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Old December 3, 2006, 10:18 AM   #1
VaughnT
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Flint and Steel: addendum.

I was very surprised to see an article on F/S firemaking in SWAT. Totally happy with a bit of primitive technology making the mainstream, so to speak.

I mean no disrespect to the author, but I would like to add a few things that I feel needed to be mentioned.

1: You cannot strike a spark using the back of a knife. I know it's in all of the old books and the boy scouts teach it. That doesn't mean that it works.
Also note that 90% of those illustrations show the shower of sparks falling down onto a nest of tinder. This doesn't work, either. The sparks will be flipped up into the air, onto the topside of the flint where you're pinching the charcloth. This is simple physics.

2: A steel works because is it a high-carbon steel that has been hardened but not tempered. Knives, axes, and chisels have all been hardened, but are subsequently tempered to soften them up a bit to prevent cracks and spalling when used. I have not found any way to make a tempered steel throw a spark.

3: You really need to use a U-shaped or C-shaped steel to give as much protection to the fingers as possible. It takes some muscle to get a spark while holding that iron and even the littlest slip can see you running up on that sharp stone edge. The idea is to hit the stone with the steel, not the fingers holding the steel. I found out that bloody charcloth does NOT take a spark like dry charcloth! It didn't take me long to figure this out, but it did hurt!!

Making your own steel isn't difficult if you have access to a hot fire and some carbon steel. All you really need to do is take an old screwdriver shaft, something about 12" long and 1/4" in diameter and heat it in the fire. When red hot in the middle, bend it into a U. Place it back in the fire so the whole thing gets evenly red and quickly dunk it into a gallon of oil. Vegetable oil works as well as used motor oil.

You want a thick quenching medium, not thin like water. If you quench redhot steel in water, there is a very good chance it will crack rather explosively. Viscosity is your friend.

Once you have a U shaped, you can trim the legs to length by grinding them around the circumference and then snapping the excess off. I like my steels to be about three inches long.

Oh, a proper forge and anvil makes the job easier, but blacksmithing is a very addictive pastime.
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Old December 6, 2006, 04:35 AM   #2
Red Grant
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VaughnT
I was very surprised to see an article on F/S firemaking in SWAT.

Me, too, I thought that article was a filler, definitely appropriate for Field & Stream, or Outdoors Life, but in SWAT?
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Old December 6, 2006, 10:42 AM   #3
Denny Hansen
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No filler at all. Against All Odds is geared towards helping folks survive real SHTF scenarios.

Denny
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Old December 6, 2006, 09:21 PM   #4
VaughnT
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It was definitely a good article, Denny. I didn't mean to imply otherwise, just thought to share some of what I've learned from doing.

I've probably made about a hundred steels in the forge, and bloodied countless knuckles making fires.

The biggest thing to remember, and I think this was mentioned in the article, is to try it before you rely on it. You would be surprised how hard it is to get a spark when things have done gone sideways on you. And don't even get me started on bow-drill method!

I'm looking forward to more primitive technology articles in the future.
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Old January 2, 2007, 11:04 AM   #5
Jeff Randall
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Been a while since I've been over here. Being the author and a practicioner of flint and steel, I disagree that knives will not make good strikers. I did a lot of research on this before I wrote the article and there are a lot of makers making good carbon steel knives that have enough hardness to produce sparks as good as a C-steel. In fact there are makers making knives specifically for this purpose - research Dan Winkler's knives from NC, or the Laser Srtike knife that TOPS built for us many moons ago. I will agree that most factory knives don't work as steels, but to say all knives won't work is absolutley not true.

Also, if its taking muscle for you to get a spark with flint and steel, make sure you break your flint to expose a sharp edge and play with the angle you're striking. Flint and steel takes very little work to produce sparks good enough to catch in char, true tinder fungus or fine steel wool.

Jeff
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Old January 2, 2007, 08:22 PM   #6
UniversalFrost
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Waterproof matches anyone?

Seriously, good read. I usually carry a magnesium firestarter stick or the waterproof matches. Both have worked for me in the past, but I learned similiar concepts that were shown in the mag while in the boyscouts many years ago.

Good article.
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Old January 4, 2007, 10:40 PM   #7
VaughnT
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Mr. Randall, it wasn't my intention to imply your article was wrong. I was simply pointing out some things that I have found over the years.

