Saturday, 4 April 2015

A Change Of Opinion. Flint & Steel Striking Methods.

I am not sure when or where, but I know that I once made the statement that striking the flint with the steel was not the correct way. Now if one was using a tinderbox or the nest method, this statement would be correct, because by striking the flint with the steel you would be directing the sparks up, instead of directing them down onto the tinder. However, some people do not use either the tinderbox or the nest method. Instead they hold the tinder on the top edge of the flint, & strike the steel upon the flint to catch sparks on the tinder.
In my opinion now, this is not a modern method, but in fact an early method perhaps before the use of the tinderbox, or perhaps this method was simply easier to use when lighting a candle.
In this illustration from Gutenberg for instance a tinderbox is being used, but the sketch appears to be showing the flint being struck by the steel as no sparks are shown as being created at this stage. Using this incorrect method would send the sparks upward before they fall on the tinder. If in fact they did reach the tinder in this round about way, the sparks would have lost their heat & may not catch on the tinder at all.

Here though in this detail of the altarpiece of the Saint Georges church in Haguenau, Bas-Rhin, France, you can see the flint is about to be struck with the steel to catch sparks on the tinder held by the hand on top of the flint.

English: Detail of the altarpiece of the Saint Georges church in Haguenau, Bas-Rhin, France.
Français : Détail du retable de l'église Saint-Georges de Haguenau, Bas-Rhin, France.


Unknown said...

I saw a very interesting online article by a person who reconstructed a set of 17th Century pipe-smoker's tongs (based on genuine, but badly corroded, originals) and he then demonstrated how you used the thickened section of the tongs to strike the flint while holding the tinder on top to catch the upwardly-directed spark. You would then take the tinder in the tongs, blow it into an ember and use the tongs to put it in the pipe bowl to light the pipe.

No doubt both "flint on steel" and "steel on flint" methods have their advantages and disadvantages depending on what you're doing.

Keith H. Burgess said...

Hi Unknown. This is very interesting, but does not sound as if it is the correct use of these tongs. These tongs were used for picking up glowing coals from a fire or brazier for lighting a pipe.
I suspect that this person made the copy of the tongs from carbon steel & thus are able to produce sparks when struck with a flint.

Unknown said...

G'day, Keith

The site in question is here:

The author's contention is that the thickened area on the tongs was for use as a striker for when there was no ready-lit fire from which to take an ember, and that such has been supposed by historians for some time.

The author tried such a technique and it certainly worked.

It's hard to think of any reason the particular tongs he replicated - of which there are numerous examples - would have a thickened section other than for using as a striker. They could have saved metal, weight and bulk by omitting it if they were merely for picking coals from a fire.

BTW. "Unknown" is Wolf, of Wolf NZ Outdoors - for some reason it didn't bring my identity across from my Google login.

Keith H. Burgess said...

Thank you Wolf, very much appreciated. Learn something every day, this is new to me. Much obliged for the link.
Regards, Keith.

Unknown said...

No problem, Keith. You've given me a lot of great information in the past.

Being one of those dreadful smokers, 17th and 18th Century pipe smoking accoutrements were among the first things I looked up :D

Would love to get/make a set of those tongs for myself - and get a decent clay pipe (I've at least found a source for those) and a wooden pipe case.

Cheers, Wolf.