Author Topic: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit  (Read 572 times)

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Offline buzzacott

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Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« on: September 23, 2017, 12:52:49 AM »
I originally posted this on my blog https://thejungleisneutral.wordpress.com/2017/08/29/make-your-own-archival-gear-pocket-strike-a-light-outfit/, but it fits so I'll post here too...


Back in the olden days, when matches were scarce in the outlying areas, many bushmen went back to their ancestral roots and used flint and steel instead. I?m not talking about the spark-showering ferrocerium rods sold today as ?firesteels?, ferrocerium wasn?t even invented until the early 20th Century. No, what I?m talking about is a lump of steel (high carbon is best) struck against a lump of rock (flint or quartz, etc.) with the resulting spark caught by some form of tinder (charred cloth or dried fungus) and then coaxed into a flame with the addition of some bullswool (such as a bundle of dry grass or shredded stringybark). That?s a crash course in the use of the traditional flint and steel. The good news is that the use of a traditional flint and steel becomes much easier with practice.

Rather than waste precious matches on lighting their tobacco pipe, some old-timers carried a French style pocket strike-a-light kit. These were a small flint and steel outfit which used a slow match to catch the spark. Once the end of the slow match was a glowing ember, it was used to light the pipe tobacco directly and the cord was then pulled into a tube and automatically capped with a metal ball on a chain. This sealed off the end of the tube, causing the ember to consume all the oxygen in the tube and put itself out, thus avoiding the embarrassing situation for the bushman of having a hole burned through one?s pocket. It was a pretty clever and amazingly functional design. The whole outfit of flint, steel striker, tube and slowmatch was carried in a sealed brass or tinplate tube where it was protected from moisture. This was a handy little kit which could also be used to light the campfire to boil the quartpot, and was especially valuable in the event that the matches were used up or became wet.


A vintage French smoker?s pocket strike-a-light kit minus the protective tube case.

If you have seen the first episode of the 2008 British TV series Ray Mears Goes Walkabout which looks at the 1860s Stuart Expeditions you?ll see one of these kits which was carried on one of the Stuart expeditions by 19 year old Stephen King Jnr. Uncle Ray and the fellow from the Adelaide-based John McDouall Stuart Society were looking at the King kit from the perspective of using it to light the campfire rather than just as a pipe or cigarette lighter and we can too.


Ray Mears? home-made replica of King?s strike-a-light kit. Still grab from the 2008 BBC TV series ?Ray Mears Goes Walkabout?

I?ve carried a  flint and steel for years but it?s a big kit in a big round tin. It consists of a ?C?striker, a lump of Tennessee quartz I traded with a blacksmith in the USA and a few bits of charcloth along with some shreddy stringybark. It has served me well, but it?s a bit big and bulky. You can see my big kit and read a bit more about firelighting with traditional flint and steel in this piece I put together elsewhere on The Jungle is Neutral. A pocket sized flint and steel outfit like the French strike-a-light would be much better for me for my swaggin?-it trips, so I set out to make one.

 Here?s the bits and pieces needed to put together one of these pocket strike-a-light outfits:

Flint ? I used an antique musket flint.

Steel ? I took a piece of a broken file and shaped it on the bench grinder.

Slowmatch ? I used a piece of 100% cotton window sash cord.

Automatic cap ? I used a lead sinker and a bit of fuse wire. The hole in the sinker I sealed with wax.

Tube ? I used a spent rifle cartridge which I cut the base off and onto which I soldered a brass retaining clip/bracket for the steel striker.

Waterproof case ? I used an old army surplus weapon oiler with a cork seal and a cap secured with a chain.

You don?t need to house your kit in a tinplate or brass tube, a leather or oilskin pouch will do just as well.

The Flint


1700s-vintage English musket flint from the Nepal cache.

Being around 2cm wide x 3cm long, my flints are standard military pattern musket flints. The striking edge is knapped to a chisel point and the bottom and the top planes are perfectly flat, a testament to the skill of the knapper in separating the layers of flint. The flint fits perfectly into the tinplate tube I am using as a waterproof case for this pocket strike-a-light kit.

