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I Forge Iron

Thar she blows! Whales to port, cap't!

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I had to make up a couple more whale shaped flint strikers, so I spent the afternoon ... tinkering.


They are patterned after a pair of originals I saw in a book years ago (that I can't find back right now). The originals were dated to the very late 1700's or early 1800's. And there was one of each style - with the tail in the correct orientation with the body, and one with the tail rotated 90 degrees so that it would lay flat in a tinderbox or in a pocket/pouch for carry.

These are made up from "agricultural" steel - parts of a bolt-on plow share. So they should be 1080 carbon steel. They run around 5/16 inch thick.

The top two strikers are based upon an original Russian Fur Trade striker in the collection of the Museum of the Fur Trade. It resembles the Indian Ulu knife. They also are made from 1080 steel - more agricultural steel parts.

A fun way to spend a drizzly afternoon.

Mikey - that grumpy ol' German blacksmith out in the Hinterlands

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nice dezigns ile hafta make a few ... thats right up my coustomers alley! ive made the ones based on the ulu saw them at a exebition on the various tribes from alaska and kamchuka (not spelled right) they had in seattle years ago .. was interesting how they had a destinctive style of ironwork.. thanks for a new dezign!

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They are hardened high-carbon steel. Hardening that steel makes it easier to chip/dig out little bits of it from the striking surface using a sharp edge on a piece of flint. The harder the heat-treat, the easier it is to chip/dig out those tiny bits of steel. The energy you put into chipping/digging out those tiny bits of steel heats them up enough that the carbon in them burns. That carbon burning is the twinkling sparks you see. And then you catch those sparks on some prepared material like charred cotton cloth. Once you "catch" a spark, it will start to spread throughout your charred cloth. You then use that to start your fire.

It's kind of like doing a spark-test of various iron/steel using a bench grinder. With mild steel or wrought iron, you will see long reddish streamers from the grinder. With high-carbon tool steel, you will see shorter whitish streamers with many more twinkling sparklers. Those twinkling sparklers are the carbon burning.

Note: the heat-treat on a standard knife blade is a little too soft to work well as a flint striker. The striker needs to be heat-treated about as hard as you can get it to work well.

You can make a quick/simple flint striker from an old file without any forging or heat-treating. Make sure that the file is ALL tool steel throughout - instead of junker iron that has been case-hardened. Clamp that file in you vice with around 3 inches sticking up above the jaws. Drape a shop rag over it. Then smack it on the flat side with your hammer to "snap" off the file sticking up above the vice jaws. The rag helps control any "shrapnel", and also helps you find back that file end after it goes flying across your shop and under the work bench. Now carefully/slowly grind off the teeth along the narrow edge of the file. And keep it cool! If it is getting too warm to hold in your fingers, then cool it in water right away. You don't want to see any blue color showing up in the file. Grind the teeth back until you are down to bare metal. And bevel the teeth/corners back a bit from that narrow edge. Also grind any sharp points from breaking off the file. That chunk of file will now work well as a flint striker. Just make sure your flint has a sharp edge, and the angle is around 45 degrees to chip/dig/slice into your file - to get sparks.

A flint striker is very old technology. From right around the time when man first started working iron - a couple hundred years B.C. So that's a lot of centuries of usage over the ages. A simple tool of everyday life - to start your cooking/heating fires. It ain't as glamorous as swords/axes/knives, but it made all the rest possible.

Hope this helps explain things. I know there are several u-tube videos out there showing starting a fire with a Traditional Flint Striker. But I have a dial-up connection, so I haven't searched for them. And it is easy to get them confused with those modern ferro-cerrium fire starting rods.

Mikey - that grumpy ol' German blacksmith out in the Hinterlands

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Those are very nice Mike, I've added them to the flint striker file. Thank you.

What I've found about hardening strikers is to make them so they make a big fat orange spark rather than make them as hard as I can. It's easy to get white sparklers but they don't last as long so don't light the char as easily as the larger, longer lived orange sparks.

This seems to be optimum from my limited experience. What are your thoughts?


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With properly prepared materials to catch my spark, I've not had any problems with the sparks not lasting long enough. And that's with good charcloth, tinder fungus, amadou, or charred punky wood. With my spark catching material prepared right and maintained right, I've not had problems with a spark catching.

So I've always heat-treated my strikers for ease of getting sparks, and for quantities of sparks. And since I started doing that Thermal Cycling before the final quench, I've had few concerns about them being too brittle in normal use.

But when teaching bunches of kids how to use a flint striker for fire starting, breaking of a flint striker is always a concern. It's best to do the teaching one-on-one, but sometimes you can't. And then some kids get frustrated quickly when they don't get ... instant gratification. When that happens, proper "technique" to get sparks gets forgotten quickly, and they then tend to only remember that if you hit one against the other you get sparks. I had one kid who ended up slamming flint directly/squarely against steel at full arms length in front of him. He then got completely frustrated and threw everything down on the cement and stomped off.

