Fire Steels


Directions from a class I took
  1. 6" of 516" garage door steel spring
  2. Sell for $10 ($15 for kit)
  3. Forge to square shape no more than ¼" wide
  4. Draw out ends to a long narrow point; then curl into "rat-tail" curl
  5. Using a bending fork work the curled ends atound to form a "C" shape; if the curls touch so much the better
  6. Bring up to critical heat (nonmagnetic) and quench in water just on the edge (NOT the handles)
  7. Striking edges must be smooth

Just remember the old "caveat emptor" slogan. I use things I learn in classes as a starting point. In order to decide what a product "might" end up looking like I view as many examples as possible. I cruise Google Images and Pinterest for ideas. In this case I decided I want a striker to have some form of a snake. Since I'm in Southern Arizona, I also want it to have a kokopelli-ish appearance. another class taught me to make snakes have an ovoid-shaped body so that'll become part of it. Selling price can vary from location, type of show/store, and anyone of a number of other factors. As you gain experience it'll become easier.


Styles of Strikers
assorted fire steels arrowhead steel bear claw steel boat steel, looks like ancient Egyptian-style
ancient Crusader's steel stand 'C' shaped steel Crusader's cross and shield steel feather shaped steel
horse head steel oval steel and flint Tho's hammer steel viking steel
tear drop tear drop with flint and char cloth fancy dancy Sea Serpent
collection of lanyard strikers lanyard striker flint and steel flint, steel, and box

Best Steels for Strikers
Wilderness Survival Forums

The best steel for the traditional F&S sets is 0-1 or 0-2. Heat to nonmagnetic (usually bright orange) and quench in motor oil or transmission fluid. Do not attempt to stress relieve. Files were once made from 0-1, so you can just break off a section of a file from Black Diamond, Nicolson or Sterrit, grind down on of the narrow edges smooth on a grinder without getting it hot and it will throw good sparks. If you want to forge them fancy just heat them up and do what you want, then heat to nonmagnetic and quench in oil. Old hay rake tines, the long sweeping tines, were also made from 0-1. They make excellent fancy forged steels.

I use old files from used tool stores or fleamarkets/yard sales to make mine - throws great sparks! After looking at the picture, I notice you are using it with a ferro rod. Just make sure it has a good square edge to scrape with and the ferro rod will spark well. I just use the spine of my knife blade on my ferro rods, but My fire steels that I make from old files works great with true flint rock !

W1 or W2 is usually what they use in old files. That ought to work pretty good. Very high carbon.

I've go a mini classic C shaped fire steel I made several years ago from a 1/4 inch square file and it sparks so well when struck with flint the sparks will glow until they hit the floor then dance a little way across the floor before they go out. I've won a few fire contest with it, I can usually get my charcloth going after one strike.

Strikers won't work unless there's have a fair amount of carbon in the steel. Some people make them out of old dump rake teeth or coil springs, including garage door springs. I'd say that the lower the alloy (other than carbon), the better the striker will work. My guess is that you need at least about 6/10th of one percent carbon to be effective. For a "plain carbon steel" that would be 1060. Coil or leaf springs might be made from 5160. You get the idea: the "60" means 0.6% carbon. Personally, I use brand new W1 (1095, which has almost 1 percent carbon ---.95%--) steel that I buy in 3 foot sticks that are 3/16" X 1/4" rectangles from MSC. That way I know for sure what material I have and how to harden it. By the way, it's not enough to make your striker from high carbon steel: You must harden the striker after you shape it if you want it to make sparks when struck properly against a flint. This hardening process makes the striker VERY brittle. Some people draw (temper) the striker to a light straw to get rid of some of the brittleness so they are less likely to break if they fall onto a concrete floor. It is also a good idea to normalize the striker after forging it, by heating it up to a medium red heat and then allowing it to sit at the edge of the fire, cooling SLOWLY for several minutes before hardening it. I'd say this is especialy true if you are using mystery steel. I harden by taking the part to a couple of hundred degrees beyond non-magnetic and quench in water, but I quench only the working edge, so as to leave the "arms" softer so the striker is less likely to break if dropped. I don't temper mine at all. Make sure you swish that part around in the quench water or it won't harden well. If you have any problems getting your newly-made strikers to make sparks, click on the "Decarb Issues---" link at the top of the page.

