11-06-06 08:19 AM - Post#327967
In response to DSbur
Oops, that be me.
Yes, I have been known to drag some scrap steel out of my shop and call
them Oval Fire Steels. I base mine on the sizes and shapes shown in the
books Where Two Worlds Meet and Voices from the Rapids. Here's a pic of
some that I "polished bright", as some trade goods orders specified.
(Standard oval fire steel just polished - because "shiny things" sold
These are approximately 3 x 1 1/2 x 1/8. So many of the oval fire
steels were around 1/8 inch thick, but also thinner - like 1/16 inch or
1/32 inch thick, or even THINNER! And the quantities produced and
sold/traded is amazing. One company shipped 50 dozen oval fire steels
on a steamboat up the Missouri river in 1835 - for their posts and the
Rendezvous. That's ONE company in ONE year shipping 50 DOZEN. They
really started to show up in trade goods lists in quanty in the early
to mid 1700's, and continued being very popular well into the mid
1800's - across North America around the Great Lakes, and on down
through the Rocky Mountain fur trade. It's one of the 3 main fire steel
styles for the northern fur trade - the Oval, the "n" or single finger
loop, and the classic C.
The Museum of the Fur Trade started offering their Oval fire steel last
year. They are having them made by the A G Russel Knife company, and
they are marked with the Russel logo and stamped Musem of the Fur
Trade. Great fire steels as a user and keepsake from the MOFT, but the
logos can detract from the historical look and accuracy - for those so
There are also a number of people making/selling oval fire steels.
Check out blacksmiths like Joe deLaronde, George Ainsle, and Roger Cook
for some good examples - along with many other good blacksmiths. And
check out dealers like Track of the Wolf, Jas. Townsend, Bradley
Company of the Fox, Avalon Forge, Dixie Gun Works, etc. Shapes, style,
quality and price vary a lot.
I sent you an email. Sorry for the tardy response. I spent the weekend
at the NAVC annual Conference - North American Voyageur Council
www.navoyageur.org I gave a talk/demo/hands-on session on the history
and production of fire steels - I talked people through making their
own fire steel using my forge. The Conference was fantastic - great
sessions/demos, food, beverages, and the conversations. And then there
were all those little "mini-sessions" where a handful of people
gathered to cuss/discuss something - like making Oxhide shoes - soulier
de beouf (or something like that). Having 3 or 4 people who have made
them "talking trade" about sizes, leather, fitting, finish, etc. was
amazing. And sooo many other little conversations. Still tuckered out
from all the talk, info, and conversation.
04-30-06 08:40 AM - Post#267025
In response to Joe Yanta
Hi, Joe. Nice looking work. But be careful, making fire steels, just like blacksmithing, can be addictive!
A great web site to see examples of original fire steels is the Trade Goods of New France site
It has a large section on fire steels, and also covers trade axes,
trade knives, kettles, folding knives, and muskets. All the pictures
are of originals, and include measurements and documentation. It's
almost as good as having the original item in your hands, when you are
trying to replicate it.
I have only found 2 books about fire steels. FIRE STEEL by Sanctis and
Fantoni isbn 88-7143-118-9 - in English and Italian, runs around 20
bucks when you can find it. And FIRE STEELS by Cacciandra and Cesati
isbn 88-422-0687-3. This one runs about 85 new, but I got a used copy
for under 40 after shipping. The first book is a small one with little
text, but some pretty good pictures. The second book is way better.
Great text/documentation, and more/better pictures. The majority of the
fire steels pictured do tend to be the fancy ones, but there are plenty
of the common styles.
There's also a good article with pictures in the Museum of the Fur
Trade Quarterly Vol. 7 No. 4 - Winter 1971. Also check out the pictures
and documentation in the books Where Two Worlds Meet and Voices from
the Rapids. Actual aritfacts to base your fire steels on.
A couple notes on your fire steel. The end of the handle can be left
straight, but if curled, it should be a full rounded curl. Also, the
handles tended to be thinner at the top, and a little more angular or
squared on the two bends. Of course, there are numerous variations of
this simple style.