I'm quite sure that there are some knives that possess the requisite hardness to strike a spark. I am not personally familiar with these blades, but I feel safe in saying that they are not in common usage. On the whole, a good knife is annealed to normalize the steel after the stresses of forging; then it is hardened by reheating it and quenching it in some medium. At this point, the steel is very hard but too brittle for most uses. To make the blade soft enough to not chip/crack/break, it is tempered. This softens the steel and takes away from its ability to cast a spark. This is my experience from forging blades and flint-strikers. I have experimented and found that the majority of knives in common usage are just not reliable when it comes to striking stone in the hopes of gaining fire. Maybe things have changed in the ensuing years....

Winkler's knives are glorious, but I doubt that I could ever strike one against a rock. Seems wrong on soooo many levels considering the works of art that they are.

And while we're talking about primitive fire-making, here's my bowdrill cheater. It's the the rear lower legbone of a whitetail deer that has been squared up by rubbing it on a big rock in the river. The square cross section grips the string of the bow and doesn't round off or slip like you see happen with a standard wood drill. It also allows one to use a very short working bit, maximizing the length of use.

The proximal and distal ends are reinforced with rawhide and hide glue, and there's a permanent harwood tip to match the bearing block.

They're not hard to make and they work like a charm.



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Old January 5, 2007, 07:58 AM   #8
Jeff Randall
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VaughnT:

I agree with everything you said. Most factory knives do not have the hardness needed to produce a spark with true flint (not Ferrocerium). And I guess that's what most folks carry so it may even be accurate to rule out knives as flint strikers as you implied in your original post. With that said, I have run into more than a few knives that would do it without a problem. Of course I have to scuff up the spine to test it so I have quite a few new knives laying around with ugly spines

BTW: nice friction set you have there. Fire making, especially primitive, is a passion of mine. I use to play around with a hand drill a lot but haven't done it in a while so I would have to "wear" my hands back into it.

Anyway, I didn't mean to sound rude in my previous post, I was just trying to make the point that there are knives that will function as steels. Back when my good friend and knife maker Rob Simonich was alive, he and I played around with a few designs specifically for this purpose.

Best regards,

Jeff
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Old January 6, 2007, 02:43 PM   #9
VaughnT
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Mr.Randall, I didn't see you as coming across as rude and truly appreciate your feedback.

Hand drill?! Oh, how I hate that contraption. It's fascinating to see someone do it, but I'm fairly sure there's an element of magic involved. I've ruined my hands and never once been successful with it.....gotta be some mojo flowin'!

My best drill bit, the one I just can't not get a fire using, is Yucca flower shaft. It has to dry on the plant which is weird, but it makes a great drill.

Have you found a particular make of knife to be consistently hard enough to throw sparks? Camillus, for example, or Kershaw?
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Old January 8, 2007, 08:04 AM   #10
Jeff Randall
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A good friend of mine, Darryl Patton, (who is probably as close to an expert on the hand drill that I have ever seen) taught me the technique. Even though it's hell on your hands when you first start out, once you get past the blisters and get good material it's super fast to get a coal. For me it takes a long drill so I don't have to start over at the top with my hands too often. It also takes a fair amount of downward pressure. Funny you mention Yucca. I picked a few pices of the flower stalk going through Arizona one time. Let it dry in my house for a year and I've still not been able to get a coal with a hand drill from it. It seems to get real waxy/soapy when using is on a Paw Paw fire board. Maybe you've answered my question since I didn't let it dry on the plant.

As far as knives go, I haven't found any one maker that the knives consistantly work. The first one I ran across was from Newt Livesay. I also found my Camillus/ Becker Brute works pretty good also. The reason I started researching this is the editor of Tactical Knives magazine asked me to write a story on whether or not the techniques taught in a lot of survival guides actually work when it comes to striking a spak with your knife. As with you, I found that most knives do not work and I found no hatchets or axe heads that will work (not saying there's not one out there that will.)

Anyway, it's good to hear from another practicioner of primitve fire making. As you said, it's almost like magic when you get a fire going with nothing but what's found in the woods.

Oh, btw, my friends call me Jeff, not Mr. Randall.

Jeff
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Old January 19, 2007, 07:29 PM   #11
VaughnT
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I don't know why yucca is like that, but it is. The stuff absolutely will not dry if you cut it green. I even tried to cook it dry!

If you ever get the chance, try the root from your hearthboard favorite. The root seems more porous than limb or trunk wood (maybe they are capilaries to store food?) and works at least 50% better, in my experience. Cottonwood root is an awesome hearth, but it's mighty hard to come by. I cheat, though, and make sure to carry some whenever I think I might want to make a primitive fire.
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