fire lighting

Historic questions, thoughts and other interesting stuff

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Dave B
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Post by Dave B »

I have it in the back of my mind that you can catch a spark directly in unwashed sheeps wool? if that is the case perhaps Charcloth was unneccesary, given the prevalence of the wool trade.

Anyone know if that's right?

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Post by Dave B »

On third thoughts, is it really a LENEL issue ?

We know that flints and steels were ubiquitus. that is evidence that they were some use. therefore medieval (and earlier) peoples must have had something to catch sparks. that something must have been biodegradebly so we cannot expect artefacts.

Unless we CAN provenance some other sparkcatcher we need to demonstrate something, and then be open about what we don't really know?

I know that you can use certain funguses, or oven dried punkwood, but again you would have to prove that they DID use those things in preference to invalidate the use of charcloth wouldn't you. after all the fungus might take some finding and both fungus and punk would be more of a nuicance to carry.

or am I up the wrong tree?
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Post by guthrie »

If, after many years of diligent searching, we cant find any period information, whether writte, pictorial or archeological, as to what they used to catch the spark, tehn I'll be willing to just let it go, and say "We dont know what they used, but they might have used all of these..."

However, I am not yet convinced that there is not some information somewhere to be found. Go on people, get searching!

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Post by Dave B »

I'm also experimenting. Just been and fetched some unwashed wool I collected of barbed wire, and it's drying in a low oven. I've a flint n steel ready to go.

But you are right, it's hit the books first.

It's worth noting that they had the aperatus, I belive that high qulaity brown charcoal for gunpowder etc was done in cauldrens sealed with clay (also in agricola I think)
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Post by gregory23b »

After many thousands of years of using fire, man begins his quest to find....

fire. :D


I also do not think it is a LENEL issue as it does not seem to carry the really horrendous baggage with it of self-justification, it is not as if we are asking if they used zippos. I would say Guthers has a good take on it.

The other thing to consider is linen fluff, not tow, but the fluff from spun and woven linen, this might catch, a whole range of flammable items might be conjectured safely as we are not really talking technology rather than possible materials.
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Post by Dave B »

I just tried the very dry unwashed fleece. No chance.

Will try a few other ideas.
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Post by Mark »

Any or all of the methods mentioned may have been used in firelighting.
How often though would they have been used? Lets not forget that people lived more communal lives than now and had to rely on each other to exist.
In an ordinary house the fire may have been going all day and then covered at night so that the embers of the previous fire could light the new one.Even if it went out you could get a light from a neighbour.
On Military Campaigns only one firesteel needs to operate in a Unit and anyone that needs to could take a burning brand and start a fire.
So the amount of Charcloth /Fungii etc being used was probably quite small. however the amount of Firewood used must have been immense!
What is LENEL?
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Post by guthrie »

LENEL= Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.
Or in other words, just because we cant find any evidence doesnt mean they didnt do it or use it or something.

Thats also an important point- we could do with more people wandering around carrying embers in special containers. House fires would likely have been banked every night before bed, as was done (And may still be in some places, although the need is less, since you dont need to keep a fire going all day in a modern roofed house since your thatch does not need to be dried all the time) up into the 20th century in parts of the country with lots of peat. And of course by those who still cooked with wood.

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Post by Mark »

You can make a poor quality Char Cloth without the tin.
Just take a piece of your cotton or Linen and set fire to it in as many places as you can... give it a couple of seconds to burn..then put it out with your foot. Some of the Cloth will have burnt to ashes but bits will survive and they will take a spark.
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Post by John Waller »

Can't find and early refs to char cloth only to 'tinder', which could mean anything. Earliest english ref to the word tinderbox is apparently from 1530.