If you don?t have proper flint, then simply use a piece of normal white quartz smashed up. As long as it has sharp edges it will work. I learned to make fire with flint and steel by using a piece of smashed up quartz in place of flint.

The Steel

Contrary to popular internet wisdom, I have found that the steel from cheap Chinese metal files sparks just as readily as the steel from the antique and vintage files that people all over the internet have been destroying for years when trying to make flint and steel kits. Do future generations a favour and don?t destroy your vintage files. Use the Chinese ones.

I had an old, well-used Chinese-made file in the toolbox which was surplus to requirements, so I placed it in the bench vise and broke it into pieces with a ball pein hammer. I decided to leave the original teeth intact on the flat surfaces of the file for decoration and for more positive grip. Using a bench grinder I removed the teeth from the edges of the file, since these are the striking surfaces, and I rounded the whole into a more oval shape. Using a hacksaw I cut a groove down the centre of the striker to help hold the striker in place in its bracket on the tube while in storage or on the track.

Slowmatch

I used a piece of 100% cotton window sash cord I had in the shed.  I understand that it?s quite difficult to find this stuff today, since most of the sash cord sold has polyester content. You?ll need to buy some from the hardware store and experiment. Never fear if it?s no good for slowmatch, it?s still good, old-style cordage for use around the camp.

You can find hurricane lamp wicks pretty easily in usable lengths and these are a good substitute for slowmatch as long as you boil and dry them first. You see, it?s not desirable for a lantern wick to keep glowing after you?ve doused the flame, so they are treated with a borax solution which acts as a fire retardant. This ensures that the kerosene lantern fuel is what burns, rather than the wick itself. You can remove the fire retardant by simply boiling the length of lantern wick and then drying it out before use.

If you are absolutely stuck or just want to buy the right stuff right off the bat then there?s a mob in Spain on ebay who are selling trench lighters and who also sell replacement slowmatch. At time of writing they want around A$13 for 5.5 metres, which is pretty much a lifetime supply for most people.

Some say that your slowmatch should be soaked in saltpetre for a more reliable ember, but I don?t bother. The cotton sash cord does the job without such treatment.

Before use, the end of the slowmatch has to be  charred with a flame or hotplate and then withdrawn into a capped tube and allowed to consume all the oxygen. This leaves you with what is essentially charcloth on the end of the cord. Leave the end of the match charred and because it is quite fragile, try not to damage the charred area when striking the flint.

Automatic Cap

This is an ingenious design. It?s a metal ball attached to the slowmatch in such a way that when the slowmatch is pulled into the tube the ball caps the end of the tube. This allows the burning ember to consume all the air inside the tube and preserve the spark-catching abilities of the charred end of the cord.

I used a lead fishing sinker as the basis of the automatic cap. I secured a piece of fine fuse wire to the top of the sinker with a loop at the top to stop the wire pulling through the sinker, and then fed the other end of the wire down through the hole in the sinker. I filled any residual space in the ?tunnel? through the sinker with a few drops of wax from a lit candle. A short length of wire was fastened to the free end of the fuse loop and to the other end I wired a small fishing hook with the sharp tip removed with a pair of sidecutters.

The fishing hook is hooked through the slow match about 2cm from the charred end. When the slowmatch is pulled through the tube, the sinker caps the tube. Easy.

If you didn?t want to use a lead sinker, a round wooden bead of the right size would do the job just as effectively.

Tube

My slowmatch is about 0.8cm diameter, so I chopped up a spent brass 5.56mm NATO cartridge by removing the base with a hacksaw. If you don?t have a spent cartridge, you can use brass tubing of the correct diameter for your rope. This can be found at any local hobby shop which caters for model train enthusiasts, but you could probably find some online if you looked hard enough on sites like ebay.

Next was to make up the bracket to hold the striker to the tube when not in use. This helps stop the waterproof case from rattling.