This is a simple style, but was a standard trade item from the early
1600's on up through the 1700's. They were mass-produced in large
quantities by several firms in Europe - specifically for the fur trade.
That also means that most were made from new steel, not old files, and
tended to be pretty consistant in size/shape when made by one company.
I hope this helps. Again, great looking work.
04-30-06 06:14 PM - Post#267144
In response to Joe Yanta
Hi, Joe. Another great steel. For most of my fire steels of this
style, I start with new 1095 steel 1/2 wide by 1/8 thick, and 4 inches
long. I then fuller in 1 inch from the end, and then draw the short
part out to become my handle. Getting that initial 90 degree bend fo
the handle from the striking bar can be a bit tough, but really sets it
off from the rounded bend style striker. The other 90 degree bend is
pretty easy. I rounded the edges on a 3/4 thick bar to hammer/bend
these strikers around - makes it easier to get them to turn out more
consistant. If it turns out that I drew the handle out a bit long, I
then curl the end, otherwise I leave it straight. Most of mine end up
between 3 and 3 1/4 inches long by about 1 inch wide at the handle. I
based the final size on examples in Where Two Worlds Meet and Voices
from the Rapids.
The 1/8 thickness is very correct for thses, as so many recovered
artifacts are that 1/8 inch thick - with some being even thinner. The
same thing goes for the ovals. 1/8 seems to have been something of a
standard, with a bunch only 1/16 inch thick, and even some 1/32 inch
Again, nice looking fire steel.
05-01-06 08:59 PM - Post#267460
In response to Joe Yanta
Hi, Joe. Pretty good. Yeah, getting that handle thin always
worries me - burning or breaking it during forging, or it snapping off
in use. And having it warp off to the side a bit on the final
quenching. It's also a lot of careful work forging your metal down to
that thin without getting cold-shuts, twists, or splitting at the end.
I used to create my step-down and start drawing out the handle
using half-faced blows on the anvil edge. But now I hammer my bar down
over a 1/2 inch rod (between my hardy and pritchel hole). This way I
get a very good step or transition from the striking portion into the
handle section. I then carefully hammer down the handle portion - being
careful to not fold over any metal.
The tricky part is then to get as close to a 90 degree initial
bend on the handle, with as flat of an end as possible. The more
squared off that bend is, the better it looks - when compared to the
originals. But lots of minor variances existed.
Here's one I made a couple weeks ago. It is 3 inches long with
the finger gap at 3/4 inch. It is 3/16 inch thick - a little thicker
than my usual ones, but one I could find a picture of.
When I do my heat treat, I take one extra step I borrowed from
the knife makers. I thermal cycle the fire steel 3 times. After I
finish forging it to shape, I heat it up to Critical temp, then pull it
out to air cool until I see no color. I then heat it back up to
Critical temp again, and pull it back out to air cool till no color. I
do this three times. Then I heat it back up to Critical, and quench it
completely in water - the whole fire steel at once. This thermal
cycling does several things. It relieves any internal stress in the
steel from the forging process, and it refines the grain structure in
the finished steel. Since I started doing this, I have had very very
few breakage problems with my fire steels - in normal use. Dropping one
on cement can still break them. And almost no stress cracks from the
The rest is just Practice. They get easier to make after every
dozen you finish. Now, do you feel up to making 12 dozen (144) like
they took on the Lewis and Clarke Expedition for trade/gifts? And the
30 for their own use? Or the 50 dozen Ovals shipped up the Missouri on
a steamboat in 1836 by just one company? Of course, these large orders
were filled by by large companies that manufactured them by the
hundreds and thousands. I made 500 last year, and I'm up to 250 so far
this year. It adds up.
Keep up the good work.
05-01-06 09:20 PM - Post#267464
In response to Mike Ameling
Now that you've gotten your feet wet on these fire steels, try
this one. It's a Viking style from around 900 ad. I started with 4 by
3/4 by 1/8 inch thick, and drew each half out to 7 inches long before
bending each side to shape.
Or this little guy.
