Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.

Jim Miller

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Two Essentials in the Quest for Fire and a Matchsafe with a Twist

The Original "Kindle"
Image Courtesy Camp Augusta
    Ever since I was a kid, I've been fascinated with the ancient practice of creating fire from a spark. I can still remember as a boy scout, watching my Dad start a fire from a piece of flint and a file. He would make charcloth from cotton flannel by igniting a scrap and then smothering it in a shoe polish tin. After showering it with sparks, the now smoldering scrap would be surrounded with fine shavings and gently blown into a flame. Dear old Dad had nothing against matches but he had every intention of infecting me with the "wonder" of primitive firemaking.

    Even as late as the mid-19th century, when matches were commonly available, people still relied on flint and steel as a fire source. It just makes sense when you consider a little dampness can render matches useless. When I'm at a Gold Rush living history event, I always have a proper flint and steel kit in my belongings and since I'm an early riser at sleep-over events, that morning fire is my baby. For me it's just fun once in awhile to start a fire in a way that takes me back to my childhood but also reminds me of our self-reliant ancestoral past.

Original Flint Striker
Image Source Online Auction
My Replica Flint Striker

     Several years ago, I stumbled on an interesting 19th-century variation of a flint-striker that I felt would be fun to reproduce. The steel is suspended on a rod from the bottom of a gusseted, leather pouch. The pouch was no doubt intended to hold the flint. The original example had needlework panels on both sides, which certainly elevated it beyond the ordinary. For my replica, I chose a plainer path but kept it faithful to the original form, including the cord loop closure and early waistcoat brass button. For the steel, I ground and polished a scrap of an old file. For the steel's suspension loops, I shaped a tab at each end and then after the tabs were annealed, they were bent into loops. I think it turned our nicely and it's a pleasure to use, as the pouch gives you something to grip while you strike the steel with the flint.
Original Tinder Horn
Image Courtesy the Penlee House

My Replica Tinder Horn
With Tinder Fungus and Brimstone Matches
     There's an ongoing discussion these days as to which tinder is period appropriate. Charcloth is out and organic plant matter is in. Lately I've been experimenting with some tinder fungus I purchased from Jas. Townsend & Son. but I'm also interested in ways to store and keep that tinder dry. I'm sure any period style, moisture resistant box with a tight lid would suffice but I was intrigued by what is called a "tinder horn". Just like it sounds, it's basically a section of cowhorn with a plug at one end and a large cork at the other. How simple is that ? Luckily I found a photo of an original on line and similar containers are illustrated in Neumann and Kravic's "Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution".

Original Matchsafe on the Left
My Replica on the Right

      Last in this post is my matchsafe with a twist. Mid 19th-century tin matchsafes are pretty common as many have survived but this particular version has an extra feature. I've always wanted one of these since I saw the first one in "Antique Tin & Tole Ware" by Mary Earle Gould. It's a matchsafe with a fold-out candleholder. Pretty darn sweet.  A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to purchase an original from an online auction. This opportunity gave me the chance to make a careful replica. With such a small candle, it must have been intended as an emergency light, maybe to help you find your way to the privy or something like that. Either way it was a fun and challenging little piece of tin work with three hinges and lots of tiny bends.  It really comes in handy when I'm crawling into my tent in the dark mumbling let there be "period correct" light !!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post.
    Regards, Keith.