A LIVING HISTORY BLOG.

18TH CENTURY LIVING HISTORY IN AUSTRALIA.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Authentication. Use Of The Tinderbox.

Recently I was asked what proof did I have that the tinderbox was used for making fire. First let me say that the tinderbox was not always used by everyone to make fire, there are period ways to make fire without using the tinderbox. But, using the tinderbox is the easiest way to prepare tinder, and I have found that it is the easiest way to make fire when you know how to use the tinderbox properly, and have had plenty of experience.
Here then is the primary information that I have so far, in the written word, and in images.


The maid is stirring betimes, and slipping on her shoes and her petticoat, gropes for the tinder box, where after a conflict between the steel and the stone she begets a spark, at last the candle lights.... Matthew Stevenson, The Twelve Months, c1661.

To make Tinder.
Take three ounces of Salt-petre, put it to a Pint and a half of fair Water, set it on a Fire in a Kettle or Pan to heat till the Salt-petre be dissolved; then take a Quire of smooth brown Paper, and
put them in Sheet by Sheet into the hot water till they are wet through, and then lay them on a clean Floor or Grass to dry. You may at any Time tear a Piece off, and put it in your Tinderbox,; it will catch like Wild-Fire. By this Means you may save all your Linen Rags in the Family, keep them clean in a Bag, and, if you are careful of them, they may produce you a Pair of Shoes and Stockings at the Years End; and by this Frugality you will have the Pleasure to think of encouraging the making of Paper, and employing the Industrious.

Madam Johnson's present: or, every young woman's companion in ... - Page 181

Mary Johnson (fl. 1753.) - 1770 - 197 pages 

To make a Substitute for Tinder made with Linen.
Dissolve three ounces of Salt petre in a Pint an half of fair Water in a Kettle or Pan over a clear Fire: Then thoroughly wet twenty-four Sheets of Smooth brown Paper separately in the hot Liquor, and lay them on some clean Place to dry. When you have Occasion, yoiu may put a Piece in your Tinder-box, and using the Steel and Flint, it will catch like Wildfire

The Swiss family Robinson: or, Adventures of a father and mother (first published in 1812)
Page 296

We might make tinder by burning: some linen rag, and putting it in & close box*: but we have unfortunately^ none to spare ? and;,, therefore, the best thing for us would be to find ... Johann David Wyss, Johann Rudolf Wyss - 1818 

Take those great things which are called olde Todestooles growing out of the bottomes of nuttrees, beechtrees, okes, and such like trees, drye them with the smoke of fire, & then cut them into as many peeces as you will, and hauing well beaten them, boyle the  in strong lie with waule floure, or saltpeeter, till all the lie shal be consumend. After this laying them in a heape uppon a boorde, drie them in an oven which must not be made verie hotte, and after you haue so done, beate them well with a wooden mallet, and when you shall haue cause to use any parte of those Todestooles (now by the means above declared made touchwood) rubbe well that parte betweene your handes for to make it softe and apte to take fire. But when you will make tinder for a Gunners tinder boxe, take peeces of fustian, or of old and fine linnen clothe, make them to burn and flame in a fire, & suddenly before the flame which is in the  doth die, choke the fire, & keepe their tinder so made in a boxe lined within with clothe, to the ende that it may not be moyste at any time.

Appendix 20-1,  Lucar, C., Translation of Tartaglia, Three Bookes of Colloquies Concerning the Arte of Shooting in Great and Samll Peeces of Artillerie with Appendix, London,1588


An Indian often goes off alone...with only his musket, powder and shot, a tinderbox...
Pouchot, Pierre. Memoirs on the Late War in North America between France and England. Page 482.

"You must provide yourself with a tinder box or with a burning mirror, or with both, to furnish them fire in the daytime to light their pipes, and in the evening when they have to encamp; these little services win their hearts. "Instructions for the Fathers of our Society who shall be sent to the Hurons." l637.

It (the tinderbox) was with this instrument, long before the invention of matches, that our grandfathers obtained light. I want to show you how the trick was managed. First of all it was necessary to have good tinder. To obtain this, they took a piece of linen and simply charred or burnt it, as you see I am doing now (Fig. 4). (Cambric, I am told, makes the best tinder for match-lighting, and the ladies, in the kindness of their hearts, formerly made a point of saving their old cambric handkerchiefs for this purpose.) The servants prepared the tinder over-night, for reasons I shall explain to you directly. Having made the tinder, they shut it down in the box with the lid (Fig. 3 A) to prevent contact with air. You see I have the tinder now safely secured in my tinder-box. Here is a piece of common flint, and here is the steel. Here too are the matches, and I am fortunate in having some of the old matches made many years ago, prepared as you see with a little sulphur upon their tips. Well, having got all these etceteras, box, tinder, flint and steel, we set to work in this way:—Taking the steel in one hand, and the flint in the other, I must give the steel a blow, or rather a succession of blows with the flint (Fig. 3 B). Notice what beautiful sparks I obtain! I want one of these sparks, if I can persuade it to do so, to fall on my tinder. There! it has done so, and my tinder has caught fire. I blow my fired tinder a little to make it burn better, and now I apply a sulphur match to the red-hot tinder. See, I have succeeded in getting my match in flame. I will now set light to one of these old-fashioned candles—a rushlight—with which our ancestors were satisfied before the days of gas and electric lighting. This was their light, and this was the way they lighted it. No wonder (perhaps you say) that they went to bed early.
Delivered before a Juvenile Auditory at the London Institution
during the Christmas Holidays of 1888-89.
BY THE LATE
CHARLES MEYMOTT TIDY, M.B., M.S., F.C.S.





The fact that the tinderbox existed and was used is beyond doubt, what is being questioned here is "how was it used". My personal knowledge started a long time ago when I realised that I needed a renewable fire lighting method. As I was at that time already using flint and steel, this meant that I had to find a natural source of tinder growing in the wild, and I needed a way to prepare it.
By experimentation I started to find several plants that could be used as tinder, but I needed to char most of them in a fire to make them catch a spark. This meant that I had to find a way to smother this smouldering tinder for future use. I started by burying it under earth, this worked okay, but soiled the tinder, and, this method could not be used in wet weather. Next I wrapped the smouldering tinder in soft leather and then buried it in the earth. This worked fine, but I needed to find an easier method.
It was then one of those moments when you strike your forehead as the obvious comes to mind and you can't believe that you had not seen it before. The smouldering tinder was to be smothered in a tinderbox. From there it was but a short step to realising that in fact the fire was also created with the tinderbox. Subsequent  experimentation and further research proved my findings to be correct. That of course was many years ago, and I made my first flint, steel and tinderbox video in 2008.
Keith H. Burgess. 11/2/2014.

2 comments:

myemptyroomanda45 said...

"Dissolve three ounces of Salt petre in a Pint an half of fair Water in a Kettle or Pan over a clear Fire"
What is meant by "fair Water"?
Thank you.

Keith H. Burgess said...

Clean water myemptyroomanda45.
Keith.