Dave, tow won't catch a spark in my experience, but it will flame if you place your glowing ember in it and give it a gentle blow. I bought a big bag of it from a plumbers merchant for less than £1.
Last edited by John Waller on Mon Jan 08, 2007 5:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Post by Jack the dodgy builder »

Here are some pictures of pouches with the steel sewn on. all in museums and dated as Tudor except the one with three picts which is 1630 American. There are lots like them.

edit Not all the picture got there I will try again!!
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Last edited by Jack the dodgy builder on Mon Jan 08, 2007 4:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Jack the dodgy builder »

making charred cloth isnt that difficult Big Miles does it on the open fire between two sheets of metal all the time. I have a copper tube that does a good job . I hardly ever make bits bigger tham 4 x 2 (any guesses at the reason?)
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Dave B
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Post by Dave B »

Just I thought, Once gunpowder was commonly used, might military types have used a pinch of black powder with thier flint and steel?
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Post by madjon »

powders a good way to light a fire, but an easy way to singe fingers, one of the common uses is fire lighting, but on the same note salt petre soaked cloth cord or even lime withies catch well, even today there is instruction of using cartridge propellant for firelighting, have come across 18th century mention of it, but as powder was of great value at times past it may not have been as common early on in the use of powder with armes to use it to light fires with, good question , the early use of powder in the country in armes is known but what of use for fire lighting? its quite easy to use but was a valuable commodity, its quite possible they did, but would they do it often?
a range of natural materials can be found to catch a spark, the fungus question, horseshoe fungus can be prepared to take a spark, and strips kept as tinder patch,a whole bracket can be used to transport a glowing ember bed for a days travel, fire carrying was something which was an important job with people on the move,

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Post by m300572 »

however the amount of Firewood used must have been immense!


One of the factors that is often not taken into account when describing life in the past- if you ever work on a site where there is a fire going all the time then the amount of wood needed is pretty staggering - we used to stack firewood under the eaves of the Iron Age houses on sites where I worked - so a woodpile about 1 m high, 1 m wide round an 8m diameter house (about 22 metres long) would last for the summer season.
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Post by gregory23b »

"however the amount of Firewood used must have been immense!"

If you were allowed to have it. Various places had laws on wood gathering, let alone felling. There may have been a lot of it, but it was not always freely available.
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Post by guthrie »

Weren't they doing coppicing by the 12 or 13th century?

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Post by Laffin Jon Terris »

Not period I know but amongst my firelighting kit i keep a small tub of tumble-drier fluff (the stuff you clean off the filter when you remember to!)

It works well when you've got your char-cloth glowing nicely, placed in the middle of the fire and surrounded by kindling its not the most obvious (though it does normally come out of the drier a blue/grey colour!)
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Post by gregory23b »

"Not period I know "

I wouldn't bet on it, at least in principle, after all fluff is fluff and fine flammable fibres in some of the fungi almost count as it. Just that the fluff from your spandex Calvin Kleins might be a bit iffy eh John?
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Post by guthrie »

smells = volatiles. THey might burn better.
Or do you mean another kind of iffy?

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Post by m300572 »

Weren't they doing coppicing by the 12 or 13th century?


Earliest evidence for coppicing in Britain is from prehistoric trackways in the Somerset Levels - Neolithic so around 3000 BC. Firewood was a major resource (as was timber) and there were restrictions on collecting it - by hook or by crook meant that you could pull dead boughs down with a crook. Coppicing produced usuable rods for building, fencing anf the like and the brush was bundles into faggots or bavins for firing ovens. Well managed coppice doesn't produce much firewood unless its managed on a long felling cycle.
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Post by Vicky »

There are insturction on firelighting in Le Menagier De Paris (14thC), but translations of this bit vary. One of our group has tried it out with little success, but we need to translate from the original really.

Eileen Powers translation:
If thou would make a good kindling to light the fire with a steel, take the old bark of a nut-tree and then put it in a pot full of very strong lye, whole or in pieces the size of two fingers, whichever thou dist prefer, and keep it boiling for the space of two days and a night at the least. And if thou hast no lye, then take good ashes and put them with water and make a thick paste thereof, and then set your bark to boil therein for the aforesaid time, and keep on mixing as it boils. If thou art boiling it in lye, mix it with lye, if thou art boiling it in ashes, mix it with water; and nathless whatever thou art boiling it in, if thou can procure animal urine to mix with it, it will be all the better. And when it has thus boiled, press out the moisture and then wash it in fair, clean water, ready to dry it again,and then set it to dry in the sun or in the chimney corner, away from the fire, so that it burn not, for it must be dried slowly and at leisure. And when it isdry and it is desired to use it, then it must be beaten with a hammer or a stock, until it becommeth like unto a sponge. And when thou wouldst light a fire, then take a piece the size of a pea, and set it on thy flint and forthwith thou shalt have a fire; and it needeth only to have lighted wicks and to light the candle. And it must be kept clean and dry.