Flint

Flint is a hard, tough chemical or biochemical sedimentary rock that breaks with a conchoidal fracture. It is a form of microcrystalline quartz that is typically called "chert" by geologists. It often forms as nodules in sedimentary rocks such as chalk and marine limestones. The nodules can be dispersed randomly throughout the rock unit but are often concentrated in distinct layers. Some rock units form through the accumulation of siliceous skeletal material. These can recrystallize to form a layer of bedded flint. Flint is highly resistant to weathering and is often found as pebbles or cobbles along streams and beaches.


Char Cloth

Char cloth (also called charpaper) is a swatch of fabric made from vegetable fiber (such as linen, cotton or jute) that has been converted via pyrolysis into a slow-burning fuel of very low ignition temperature. It can be ignited by a single spark that can in turn be used to ignite a tinder bundle to start a fire.


Making char cloth is quick, easy and yields a valuable item for your fire starting kit. Let's look at the process. Find a metal container you can seal up. The ever useful Altoids tin fits this need very well. Punch a small diameter hole in the lid, this is where the gases will escape from. The hole doesn't have to be very big./p>

Next take a pieces of cloth that are 100% cotton such as an old t-shirt and cut it into pieces that will fit in the tin. You can put six to eight pieces in so as not to pack it too tightly. The entire process is quick so you can easily make a large supply. Close up the tin and place over a flame source. A grill's warmer burner works well.

Once over the flame it won't take long to heat up. Smoke (gases) can be seen escaping from the hole. Don't be alarmed if flame occasionally spurts up thru the hole. Continue "cooking" the tin over the fire until the smoke no longer can be seen coming from the hole. Usually this will only take four to five minutes for this size tin. Once the smoke is no longer visible you can carefully remove the tin from the heat and allow it to cool completely. After cooling sufficiently enough to handle (the tin will be covered in soot), open the lid and carefully remove the pieces of char cloth. I store mine in a ZipLock™ bag ( I use the little pill ZipLock™ bags you can find at any drug store) and place them with the other pieces of my fire starting kit. (Good idea to have one of these in your bug out bag) A tinder kit (an Altoid tin of course) has several pieces of char cloth folded in a zip lock, cotton balls rubbed in petroleum jelly, and plain cotton balls.


The False Tinder Fungus is the stripy one on the left,
and there's a small one underneath it, and some more
small ones to the rear. The Tinder Funguses are the
red-brown chunks with black on one side.
Tinder Fungus
Wildwood Survival

Tinder Fungus is a type of fungus that holds a coal very well for a long period of time, and ignites easily. Actually, there are two types: "True" Tinder Fungus and False Tinder Fungus.

"True" Tinder Fungus (often called simply "Tinder Fungus" or Chaga - Inonotus obliquus) grows on live birch trees and looks like a blotch of blackened wood. It is rather hard. It resembles black bark that has peeled away slightly from the tree and thickened. The part that you use is inside the blackened outer layer, the red-brown material. It crumbles readily, so you can use it as part of tinder when making fire (or in a fire piston), or keep it in a whole piece for carrying a coal.

Leaving stuff out like this is also a good reminder of primitive skills, Nature, the Earth, and the like. ...You come home from work, all stressed out from working in an office or on a machine all day, walk in, throw something together for supper, sit down to eat, and see the bowl of Tinder Fungus (or whatever). "Oh yeah, that's what's real, that's what it's all about".


Cotton Balls
cotton ball dryer lint

Another char cloth substitute is cotton balls. Soaking them in vaseline (100% petroleum jelly) will make a relatively weather-proof starter because the petroleum jelly is flammable. Dryer lint can also be used instead of cotton balls. In order to coat each of these with vaseline you need to melt the vaseline and soak the cotton balls or lint in the liquid petroleum jelly, then store them in a mini-ZipLock&trade' bag. Caution: petroleum jelly is extremely flammable so be very cautious in melting the petroleum jelly.


Losing Carbon
French Creek Valley

Sometimes the striker just don't spark! One of the reasons can be that the steel has lost some of it's carbon. High carbon steels seem to work best at sparking. Below are some of the possible reasons, particularly pertinent to demonstrators.



Putting it all together
flint steel kit

Many people sell their steels in a kit with a piece of char cloth, piece of flint, and a small metal box for making more char cloth (and very important - holding everything together). I'm particularly fond of the leather belt holder that holds the metal box and all of its contents. The only trouble is that selling locally at shows I would have to make the cost so prohibitive that nobody would buy one.



