Iron Burning – Upon contact with the air, a shower of tiny iron particles spontaneously catch on fire.
Have you ever used a metal grinder or seen one in action on a piece of iron? Notice how thousands of glowing hot sparks fly off the wheel as it removes tiny bits of fresh iron off the chunk of iron being worked on. These tiny bits of iron are actually spontaneously catching on fire as they are exposed to the oxygen in the air.
If you can create a small enough particle of fresh iron, upon contact with oxygen in the air the iron particles increased surface area will oxidize faster than it can dissipate the heat formed during the reaction. The result: the particle of iron spontaneously becomes so hot that it glows as it oxidizes – and can be used to catch tinder on fire.
In a nutshell the process of using a flint and steel to start a fire works like this:
- Find a piece of high carbon steel, which is about 98% iron and 2% carbon (a hard, relatively brittle steel)
- Find a piece of flint or other hard sharp object such as quartz.
- Strike a sharp edge of the flint a glancing blow with the high carbon steel. Doing this just right takes practice.
- Very tiny particles of fresh iron fly out from the steel.
- Upon contact with oxygen in the air, the surfaces of the iron particles spontaneously ignite and give off heat as they oxidize (rust).
- Because the surface area of the iron particles is so large compared to their volume, the particles quickly heat up and glow red hot. They become sparks.
- Catch the sparks in prepared tinder and use it to start a fire.
Advantages of Flint and Steel
Flint and steel has been used in starting fires for centuries. In the days before matches were invented, flint and steel offered the ability to start a fire without having to carry a hot coal wherever one traveled, and worrying about losing it or having it go cold.
Starting a fire using flint and steel takes a more expertise and preparation than simply striking a match, however many survival experts feel this disadvantage is overcome by the fact that a wet or damp flint and steel can still be used to start a fire, and that a flint and steel can start many thousands of fires without wearing out; both very important attributes when surviving in the wilderness.
Try carrying tens of thousands of matches in the wilderness or stockpiling thousands of matches in your disaster preparedness kit! Even if the shear weight and volume of your matches do not discourage you, you are also faced with the problem of keeping them viable from dampness or the ravages of time.
Flint and steel overcomes these problems and provides the survivor with means of starting a fire that is more reliable than matches – if he is skilled enough to use it.
source: How does flint and steel work? More specifically, what causes the sparks when you strike a piece of flint with steel? The answer may surprise you!
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