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Booshway
Picture of Iche Iia
posted
Let’s talk a bit about fire making. There are several ways but I would like to concentrate on flint and steel because they are easy to carry around and ………………. It’s my question LOL

My son is a good researcher, I haven’t the patients for it anymore but we are both trying to do a lot of it on this subject and I think it my surprise some of you as to what we have come up with. (I’m speaking more of the 1830’s fur trapping era now.) And, this makes a great deal of sense (sound wisdom) when you think about it. Cotton was not only valuable in price but also in owning it. And if you were a mountaineer, you would have worn it to threads. PLUS, after a year in the hills, no matter what type of cloth you would be using……….it would have played out.

So, they had to turn to (or in my opinion, started with) “Natural Tender”. In my opinion, Punk Wood and/or gun powder would be what they used. Punk Wood you can find anywhere in the woods where they were at. Also Chaga (sp) fungus might have been plentiful but I don’t think that cotton was used then.

How about you? What’s your opinion?


Iche Iia

"Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you."
 
Posts: 378 | Location: Prince George, Virginia | Registered: 04 April 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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I think you've hit the nail on the head.There are plenty of natural substances that could be just as useful,and much less expensive....Only rich city slickers would'a used that fancy char cloth stuff... Wink


Beer is proof that God loves us,and wants us to be happy-B. Franklin
 
Posts: 1452 | Location: Oreegun Territory | Registered: 24 March 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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I'm not so sure I agree completely. The traders carried fabrics, and we know the mountaineers, trappers, and backwoodsmen wore clothes of cloth as well as buckskin. I believe fabric was actually preferred for comfort, although buckskin was more durable for outerwear. The hunters had to get powder and lead somewhere, and the traders were as likely to have fabrics as ammunition. We need to remember that they needed fabric for rifle patches, too.

As for the type of fabric (linen versus cotton), you might have a point. I believe that the development and increased availability of long-staple cotton and the invention of the cotton gin may have revolutionized the textile industry, but I'm not sure exactly when these events occurred. Earlier, I understand that cotton was expensive and harder to get than linen cloth. Wool cloth was available, but it doesn't burn well.

In discussions of this type, the distinction between tinder and char often becomes cloudy. I think of tinder as the light, fluffy, fibrous stuff that you hope will catch fire from the ember you have produced in your char or touchwood. Tinder is not hard to source in the woods. I live in north Florida, and in my area, dead Spanish moss ("black moss"), shredded inner bark of juniper, and palmetto fiber are all pretty readily available. All work well as tinder, and in fact any one of them works better than tow. I don't know when jute was first imported to the colonies, but I have found that fiber obtained by pulling jute twine apart makes first rate tinder, much better than tow. You can get jute twine at Lowes or Home Depot.

Char cloth or touchwood is another matter. I just don't think fabrics were that uncommon, and char cloth could have been made from rags. Very few people disappeared alone into the wilderness for years at a time, and if these folks carried rifles, they would need ammunition, and as discussed above, they could get fabric for shooting patches from the same sources that provided powder and lead. If they got cloth for shooting patches, they could have gotten some extra for char cloth.

Tinder fungus (or amadou) is a northern species. I understand it can be found in the mountains of North Carolina, but I think it is generally associated with the birch forests of the north. I have a couple of chunks of it obtained from elsewhere, but I have not tried using it for firestarting yet.

I have made "touchwood" by charring rotten wood ("punk") in a can, exactly as you make char cloth. It catches and holds a spark very well, but is rather tricky to use because it crumbles readily and is very light. If you just blow on a heap of it, you'll blow it away, and the individual crumbs are kind of hard to handle. It has occurred to me that bits of charcoal from an old campfire might be broken up and used as touchwood, but I have not tried it... yet.

There is another technique worth mentioning. If you look at strike-a-light kits from the Sami people and the indigenous folk from eastern Siberia, you'll frequently see a little wooden dish as part of the kit. This looks sort of like the bowl section of a large wooden spoon, and is called a "sulphur dish." I understand that powdered sulphur is quite flammable, and it was traded widely among the people of those regions. Evidently, you put some powdered sulphur in the dish and strike the sparks down into it. When you get a good ember going it's not hard to start a fire with good tinder. The problem is that burning sulphur produces a highly toxic gas. Either the people who used this technique did not know, did not care, or felt the result justified the risk.

I'm looking forward to reading what the other folks might have to say on this. Thanks for starting the topic!

Notchy Bob


"Should have kept the old ways just as much as I could, and the tradition that guarded us. Should have rode horses. Kept dogs."

from The Antelope Wife
 
Posts: 309 | Location: Florida | Registered: 24 May 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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Wow, well written and well thought out Notch Bob and will attempt to reply later. But right now I am only on my first cup of coffee and need to organize MY thoughts LOL but I will be back.