So I developed what I call a "kid proof" oval striker. I took a finished one that sparked well, laid it on my anvil, and tried to break it using my 3# hammer - a dozen hard/heavy forging blows! I even hit it on the sides and ends. I bent it a bit, but never broke or chipped/cracked it. And it still sparked great. So now I recommend those to Boy Scout and Kids camps for teaching flint/steel fire starting. The San Diego BS Council now has around 3 or 4 dozen of them from me over the last couple years. The only problem they have had is ONE got lost or walked away! I've even made a number for the summer staff hired at Grand Portage National Monument - for them to use in their talks/tours with the public. They kept breaking properly made flint strikers, and then raiding the trade room display to get new ones to use. So I made some up for the "poorly trained monkeys" hired for the summer! They haven't broken one yet - just lost a couple.


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A flint striker (also called a fire steel) is such a simple but basic piece of technology. It gets you back to that truly basic/survival level of existence - just short of rubbing two sticks together.

The earliest dated flint striker is from around 500 B.C. - a straight steel bar with a cast bronze handle/holder in the shape of a stylized lion - from a tomb in Afganistan/Persia. But THE most common shape/style over all the centuries since then is the common classic C shape - that "bracelet" or "brass knuckles" shape. There are dozens of little variations of it over the centuries, but that simple C shape just crosses all the centuries.

And it isn't that much of a technological leap from the earlier flint and iron pyrite method of starting a fire. The Iceman they found up in the Alps carried a version of the iron pyrite and flint fire starter. But examples go much farther back in archy digs.

But it was a huge leap up from the "friction" method - rubbing two sticks together, or using a bow drill. With those "friction" methods, you really do need to know what you are doing, and get things set up and prepared just right to end up with a fire. Flint/steel was just much faster and easier to learn and use.

Nowdays, we just don't think much about starting a fire - with the availability of matches, bic lighters, and willy pete rounds! It used to be a much greater concern. And the old journal records have lots of entries where they mentioned all the problems they had not getting a fire made, and the suffering as a result - cold, wet, hungry.

So I've become mildly obsessed with flint strikers - from all the time periods they were made/used in. And I now have copies of the 4 known books about fire steels, plus several dozen other books with pictures/paragraphs about them. And I've made replica's for places like the National Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of the West, Grand Portage National Monument, Fort Mandan, the Jamestown/Yorktown Volunteers Association, the Ganondaga Indian Village of New York State, numerous State parks, and even the Museum of Welsh Life in Wales.

It's a ... niche ... market, but it keeps me in beer/pizza - along with making other Fur Trade era iron work.

Mikey - that grumpy ol' German blacksmith out in the Hinterlands

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  • 1 month later...

These were made from ... agricultural steel ... basically a new bolt-on plow share. They are made from 1080 carbon steel. I bought the original new part from the local farm fleet store for around 20 bucks. It is 3/8 inches thick, and the whole piece was 4 inches wide by around 20 to 24 inches long (can't remember just how long point-to-point). That's a lot of quality carbon steel for the price - and no "shipping" charges. Yes, you do have to work around a couple square mounting holes where you bolt it onto the plow. And possibly some part numbers stamped into the metal.

I heated it up, flattened it, and left it to anneal. Then I cut it up with the chop-saw into smaller and more usable sizes.

I've also made some from a heavy/thick truck spring scrap I had on hand. So that should have been 1085 or 5160.

Files work OK, but their original sizes and thickness can be a little limiting. But you also have to be careful with those files. So many newer ones are soft/mild steel that has been case-hardened. So only a few thousandths of an inch has high enough carbon in it to work well as a flint striker. Clip a small chunke off the end of your file and see if it will heat-treat. It will save all the work if it is just junker steel inside. I have several knife maker friends that learned that the hard way. One put 40 hours of work into a knife blade made from an older file only to find out that it would not heat-treat. That's a ... hard lesson ... to learn!

Now, just forging up some whales for ... art's sake ... you can use most any iron you have on hand. And generic 1018/A36 will work far easier that high carbon tool steel. But if you are going to want to use it as a flint striker, then you need that high-carbon tool steel to start with.

Many pieces of "agricultural" steel is 1080 - like those bolt on plow shares, cultivator points/shovels, disc blades, etc. And the modern hay rake teeth are closer to 1095 spring steel. One now sells for around 1.33 down at the farm fleet store. When you heat it up and straighten it out, you end up with about 30 to 36 inches of 1/4 inch diameter round rod. Compare that to buying the same amount of 1095 Drill Rod. You can often buy the finished part for less than new steel would cost - and without any shipping and waiting.

Plus don't forget about those old lawn mower blades. Generally 1084 or 5160. And you can usually pick them up for free. Great for knife making.

Mikey - that grumpy ol' German blacksmith out in the Hinterlands

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