Once started, it's hard to stop. I see a new fire steel style,
and I have to figure out how to make it. Is this OC behaviour?
p.s. You don't need a thick fire steel to get good sparks. The
thinner the striking edge, the more concentrated the force against your
flint, and that makes it easier to get good sparks.
05-02-06 09:31 PM - Post#267749
In response to Joe Yanta
Yeah, that's how it goes sometimes. Everything works out great,
until that last little step or hit. Then you start tweaking it a little
more to compensate, and end up "fixing" it until it's all messed up or
I've used that round rod on the anvil as a fuller for a while
now, and it works well. It defines the transition point from the
striking portion to the handle, and also can set the final thickness of
the handle at that point. But I've started to play around with using my
cut-off hardy to make that initial fuller. It creates a sharper or less
rounded step. I got the idea from the Williamsburg Gunsmith video with
Gusler - when he's forging the breech plug and flintlock hammer. Now I
have to make a Straight Sided cut-off hardy. The blacksmithing video
Hammerman at Williamsburg is pretty good, also. And they filmed these
way back in 1969-73 or so.
Hershel House makes one of those grease lamps in his Basic
Blacksmithing video - either I or II - I can't remember which one at
the moment. You can either chisel out your basic shape from sheet iron
and then forge to final shape, or start with a flat iron bar and really
spread it out (like making a leaf). They do work great with grease, or
even olive oil, but any breeze affects them, and it's too easy to bump
them and end up with warm/hot grease dumped on whatever is below them.
Very historicall correct, though, in style and use.
Have fun with your new project.
05-05-06 07:21 AM - Post#268105
In response to Mike Ameling
Something happened with the PM or private forum message. I saw
your note once, and can't get back to it. If you want to, send me an
email at firstname.lastname@example.org
05-21-06 09:08 PM - Post#271947
In response to paulvallandigham
Sorry to disagree with you about making charclothe, but I must
correct something you stated. There is no "steam" in your cotton clothe
that you are seeing coming out of your tin as you "cook" your cotton
clothe. It is actually real Smoke - pretty similar to what comes out of
a cigar or campfire. Any moisture is incidental.
What you are trying to do when making charclothe, is to burn off
part of the cotton material in an environment starved for oxygen. This
forces those "volatile gasses" out of the material, partially burns it,
and leaves you with almost pure carbon. Everything other than the
carbon in your cotton clothe must be burned or cooked away to leave you
with good charclothe. Your clothe will lose weight and volume during
this process - part of the price you pay to make it. But you end up
with just the carbon that was in the original clothe.
The white "smoke" coming out of your tin is just that - smoke. It
can and will burn. Burning it does not affect anything inside your tin.
After that smoke stops coming out of your tin and you take it out of
the fire, the whole contents inside are actually glowing red - burning.
If you opened it up immediately, you would see it all glowing red, just
like after you catch a spark in your finished charclothe - and it would
continue to burn completely up. That's why you let it cool completely
before opening up your tin. That cooling time extinquishes the burning
inside your tin.
You do the same thing when you have a wood campfire. At first,
the wood burns with lots of smoke and flame - those volatile gasses.
Then it burns down to coals. Those coals are almost pure carbon - with
all the "volatile gasses" burned/cooked off. And the volume and weight
of your wood has been greatly reduced. If you put out those coals, and
dry them, you end up with Lump Charcoal. When you burn it, it will burn
with almost no smoke, just heat. And it will start very quickly. That's
what you get when you buy Lump Charcoal at the store - it's just fully
charred wood. Charcoal Briquettes are made from that lump charcoal
which is ground up, mixed with clay and glue and starter fluids, and
pressed into those little briquettes.
A friend used to make charclothe without a tin. He would take a
long strip of cotton clothe, and roll it up around a small stick. He
then would start that roll burning - like a torch. When it was going
well, and the outsides were pretty well charred/blackened, he'd then
bury it in sand/dirt - to snuff out the fire. When it was fully
cooled/out, he'd dig it back up, cut the extra stick off, and put it in
his fire starting pouch. To use it, he would unroll a couple inches of
charred clothe and tear it off - to use with his flint and steel. After
a few times unrolling it, the clothe would start to be less
black/burned - lots more brown. He'd just burn and bury it again. You
waste a little bit more clothe making your charclothe this way, but you
don't have to use a tin to make it.
