker he had:

Ultimate Survival Technologies StrikeForce Fire Starter ($24.95)

Once I saw what he was trying to do, I went over to join him in trying.

The StrikeForce produced a surprisingly large quantity of sparks, so on that count it performed flawlessly. Better than I would have expected, actually. Like a sparkler, shooting a massive amount of sparks at his pile of tinder with each manly rake of the steel over the flint.

No complaints with the tool.

The problem was the tinder. He had lint, chopstick bits, and waxed paper. The lint apparently started immediately on the first bonfire, although I wasn’t around to witness. By the time I arrived, he was out of lint and no matter how much he tried, the tinder wouldn’t light. We tried all sorts of tricks. Crushed leaves, dry pine needles, even oil and gas-soaked paper. Nothing worked. He finally went in to check the drier for more lint, but alas, the filter had been recently cleaned.

I tried myself to light various tinder-like materials, but to no avail.

Finally, I said, “Why do you carry this tinder box? It’s only one step more advanced than the original stick and bowstring method? You’ll freeze to death as soon as you run out of lint. Carry a butane lighter and be done with it.”

Here’s what I carry:

Brunton Storm Windproof Butane Lighter

Note: Butane lighters, just like butane camp stoves, have reliability issues at high altitude. It’s common knowledge among mountaineers that white gas stoves are preferred to butane at altitude for this reason. The butane is more convenient, certainly, but if you’re in the mountains, another solution may be more appropriate for survival situations.

Still, flint and steel are worthless without proper tinder, and since getting that may be the ultimate problem, a lighter (or matches) is a much wiser choice for survival.

As Boy Scouts, we used to mix sawdust and wax into waxed-paper Dixie cups to make a very effective fire starter. But we still needed a flame to put on that.

To earn the survival merit badge, we had to start a fire with 1 match, and then use the “high-tech-urban-survivalist” battery and steel wool method.

Watch this and tell me you wouldn’t rather carry a 9 V battery and some steel wool in your waterproof tinder box.


Casting sparks on dry grass:

(Easy method, but the dry grass may not be readily available)



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3 Responses to How to Start a Fire with Flint and Steel (or not)

  1. Fred Offat

    I really enjoyed your “Lost Episode”. I am glad you are restarting another hiking adventure although a Travis McGee book reading club would be interesting to participate in.
    by the way, my vote is “NO women allowed”.
    Fredie O

    • Bob Ward

      How’d you find it? I thought it was locked down tighter than Fort Knox! I’m actually laughing right now at how easy it must have been to find! Probably a direct link to the mp3 from Google. Tell me, I’m dying here! Glad you liked it, by the way.

  2. Fred Offat

    s;lkglskgsdkfg';sdkg/ ,my cat makes a comment.

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