I cut the bracket from a little sheet brass I had laying around. I bent it around the striker until it was a close fit and then I bent it directly in the middle so that the bend would correspond with the groove I had sawn into the striker. This helps hold the striker in place in the bracket.

All that was left to do was solder the bracket to the tube. My soldering is a little dodgy but it?s not going to fail. I cleaned up the soldered joins with a fine file.

Waterproof Case

The original Swedish rifle oiler. I separated the two tubes and used the larger of them as the waterproof case for this strike-a-light outfit.

I used an old Swedish oil container from an M1894 rifle. At least that?s what I think it was. It was originally a widemouthed tube and a narrow mouthed tube joined together by a piece of sheet metal. Each of these tubes is made from tinplated sheet steel and each has a screw-on steel cap with a cork gasket. The caps were connected to the tubes with chains.

It was a simple task to separate the two tubes using a pair of tin snips and then smooth the sharp edges with a file, but it wouldn?t hurt to leave them connected. You could carry your strike-a-light kit in the large tube and some extra slowmatch or bullswool in the smaller one.


The large tube, cleaned and ready for use with the strike-a-light outfit.

The tubes were filthy and oily so they had to be cleaned and degreased before use. To accomplish this I filled them both with spray degreaser and left them overnight. In the morning I filled them with a little fine gravel and some added a squirt of detergent and a few drops of water. Shaking the tubes caused the gravel to scour the inside clean. With the insides clean and bright I sprayed a little WD 40 on the inside of the tubes and wiped them out with a paper towel and a bit of dowel. I cleaned the outside of the tubes with a wire brush and a bit of emery paper, rubbing them back until they were shiny.

The completed tube holds all the components of the strike-a-light outfit and keeps the moisture off them. I haven?t yet found a use for the smaller tube, but no doubt I will sooner or later. I grabbed a Swedish pistol oiler a while ago and converted it into a match safe for my strike anywhere matches.

As mentioned previously, you don?t need a metal tube to carry your strike-a-light outfit. You can use a leather or oilskin tobacco style pouch and this will have the benefit of allowing you to carry dry tinder and kindling at all times.

Here are some pictures of the completed pocket strike-a-light outfit:


The components laid out in carry configuration with the striker sitting in its bracket. Note the lead sinker sitting in the top of the tube, thus protecting the charred end of the slowmatch. You will also note I have attached the gun flint to the top of the sinker with a piece of fine brass chain I had in the spares box. You can use cord or wire if you have trouble sourcing suitable chain.


The outfit ready for use. The sinker is set off to the side and the charred end of the slowmatch placed on the top if the gun flint. The gun flint is then struck with the steel striker, which sends sparks flying upwards into the slowmatch, which proceeds to develop an ember. With just a little practice you can get the end of the slowmatch glowing red with just a single strike.


The completed pocket strike-a-light outfit in its waterproof case. Matchbox for scale.
Don't kill unless for the pot. Don't fell a green tree for a pole if there are dry poles nearby. Study the bush, learn to read its secrets; watch the mason fly building and go to the ant for another lesson... then you'll realise the bush is your friend.
Richard Graves - 1944

Offline pommie

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2017, 03:18:09 PM »
been using on of these for the last 2 years as i collect lighters, these are getting a bit expensive though.




Offline Quenchcrack

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2017, 07:30:17 PM »
I am facinated by these gadgets.  We discussed them before.
http://bladesandbushlore.com/index.php?topic=12115.msg230872#msg230872
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Offline xj35s

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2017, 05:15:02 AM »
been using on of these for the last 2 years as i collect lighters, these are getting a bit expensive though.





This is always a great topic. This makes me think I can use my near worthless UST micro spark wheel for something it was actually designed for. A little brass tube and some solder!!!

Thanks for posting that!

http://bladesandbushlore.com/index.php?topic=11934.0
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Offline Moe M.

