Saturday, 4 April 2015

Fire Steels. Researching Three Types.

Fire Steels. Researching Three Types.
I am sure after doing so much research on fire steels, that there is still a lot to learn on my part. I have not even scratched the service on iron & steel properties & whether or not all steels were a combination of the two metals.
There are such a variety of steels from different countries, both in design, & in size. It also occurred to me whilst looking at the close resemblance of one steel to another, if perhaps some of them may have had their rat tailed handles repositioned after forging by the owner. Then there is the problem of not knowing if the artefact actually belonged to the site where it was found, or whether or not a Viking may have stolen a steel from an English village & taken it home with him on his return.
So I have tried to focus on three types or designs of steels only, principally because these are the particular ones I am interested in.

Birka Grave Fire steels Viking.

Post Medieval found in England. This same fire steel has also been described as being Roman.
5 cm long fire steel.
This one is almost a dead ringer for the one above, but this one was found on the Dawson Road convict site in Tasmania, Australia.

The following two steels were found in England.

At 9 cm long, these two steels are quite large in comparison to some copies made today. Going by the design & the amount of wear, my best guess at their period of construction is 17th century to mid 18th century, & both made in England.

From The Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia Of The American Revolution By George C. Neumann & Frank J Kravic.
Top right you can see two steels which are very close in design to the steels found in England. All the steels in this image were found at American Revolution sites, but this does not mean that they are dated to this period, they could just as easily date to the French & Indian War or earlier.

This style of steel was surprisingly the most difficult to research. There is no doubt more information out there, but to date I have been unable to find it. This steel was shown with a late 18th century tinderbox with candle holder, but again, this does not necessarily date this steel to the same period.

Again, a very similar steel, & even with the same amount of wear, but unfortunately there is no date on the steel.

Record ID: LON-6357F6
Object type: STRIKE A LIGHT
Broad period: POST MEDIEVAL
County: Greater London Authority
Workflow stage: Awaiting validation.
A Post Medieval iron tinder strike (17th century). This object has the characteristic rectangular body and curving square-sectioned arms with coiled terminals. There is a triangular notch in the upper surface just slightly off-centre. Dimensions: length: 78.86mm; width: 40.69mm; thickness: 5.78mm; weight: 29.91g. Identification and dating by Tony Pilson and Ian Smith based on foreshore context.

 Production Date:1500-1700 Museum Of London.
This example I think comes close to matching the squarer & sharper shoulders of the original I am researching.

Amsterdam 1650-1700.

Despite the similarity of all "C" type steels to one another, it is quite obvious that the original example that I have been trying to date is quite unique in it's design, with squarer sharper shoulders than any other of this type I have found so far.

The third design has been the easiest to research, & has been far more common than I first expected. In all these types & designs we must of course bare in mind that these steels have been made far & wide by different Blacksmiths with their own ideas of how a steel should look, or what particular style was perhaps easiest to use.
This is a closer look at the steel I have been trying to date. Note that the rat tail arm reaches down only just over half way, & that the wear is quite excessive considering the amount of steel that is shaved off each time when struck a glancing blow with a piece of sharp edged flint or other similar rock. Note the double cut marks of the file it was made from.

This steel is purported to be dated to 1620ad.

This steel showing very similar wear is dated to the 18th century. Again, note the double cut of the file this was made from.

This one is very similar, but much smaller.
Record ID: LON-891A42
Broad period: POST MEDIEVAL
County: Greater London Authority
Workflow stage: Awaiting validation  Find awaiting validation
Fire steel, striker light, dating to the post medieval period. The lighter is U shaped, and has flat surfaces on both sides. On side of the u shape is thicker, the thinner side curves into itself at the terminous

This one when seen in comparison to the size of the tinderbox it was displayed with is obviously large, at least I would say 9cm.
Tinder box with striker and flint. Photo taken at Ludlow Museum, Castle Street, Ludlow, Shropshire, England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Again the file cuts can be seen.

This steel reported to be from the medieval era is again very similar in shape. These are found open as this one is, & also closed with the rat tail handle closed against the main body of the steel.

In this detail from a painting The Fire by Giuseppe Arcimboldo 1566, two different fire steels can be seen in the ear & the nose. The nose is very similar to the one above, & the original I have been researching.

My sincere thanks to my close friends Russ Tyenna in Tasmania & Alan Poole in England for their major contribution to this article. Without their assistance it is doubtful I would have written this article.
Keith H. Burgess 4/4/2015.


YankeeSurvival said...

Not a firesteel, but somewhat related to the topic in that this axe head was found in North America centuries before iron was introduced to the Native Americans.


Keith H. Burgess said...

Many thanks Yankee. Our government has limited our use on the internet, so we have to watch videos before 1pm !!! So I will check this video tomorrow morning.
Regards, Keith.

Gorges Smythe said...