My passion is Friction Fire, but I thought I would mention the Fire Steel (aka Ferro rod, see left photo.) Not to be confused with the traditional Flint and Steel (see right) where the steel would be struck against flint to create a spark. The Ferro rod is made from Ferrocerium which is a man-made metallic material invented in the 20th Century, which is struck against steel. The traditional Flint and Steel was the prevailing method of lighting fires from the Iron Age until the mid to late 19th Century and even in the early 20th Century; before matches and then lighters became prevalent. Before the advent of steel, a variety of iron pyrite or marcasite was used with flint and other stones to produce a spark.
I don't really like the Ferro rod as it is a modern invention and the hot sparks are actually very very hot metal shards. The Ferro rod is a very common bushcraft tool and can be an easy way to teach fire lighting before moving onto Friction Fire. Kid's do like Ferro rods due to the sparks but as always with kids and fire you need to teach them to be safe as Ferro rod sparks can hurt and cause things to catch fire! The sparks are actually shards of metal.
The Ferro rod is a modern take on the flint and steel, and consists of a Ferrocerium rod which is a man-made metallic material that produces hot sparks at temperatures of about 3,000 °C (5,430 °F) when scraped against a piece of steel. A fire steel usually comes with a metal striker but you can use the back of a knife as well - do not use the knife blade as it will damage and chip it. Ferrocerium is used in many applications such as cigarette lighters.
I don't really encourage use of Ferro Rods but they are fairly easy to use. You need to hold the rod firm, and point the rod towards the tinder , angle the striker about 30-45 degrees on the rod and push it down the rod applying pressure , and direct the sparks onto tinder It can be a very quick way and very useful in survival situations.
You need to strike the sparks onto the underside not the smooth outside of the ball. It only takes a small spark (or ember) to light. You will know when it is lit, as you will see a small red glow. Blow on it and the ember will get larger and it will burn like a coal. You can then place your dry tinder on top, such as dry clematis bark or dead dry grass or bracken. Blow onto the glowing ember, and keep blowing, it will start to smoke and may produce lots of smoke! Keep bowing until the tinder bursts into flame then place your kindling on top.
Please do use common sense when introducing children to fire lighting and teach them about fire safety, and always ensure they are supervised when fire lighting and around fires. It is a good idea to have a safe zone around a fire, marked out with sticks. Also, the sparks produced from a Ferro Rod are very HOT metal shards and can burn skin and catch things alight (e.g. tents) so children should be supervised when using them.
On 19th July (Day 41 of hand drill practice) , I successfully created my first ember using the hand drill without using any thumb loops! I used Elder spindle on Clematis hearth, and I managed to create 3 embers in total that evening, without much effort. I thought I had cracked it! But it took me another week of practising everyday until I could get another ember which was on 25th July. For this ember, I used (what I think is) Willow (which I found in the car) on Clematis and again I created the ember without too much effort in a few minutes.
But I don't seem to be getting consistent results, and so I'm trying to figure out what is different on the times I don't get an ember as the woods are the same, and my technique is the same (or I think it is!) Is it the notch (width\depth)? Is it the humidity? etc
I've not figured it out yet, but I'm on the right track and it feels amazing to be able to create an ember by just using your bare hands and two pieces of wood, and the hand drill makes me feel connected to our ancestors.
As per my earlier post, I started to learn the hand drill a few weeks back. What I soon learnt, is that there isn't room for imperfections with the hand drill, unlike the bow drill where you can sometimes get away with cutting corners (once you've learnt it.) With the hand drill, the type and condition of the wood needs to be just right, and the pressure and speed in which you spin needs to be just right. The thickness of the spindle also makes a huge difference.
On Thursday (14th July) after many attempts and trying various things including crumbled King Alfred's cake\cramp balls (which didn't work., I then tried once more using thumb loops on a new hole and amazingly I got an ember. I was ecstatic and was on a high. I thought I had cracked it! Since then, I haven't managed another ember. I realised that there is no room for complacency! You need to be always thinking, reviewing your setup, being connected and aware. I then noticed my Elder spindle had worn down and had gotten thicker which means more surface area and so requires more pressure and speed. Also, on that final go, the end of the spindle had got nicely charred and hot so that maybe helped too. I am now trying a new thinner Elder spindle but still no ember (yet) - I am getting smoke and brown dust and this most likely infers that I need to apply more pressure. So it's also made me realise that I'm not there yet, and still have much learning and practice to do, however the first ember has given me the motivation to carry on. I'd also like to be able to crack the Hand Drill free-hand without using thumb loops. At the moment, the thumb loops are helping me learn how much pressure I need to apply, and I can then try to emulate that free hand. I'm also not quite there with my strength so I need to keep at it, to strengthen my arms so I can go for longer and apply more pressure.
With friction fire, there is also more to learn, and I'm still learning with the bow drill as well!
I have finally got around to making my own cordage - I started with nettles. This is a very good article which I used - http://www.jonsbushcraft.com/Nettle%20cordage.htm .The only thing it didn't mention was how many fibres to use - I started with 10 fibres for each "strand" and that made a nice thick cordage - you wouldn't want it much thicker or much thinner than that. My ember's weren't great but I think that was because I was being a bit gentler than usual and the cord could have been a bit tighter but as you can see from the pictures, it lit the ember (it's not allways about the size of the ember but your ability at lighting the tinder!) I just need to practice a bit more and get more confidence in my own-made cordage. I found the preparation was the time consuming bit - making the cordage was quite quick - I used the rope laying method as explained in the above article. I will probably just use own made cordage for ceremonial use rather than everyday use.