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2017, 07:56:56 AM »
  I've been using a Tinder Tube for over thirty five years as a part of my living history kit,  mine is a simpler version,  it's just a small brass tube with a short length of braded cotton rope pushed through it that has had the end charred,  it doesn't have an attached flint and steel striker, nor does it have a bead or ball stopper attached,  I've never had reason to make an all in one kit out of it, and I've never had a problem with humidity or moisture where it needed to be housed in a water proof case.
 Usually it just rides along with my flint and steel in my leather belt bag or on a lanyard around my neck.  I suppose if I lived or hiked in a rain forest or jungle environment I'd need to protect it from getting wet.
 I was attending one of our groups bushcraft meets a couple of weeks ago and one of the guys gifted me one that he had made,  instead of cotton rope he uses braded jute twine that he dips in bees wax mixed with a little petroleum jelly to keep it semi soft, the nice thing about it is that when struck with a spark it will smolder like any ember, but if you blow on it it ignites just like a match.
 He uses three lengths of conventional jute twine and braids it into a single rope then heats his Beeswax/PJ mixture to melt it down and dips the jute rope into it,  once cooled he sticks one end into the brass tube,  after being lit the jute is drawn back into the tube and is snuffed out, it doesn't need to be capped to put it out.
 The one he gave me had a wrap of unbraided jute twine around the tube which adds a nice touch and another small bit of resource.     
 It's not what one would call "primitive" but it sure beats the hell out of trying to get an ember with a hand drill.  (grin)
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Offline Dano

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2017, 09:23:10 AM »
Very nice tutorial, thanks for sharing!!  I've always been interested in those, but never got around to making one for some reason.   I hope this stays in the back of my mind so I can source the necessary parts together.

Offline Unknown

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2017, 11:44:13 AM »
Nifty project Buzz. Thanks for sharing in detail

Offline MnSportsman

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2017, 06:48:15 AM »
Nice writeup!
:)


Thanks for taking the time.
I love being out in the woods!   I like this quote from Mors Kochanski - "The more you know, the less you carry". I believe in the same creed, & think  "Knowledge & honed skills" are the best things to carry with ya when you're out in the wilds. They're the ultimate "ultralight" gear! ;)

Offline PetrifiedWood

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2017, 01:58:30 PM »
Very cool project!

Thanks for sharing the details with us. I didn't know that about boiling the cord to remove fire retardants. That's a good thing to keep in mind. I've had terrible luck getting these to stay glowing in spite of using 100% cotton. I made my own ropes from 100% cotton twine, and from 100% cotton mop heads and still they go out on their own without holding an ember very long, and it is hard to get them to take a spark.

Offline buzzacott

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2017, 11:58:32 PM »
been using on of these for the last 2 years as i collect lighters, these are getting a bit expensive though.



Nice. Looks like an original. They evolved from the original French peasant's pipe lighting kits which inspired my build. I believe those spark wheel types were developed for use in the trenches during the First World War since the small flash from the ferro insert wasn't anywhere near as visible to the enemy as the flare of a match. For the same reasons, I believe they were popular with US GIs in the Second War.

They still make them. The Spanish bloke I mentioned in the original post who supplies the orange slowmatch also supplies a cheaper and nastier version of the spark wheel trench lighters, complete with an automatic cap. By cheap I mean only a few bucks including shipping.... but it's still a bit nasty too. Chromed pot metal. Yuck. Better to hunt down an original and refurb it I reckon. You can see the what the Spanish bloke is offering here - http://stores.ebay.com.au/LOKITRON (no affiliation)
Don't kill unless for the pot. Don't fell a green tree for a pole if there are dry poles nearby. Study the bush, learn to read its secrets; watch the mason fly building and go to the ant for another lesson... then you'll realise the bush is your friend.
Richard Graves - 1944

