Primitive Friction Fire Making – How to make fire by friction by rubbing sticks together and by flint and steel.
If you want to master the skill of firelighting, get hands-on help from an expert: Five Senses in Orkney, Scotland.
I was teaching a session this week – how to make fire kits and light fires using friction and the bow drill – when the comment was again made that none of the videos on the internet, none of the books or websites are capable of conveying enough about how to actually do it – reliably, on your own, in realistic weather conditions (ie wet and windy).
The objective, a survival fire on the beach:
Here in the north of Scotland, we are teaching advanced fire making skills to beginners – in a climate that is challenging – wet, windy, high humidity and without trees. We have to really know what we are doing and really understand what is happening at our fingertips to make it happen.
If you want to learn – read the articles in this blog – but if you want to be able to do it straight away, this is not for you. Go buy a box of matches instead because fire making and fire control is a process, it takes time, attention and thought – plus hands-on skills. If you want it bad enough this blog will reveal how to do it – how to make fire – how to make your own fire kits – why things are done – what is happening – and why we use all our senses.
When Promethius “stole” fire making from the gods, humans made a huge leap forward and have evolved into who we are now and with the environmental problems we have created. Big stuff.
Read on – ask questions – and by the end of the day – make fire!
Flint and Steel Fire Making – this is another friction method, the sharp edge of a flint or knife being used to shave of a splinter of very hot iron, which burns in oxygen as a brief spark. The very localised and extreme friction at the point of impact causes the iron to become very hot.
This short lived spark needs to land onto dry and receptive material, such as very fine plant fibres before the heat is lost. The heat it imparts to the tinder material must be sufficient to overcome water moisture, then heat up the material to a smoulder.
Thus, the main challenges of fire lighting using flint and steel revolve around getting the spark to land onto the prepared fibres – and for this to impart sufficient energy to overcome heat loss through evaporation and convection (wind).
The colour of the iron spark as it burns indicates the temperature. Orange is cooler than yellow – and white hot is associated with higher tech modern “steels” that are not steel but magnesium based. Steel is of course iron high in carbon.
Primitive forms of iron, prior to the extraction of the metal from its ore include iron pyrites (fools gold). Pyromaniacs will have to search hard for suitable ore to use and even then the sparks generated are a dull orange, lacking in heat. Life got a lot easier when iron was created from ores – lovely, reliable, yellow sparks – but still the issue of catching sparks on suitable tinder materials remain.
The prevailance of high tech magnesium “steels” has again caused fire makers in the outdoors to become lazy and to neglect their tinder. Air tight tinder boxes were used for a very good reason – to keep precious tinder that had been previously prepared and dried, safe and ready for use: dry. (By dry I mean away from atmospheric moisture, just as you keep foods from going soggy by storing in jars and tins.
Tinders are the most important part of fire making – learn to find and make tinders from whatever materials are available – store them and nurture any smouldering ember within them, by regulating oxygen and density of material, size and insulation.
Other of my blog posts have lists of suggested tinders but my favourites include locally available (seasonally) bog cotton and thistle. They make great insulation and if you have lots, can be a substitute for down.