Another translation (which I can't find to hand), talks about leaves from a nut tree, not the bark.

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Post by Vicky »

Ah, just found other translation - by Janet Hinson:

If you want to make good tinder to light a fire with (flint and) steel, take walnut bark (or possibly flowers?) past its prime, and put in a pot of very strong lye, either whole or in pieces the size of two fingers, whichever you wish, and boil continually for at least two days and a night. And if you have no lye, take good ashes and mix with the water and make it like "charree" (the thick mixture of ashes and water left at the bottom of the washtub after you pour off the lye), then put your bark on to boil in it for the time mentioned above and add liquid as needed while it boils. If you boil it in lye, add lye; if you boil it in charree, add water; and all the time it is boiling, if you can provide clean animal urine to add to it, so much the better. And when it is boiled enough, press it, and then wash in good clean water to soak it, then dry in the sun or in the hearth, away from the fire, so it does not burn, for it should dry gradually and gently; and when it is dry, if someone will help you , beat it with a mallet or a stick, until it gets spongy. And when someone wants to light a fire, let him take a piece about the size of a pea and put it on his flintstone, and he will soon have a fire; he only needs a sulphured spill, and he can light the candle. And you must keep it very clean and dry.

I think there maybe something here too:
http://www.anglo-norman.net/cgi-bin/xpr ... ;target=26
but medieval French is beyond me and I may have got completely the wrong idea about what this is about!

As Jorge suggests, linen fluff does work, as indeed do dry dead holly leaves and tinder fungus.

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Post by gregory23b »

Thanks Vicky, re that sulphured spill, is that an accurate translation do you think?

Because they are so useful.
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Post by Vicky »

gregory23b wrote:Thanks Vicky, re that sulphured spill, is that an accurate translation do you think?

Because they are so useful.


I have no idea Jorge. Both translations are from the same source - a 1846 publication of the 3 existing 15th century MSS. The first one by Eileen Power is the most often quoted translation - but that could be because it's the oldest - published in 1928.

Only the second one mentions the sulphured spill - Power's says 'lighted wicks' which isn't exactly clear.

Absolutely no idea.

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Post by madjon »

the urine smells of nitrates to me, so boiling of it leaves nitrates which is a thought.

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Post by gregory23b »

aaah salt petre!!! ah madjon, ah ahh

and I bet it would smell too.
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Post by Vicky »

gregory23b wrote:and I bet it would smell too.


Ask Edward - he made some! :roll:

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Post by Mark »

Once the knack is mastered,creating the spark and catching the ember becomes the easy bit!
So many things need to become second nature. Things like..

1. Always close your Charcloth tin before creating sparks, so the lot dosn't go up!
2.Always turn your back to the wind when opening the Charcloth tin..the cloth is so light a bit of wind will blow it all away.
3.Keep a tight grip of the Steel and flint whilst preparing to strike and after.Its no good dropping either on a pitch black night,in a gale with rain coursing down your neck.
4. After striking. put the Flint & Steel somewhere very safe before creating flame ..not on the floor, it will get lost. This is why a Steel sewn to the pouch would be good
5. Always carry a spare flint..see above.
6. Always be on the lookout for good Tinder and put it somewhere it can dry.dont wait till you need tinder then go looking for it..plan ahead.
Just a few things to consider,
Oggie.

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Post by Jack the dodgy builder »

It took me ages to find in all my stuff but there is a reference from 1541 R Copland;- Guydons Quest
"They made soft tendre as of old linen"

there are also some references to "scorched linen" but I cant find those.

The recipes given earlier are I believe for the making of Touchwood or German tinder now know as Amadou.
This is made from the Horse Hoof funguses Boletus laricis and Polyporus fonentarius.
It has been known for a few thousand years and Oetzi the ice man had some.
The Germans I believe processed it in large quantities hence the name.
The finished product is sponge like indead it was used as a wound dressing.
The word sponge seems to have its root in the Gaelic word spong which means tinder.

Hope this adds a little to the pot

Jack

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