So it goes.
05-21-06 09:29 PM - Post#271953
In response to DrTimBoone
Some places to look for information on starting a fire with flint and steel are:
www.northwestjournal.ca - The Canadian Library's fur trade quarterly,
but now online. They have several articles on fire starting.
www.historicaltrekking.com - the Historical Trekking forum. They have
several articles on fire starting on their Trail Tips link/page.
Wilderness Way magazine - they have a past article or two from the magazine on their web site.
Society for Primitive Technology - they also have several
articles from past quarterly magazine/newsletters on their web site.
www.vikinganswerlady.com - she has a large web site on the Vikings,
including fire steels and fire starting - with several drawings of
holding/using your flint and steel.
Be careful using obsidian. It is volcanic glass, and very
brittle. And those little chips/flakes are extremely sharp. A few hits
from your striker and you will have lots of little flakes all over the
place. Use true flint when you can find it - like the English black,
French amber, etc. I use Musket Flints all the time with my striker.
You should not have to BANG your flint and steel together to get
good sparks. Lightly "ticking" them should give you all the sparks you
need - provided you have a sharp edge on your flint and a properly made
and heat-treated striker.
I prefer to hold my charclothe or tinder fungus on my flint, and
swing my striker against the flint to get my sparks. I also use the
"pinch" grip. When I first learned, I used a classic C shaped striker,
and got numerous bloody knuckles. So I learned to pinch my striker
between my thumb and fingers. This method has less exposure of my
knuckles to those sharp edges on the flint. And it helped me learn
control in my swing.
I hope these humble thoughts help.
05-22-06 06:00 PM - Post#272165
In response to paulvallandigham
My apologies, Paul. Yes, part of it is terminology. But the rest
is my error. I keep forgetting about that chemically attached water
that is in many materials. Never was any good in chem class in school.
And working with steel, iron, iron ore, and limestone, I should know
On the stick method of making charclothe, yes you do use up the
charred layers fast, and have to re-burn it. That's just one of the
prices you have to pay to use this method. It's main advantage is not
having to use a tin container - just clothe, a stick, and your
My friend learned this method in his quest to not carry a tin for
charring clothe. He could not find any references to document one for
making charclothe until well into the mid 1800's. He also found the
same thing when searching for documentation on charclothe itself - not
until the mid 1800's. He did find references to other things - spunk,
punk, amadou, tinder fungus, tinger conch, down from birds legs, and
charred wood. So now he doesn't use charclothe anymore. He now uses
tinder conch - a specific fungus that grows on birch trees. Of course,
his main area of research is the Great Lakes Fur Trade area.
Anyway, sorry for the misunderstanding. I'm now starting to have
flash-backs to Chem class in school. Must be time for some 12 oz.
05-24-06 07:13 AM - Post#272575
In response to paulvallandigham
Yes, so much "common knowledge" has been lost over time because it was not worth recording.
One example would be Cutting Firewood for you cabin or home.
People today seldom realize how much firewood you would use during a
year - for cooking and heating. There are household accounts from early
New England that list the amount of wood purchased for the year. Lots
of houses with two or three fireplaces used 40 to 60 cords of wood a
year! A one room cabin with its single fireplace could easily use 20
cords of wood a year. If the owner kept a daily diary and wrote down
everything they did during the day, cutting/splitting firewood would
have been listed on most every day - for the daily cooking, but also to
build up the pile for winter. But that's all pretty boring, and most
people didn't think it was worth recording. So we have to guess how
often they did it, and how they went about doing it.
Here's a pic of two new fire steels I played around making
yesterday. They are Roman 1st to 3rd century. A little early time
period for most of us, but a fun little project. Of course, I also made
a few other things yesterday - 4 large Copper Culture socketed spear
heads, and 4 other fire steels.