Camping Survival

How to Start a Fire With Flint and Steel

Guide to Starting a Fire With Flint and Steel

There’s nothing easier than starting a fire with matches or lighters, but the sense of achievement you can experience from making a fire in a more primal and traditional way is really something that every adventurer-at-heart needs to feel. Using flint and steel is one of the oldest and best ways of starting a fire, and it isn’t actually as hard as you might think, once you know the right technique.

Here, we’ll give you the information you need to do it yourself. Let’s first look at the individual elements you’ll need, and then move on to talk about how exactly you use these items to start your own fire.


What Do You Need to Start a Fire With Flint and Steel?

First off, let’s talk about one of the most important parts of any flint-based fire-starting kit: the flint itself. There are quite a few myths and misconceptions about flint, and we’ll be hoping to bust a few of those here today. First of all, it’s important to note that flint is actually a general term given to several different types of rock, rather than referring to one specific variety. Another misconception that some people have is the idea that flint is used in lighters, but that little rock you are seeing is actually a man-made compound called ferrocerium, rather than actually being true, natural flint.

The sort of flint you’ll want to find to start your fire needs to be a specific shape. It can come in different colors and hardness levels, but it needs to have a sharp edge as this is what helps to generate the spark. You can create these sharp edges yourself by using certain tools or other bits of rock. This process is known as “dressing” the flint.

Flint can be found all around areas where there are large deposits are sedimentary rocks like limestones or chalks. The flint you find in your local area might be different to the flint in another part of the country, but they can both be just as effective as each other if used in the right way.

Now let’s talk about the steel. The best type of steel for starting a fire needs a high carbon rating. Tool steels are especially useful for this purpose, and you can quench them in oil to provide them with additional hardness. It’s important to remember that it is the steel, not the flint, which actually burns to cause the spark.

This happens because of the huge amount of pressure being applied to the steel from the flint causes a little piece of the metal to shed off and burn. The right type of steel is able to be used for countless fires and shouldn’t wear out quickly. You should try and find a piece that fits snugly in your hands, rather than one that is awkward to hold. Many people use steels in the shape of a closed letter C, but U-shapes are also popular.


After the flint and the steel, you’ll also need some char cloth. It’s no good making sparks if they’ve got nothing to land on. Char cloth is the ideal material for this. As its name suggests, char cloth is simply a piece of cloth that has been lightly charred. To do this, simply place the cloth into a tin, providing a small gap in the top of the tin for the smoke to get out. You can then place the tin over a fire and leave it for 15-30 minutes. Remember not to open the tin immediately afterwards. Instead, leave the cloth to rest for several hours, otherwise it will burn completely.

Our final ingredient is, of course, the tinder. This is the fuel to start your fire. There are countless examples of good quality tinder material out there: grass, lint, paper, and more. The definition of tinder is simply something that will burn when coming into contact with a spark. Depending on where you find yourself, it can be relatively hard to find the right sort of tinder. You might therefore want to try investing in some oakum. This is an extremely cheap and practical form of tinder made from jute fibers. It will easily catch fire and should make the overall process of starting a fire quite quick and easy.

The Process of Turning Flint and Steel into Fire

Well, we’ve gone over the tools of the trade, now let’s talk about how you need to use them. The whole process of starting a flint and steel fire can seem quite intimidating to many people, but it really isn’t all that hard. The first step is to get everything ready. When you manage to strike a successful flame, you won’t want to be wasting time moving kindling around and preparing your fire bed, so get all of those things ready before making your first attempt.

It’s important to set up your fire bed with good quality kindling, and be sure to check that any wood you use is sufficiently dry to catch fire. Damp materials aren’t welcome when you want to have a strong blaze.

flint-and-steelWhen you’re ready, place the char cloth on the top of the flint. Remember that you want to slice off a tiny piece of burning steel onto the cloth, so try to position it in such a way that this is possible. You’ll then be able to begin striking the flint against the steel. Try coming at the steel from a 30° angle. You should be able to see when a spark has successfully landed on the cloth as it will start to glow.

This glowing can be hard to see, especially in direct light, so try to find a shady area if possible. Once you see the glow, start to blow gently on the cloth. If the glow fades away, start again. If you see the glow begin to grow, you’re doing the right thing.

When that glow starts to appear, fold the cloth gently over onto the glowing area and continue to blow gently. If the wind is strong in the area, that should help the spark to spread even faster. This is what makes flint and steel fires superior to match-based ones; they’re much easier to start on windy days. Once the cloth is glowing nicely, place it down and cover it gently with your nest of tinder. Don’t smother it though, as you still need some oxygen to get through to the spark.

As you keep blowing, little bits of smoke should soon appear and then the fire will be ready to get going. Of course, this technique might require a bit of practice, but if you keep at it then you should be able to consistently start fires with flint and steel, and that’s a very useful skill for anyone to have.

About the author

Mike Paris

Mike is the editor of NWT Outfitters and as you may expect, an avid outdoorsman... When Mike isn't logged into the NWT backend, he's camping, climbing, hunting, fishing, or doing some combination of the four.

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