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Flint and Steel Fire - Using a Knife
by George Hedgepeth
I was reading an old issue (May 2000) of Tactical Knives, and John Larsen had an article about good old red handled Mora knives. He said that he had read about Mors Kochanski using a natural piece of flint rock to strike sparks from the spine of a Mora to light tinder fungus. He said (and John, I hope I am not misquoting you) that he tried this and it did not work. He also said that Stephen Dick also did not think this was a workable method.
Well, it works. But there are a few tricks to it, and some points to keep in mind.
First, the strike of the flint must be brisk - more energetic than with a dedicated fire steel. Also, the piece of flint must have a more obtuse edge angle than the blade-style flake typically used. Not blunt, but steep... somewhere from 30-75 degrees seems ideal.
One does not need a true flint to use this method either. Quartzite, jasper, agate, chert, and other glassy stones will also work. A stone that is relatively pure and tough seems to be the best choice.
Typically, a fire steel is hardened, but not tempered, and is made from plain high carbon steel. This gives a surface hardness of 62 Rockwell or greater. A piece of flint is harder than this, and will scrape off small shards of steel. The energy required for this separation heats the steel fragments to the point of them becoming sparks - like little meteors. If the steel is much softer than this, the flint blade tends to dig INTO the steel instead of skipping and scraping across the surface. This lowers the velocity of the flint, and keeps the steel fragments from reaching the temperature needed. A thin, sharp flint edge makes this more evident.
Not many plain carbon knives are hardened to 62 Rockwell - they would be too brittle for field use. However, all is not lost. A hardness of 57 Rc will produce sparks with some effort. 58 Rc is quite a bit easier, and a knife of 59 Rc is pretty easy to use as a flint striker.
Keep in mind this WILL ding up the spine of the knife. Also, it requires the knife to be used with the edge toward the user's hand. I like to practice this technique after I cover the edge with a couple of layers of duct tape.
I have found that, with proper technique and flint, several knives on the market work just fine. Those good old Moras do the trick. So do the Cold Steel Carbon V knives - once that nasty old epoxy coating is gone. The Becker knives I have tried have been good, and the best is the little BK-11 neck knife - it works nearly as good as a dedicated striker!
Things that haven't worked because of their heat treat are Opinels, Old Hickory butcher knives, Ontario machetes, Cold Steel shovels, ANY axe or hatchet I have tried, and most pocket knives. I have been told that the back spring of a pocketknife will work, but I have not yet tried this.
With the right knife and piece of flint, this can be a viable technique. It would not be my sole source of fire if I had any choice at all, but it DOES work.
Do you have your own tip to share?
Send an email to georgehedgepeth(at)hotmail(dot)com
Briar Patch Outdoors
219 Holmes Street
Durand MI 48429
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