Fire has fascinated man over the millenia, and with good reason. It offers warmth, light and protection. Fire needs to be started somehow, one way is with
Steel and Flint
So if I hit a hard thing with a harder thing I can start a fire? Well yes as long as the steel and flint are prepared correctly. The trick is to produce very small pieces of steel that, believe it or not, spontaneously combust in contact with oxygen in the air. A process that involves materials called pyrophorics, these materials will combust at lowish temperatures usually under 70 degrees F. To enable this process the material needs to be in the form of a small filing. Now the spark is produced from the steel as a small particle hits the oxygen in the air. The harder and therefore more brittle the steel is the smaller the particle struck off it and the better the spark. Hard steel is known as high carbon steel with an iron to carbon ratio of 98 : 2 approximately. A steel and flint firestarter therefore requires hard steel and a piece of prepared flint. The flint needs to be napped to produce a sharp edge that will scrape off the required small pieces of steel from the main mass of steel. So there you have it, high carbon steel and flint that has been properly prepared will produce sparks.
The modern Swedish firesteel or magnesium firestarter works in the same way, that is a pyrophoric material is struck with a harder substance to produce sparks. The system is the same as that found in a standard Zippo lighter but this time it is the steel that is the harder material and strikes sparks off the so called flint. The wheel of the lighter is made from hard steel that has a chequered finish like a file has and this scrapes small particles from the lighter flint that spontaneously combust on contact with the oxygen in the air. In this case the lighter flint is made of a compound of softer metals known as ferrocerium. The alloy used in the lighter flint is similar to that used in a firesteel and the serrated lighter wheel is replaced with a piece of hard steel, like a hack saw blade or the back of a knife. The idea is to produce a shower of sparks that will light your tinder, and the composition of the fire steel rod is important. The higher the pyrophoric content of the fire steel rod the better, and this is why the quality of firesteels varies. With the steel and flint it is the quality of the steel that is important but with the many compounds used to produce fire steels it is quite easy to produce a low magnesium firesteel that barely works. As the purchaser you will only find this out when you try it.
When comparing firesteels we have found that there are bargains to be had in the mid price range, low priced ones tend to be low in pyrophoric content to keep the price down, higher priced ones tend to work no better than the mid priced examples.
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