Snake Striker Ideas

These are some ideas for flint strikers shaped like a snake. I want to come up with a kokopelish snake. I plan to make it out of old round files (from Kent's no doubt) with the mouth pointed away from the hand so that the sparks will appear to be coming out of the snake's mouth. The file texture should give an appearance of scales even after I flatten it somewhat into an ovoid shape.




Best Steels

The best steel for the traditional F&S sets is 0-1 or 0-2. Heat to nonmagnetic (usually bright orange) and quench in motor oil or transmission fluid. Do not attempt to stress relieve. Files were once made from 0-1, so you can just break off a section of a file from Black Diamond, Nicolson or Sterrit, grind down on of the narrow edges smooth on a grinder without getting it hot and it will throw good sparks. If you want to forge them fancy just heat them up and do what you want, then heat to nonmagnetic and quench in oil. Old hay rake tines, the long sweeping tines, were also made from 0-1. They make excellent fancy forged steels.

I use old files from fleamarkets to make mine - throws great sparks! After looking at the picture, I notice you are using it with a ferro rod. Just make sure it has a good square edge to scrape with and the ferro rod will spark well. I just use the spine of my knife blade on my ferro rods, but My fire steels that I make from old files works great with true flint rock !

W1 or W2 is usually what they use in old files. That ought to work pretty good. Very high carbon.

I've go a mini classic C shaped fire steel I made several years ago from a 1/4 inch square file and it sparks so well when struck with flint the sparks will glow until they hit the floor then dance a little way across the floor before they go out. I've won a few fire contest with it, I can usually get my charcloth going after one strike.

Strikers won't work unless there's have a fair amount of carbon in the steel. Some people make them out of old dump rake teeth or coil springs, including garage door springs. I'd say that the lower the alloy (other than carbon), the better the striker will work. My guess is that you need at least about 6/10th of one percent carbon to be effective. For a "plain carbon steel" that would be 1060. Coil or leaf springs might be made from 5160. You get the idea: the "60" means 0.6% carbon. Personally, I use brand new W1 (1095, which has almost 1 percent carbon ---.95%--) steel that I buy in 3 foot sticks that are 3/16" X 1/4" rectangles from MSC. That way I know for sure what material I have and how to harden it.

By the way, it's not enough to make your striker from high carbon steel: You must harden the striker after you shape it if you want it to make sparks when struck properly against a flint. This hardening process makes the striker VERY brittle. Some people draw (temper) the striker to a light straw to get rid of some of the brittleness so they are less likely to break if they fall onto a concrete floor.

It is also a good idea to normalize the striker after forging it, by heating it up to a medium red heat and then allowing it to sit at the edge of the fire, cooling SLOWLY for several minutes before hardening it. I'd say this is especialy true if you are using mystery steel.

I harden by taking the part to a couple of hundred degrees beyond non-magnetic and quench in water, but I quench only the working edge, so as to leave the "arms" softer so the striker is less likely to break if dropped. I don't temper mine at all. Make sure you swish that part around in the quench water or it won't harden well.

If you have any problems getting your newly-made strikers to make sparks, click on the "Decarb Issues---" link at the top of the page.

Losing Carbon

Sometimes the metal won't spark because it has lost some of it's carbon. These are some possible reasons.



Fire Piston

A fire piston, sometimes called a fire syringe or a slam rod fire starter, is a device of ancient origin which is used to kindle fire. It uses the principle of the heating of a gas (in this case air) by rapid and adiabatic compression to ignite a piece of tinder, which is then used to set light to kindling.

A fire piston consists of a hollow cylinder ranging in length from about 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 cm), having a bore about 0.25 inch (6-7mm) in diameter, sealed at one end and open at the other. A piston with an airtight circular seal is fitted into the cylinder. The piston has a handle on the end to allow a firm grip to be applied to it, or a large enough surface area to strike it sharply without causing pain while the cylinder is braced against a hard surface, and it can be completely withdrawn from the cylinder. The piston generally has a notch or recess on or in its face, into which a piece of tinder is placed.

The compression of the air when the piston is quickly rammed into the cylinder causes the interior temperature to rise sharply to 500 °F (260 °C). This is hot enough for the tinder on or in the piston face to ignite with a visible flash that can be seen if the cylinder is made of translucent or transparent material. The piston is then quickly withdrawn, before the now-burning tinder depletes the available oxygen inside the cylinder. The smouldering tinder can then be removed from the face of the piston and transferred to a larger nest of fine tinder material. The ember is then fanned or blown upon vigorously to create a flame, at which time various stages of larger kindling can be added until built into a proper fire.




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