Offline buzzacott

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #10 on: September 30, 2017, 12:01:58 AM »
  I've been using a Tinder Tube for over thirty five years as a part of my living history kit,  mine is a simpler version,  it's just a small brass tube with a short length of braded cotton rope pushed through it that has had the end charred,  it doesn't have an attached flint and steel striker, nor does it have a bead or ball stopper attached,  I've never had reason to make an all in one kit out of it, and I've never had a problem with humidity or moisture where it needed to be housed in a water proof case.
 Usually it just rides along with my flint and steel in my leather belt bag or on a lanyard around my neck.  I suppose if I lived or hiked in a rain forest or jungle environment I'd need to protect it from getting wet.
 I was attending one of our groups bushcraft meets a couple of weeks ago and one of the guys gifted me one that he had made,  instead of cotton rope he uses braded jute twine that he dips in bees wax mixed with a little petroleum jelly to keep it semi soft, the nice thing about it is that when struck with a spark it will smolder like any ember, but if you blow on it it ignites just like a match.
 He uses three lengths of conventional jute twine and braids it into a single rope then heats his Beeswax/PJ mixture to melt it down and dips the jute rope into it,  once cooled he sticks one end into the brass tube,  after being lit the jute is drawn back into the tube and is snuffed out, it doesn't need to be capped to put it out.
 The one he gave me had a wrap of unbraided jute twine around the tube which adds a nice touch and another small bit of resource.     
 It's not what one would call "primitive" but it sure beats the hell out of trying to get an ember with a hand drill.  (grin)

Interesting stuff! I might try to make up some of that jute twine match you described and see how it goes. Getting a flame without an extra step is always nice.
Don't kill unless for the pot. Don't fell a green tree for a pole if there are dry poles nearby. Study the bush, learn to read its secrets; watch the mason fly building and go to the ant for another lesson... then you'll realise the bush is your friend.
Richard Graves - 1944

Offline buzzacott

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #11 on: September 30, 2017, 12:09:10 AM »
Very cool project!

Thanks for sharing the details with us. I didn't know that about boiling the cord to remove fire retardants. That's a good thing to keep in mind. I've had terrible luck getting these to stay glowing in spite of using 100% cotton. I made my own ropes from 100% cotton twine, and from 100% cotton mop heads and still they go out on their own without holding an ember very long, and it is hard to get them to take a spark.

No worries. Yeah, I had the same problem with using kero lantern wicks as a slowmatch, but I vaguely remembered reading about the fire retardant they add to the cotton and how to get rid of it. I gave it a whirl and it worked :-) Cotton mop heads probably have some sort of safety standard which decrees they be treated with fire retardant. As an aside, I used cotton from mop heads to replace the wick in my old brass Primus and Svea shellite/Coleman Fuel stoves and I noticed they never char even if you let the fuel tank run dry. To me that would indicate they are treated with a fire retardant. The 100% cotton genuine replacement wicks will char if you even think about leaving the stove running until the tank is empty. 

Thanks for the kind words guys, I hope the write up was useful or at least gives you ideas for something even better hahaha
Don't kill unless for the pot. Don't fell a green tree for a pole if there are dry poles nearby. Study the bush, learn to read its secrets; watch the mason fly building and go to the ant for another lesson... then you'll realise the bush is your friend.
Richard Graves - 1944

Offline wolfy

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #12 on: September 30, 2017, 05:25:56 PM »
I put a cotton mop-string wick in an old vintage Svea 123 and I didn't notice any problems with it at all.  Of course, it could have been the old vintage mop that I got it from that made the difference, too. :shrug: :lol:
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Offline pommie

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #13 on: September 30, 2017, 06:51:34 PM »
some of the original trench lighters used Amadou for the wick and i have to say if you find one with the Amadou is is a better wick than the cotton.


Offline SamD

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #14 on: October 02, 2017, 08:16:50 PM »
Just got this one today.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/253161741182

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Offline PetrifiedWood

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #15 on: October 31, 2017, 11:37:36 AM »
Just got this one today.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/253161741182

Looks nice, and a nice price as well. I don't think I could make one for less than that when you figure in materials.

Offline hunter63

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #16 on: October 31, 2017, 12:19:16 PM »
Very cool....Thanks for posting.
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Offline hayshaker

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Re: Pocket flint and steel strike-a-light kit
« Reply #17 on: November 13, 2017, 12:33:52 PM »
pocket flint it's called a BIC lighter,lol