Iche Iia

"Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you."
 
Posts: 378 | Location: Prince George, Virginia | Registered: 04 April 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Factor
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I'm not up on the post 1800 era..., but I do know that folks in homes saved cloth and charred the edges to make fires.

I also know that at least one of George Morgan's hunters drew out a single yard of linen, which folks think was for patching..., but nobody thinks the guy was going to make char...???

I'd suggest folks gets some fungus and see how easy it is to make a fire with the stuff. I intend to do the same. If it's about the same or better, I will change to the fungus.

LD


It's not what you know, it's what you can prove
 
Posts: 3645 | Location: People's Republic of Maryland | Registered: 10 November 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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I’ll just jump right in because this is long – Concerning patches; I wish I could remember where my son read this in doing his research but in one of the articles he read, the author said that he could find no evidence of char cloth being used and he would appreciate it if anyone ran across such evidence that they send it to him. I also can’t get past the practicality of it. Why would they worry about cloth when they could just reach down and find Punk? Plus they carried a sure fire starting material all the time….gun powder! My son and I both have found a lot of evidence to that.

It’s interesting when we start digging into things like this because “in the day” everyone knew how to make fire and no one felt a need to write down how they did it, if in fact they could write at all. So, at best all we are going to come up with “assumptions”.

Gun patches for char – Maybe, heck, it’s what I use today LOL But I think that flacks may have been more of a common thing to use for cleaning. In fact jags are still made just for that purpose. I carry some in my kit but it’s just for demonstration, we have much better materials and chemicals available to us then they had in the mountains. And that’s the purpose of some of my demonstrations is to show the difference between “back then” vs. today.

Back on the “flats” it very well may have been a whole different story. Sort of like the difference in how you clean your gun at home with everything you need readily available at your fingertips compared to how you would do it in the field with only what you have in your bag. I’ve also read (but can’t quote it) that gun maintenance back then was not up to the standards of today.

Again, my old brain suffers from CRS so I can’t, for sure, quote names but I believe it was Ashley that called a young trapper down on the cleanliness of his rifle and took $5.00 out of his pay to give to another man to clean it for him. But I’m getting off topic.

Tender vs. char; I’m splitting hairs here but I feel that (like the word possible bag) it is the usage of the word and not so much the object. I have, again in my kit, what they called a tender box; in it is the material that I have “charred”. I use both, charred punk wood, or touchwood (there are several name for it) as well as char cloth. (Not in the same box.) So far, I am better at taking a piece of char cloth out and laying it on my flit and striking it. However, in the day, they would strike their flint down “into” the tender box full of charred punk. Once an ember caught, they would lay their birds nest material “onto” the burning ember and start the flame. Once that was accomplished, they simply closed the tender box which starved the charred material for air and it would go out and be ready for the next time.

Jute twine – On this point I agree completely and it is what I call tow. But I guess that flacks fibers are what you are referring to as tow and I agree, it catches but not well. Better used back then for gun cleaning.

Interesting that you mentioned Amadou. I just watch a video yesterday on how to find it and prep it. VERY labor intensive and not something I would do nor do I feel that they would do back then but that is just my opinion.

Getting back to the punk wood for one last comment. Finding good punk is not as easy as I once thought. I am still not sure I have the right stuff. Once I can find and can describe the type and condition that works best for me I will post it.

.


Iche Iia

"Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you."
 
Posts: 378 | Location: Prince George, Virginia | Registered: 04 April 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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I would like to add one more thing to this “work shop” concerning char cloth. I can certainly understand that when a man’s cotton shirt was completely worn out that he may have made char cloth out of the scrap or even used some of it to clean his gun. But something to consider, what did he use before the shirt wore out? And if it were natural material like punk wood, why would he change to something else like char cloth when what he was using worked?

Just a thought.


Iche Iia

"Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you."
 
Posts: 378 | Location: Prince George, Virginia | Registered: 04 April 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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Has anyone experimented with using the pith from the stalk of a rush,cattail,etc. as either char or tinder?
As far as patching material for guns,I know some modern-day re-enactors have used grass,un spun wool,and other various materials for wadding/patching to feed their guns...Dunno if it was done historically....


Beer is proof that God loves us,and wants us to be happy-B. Franklin
 
Posts: 1452 | Location: Oreegun Territory | Registered: 24 March 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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Btw,I have a life-time supply of punk from a fallen cottonwood tree on my property.We also have several fallen,or split willows in our area with punky interiors.No question in my mind what constitutes punk...


Beer is proof that God loves us,and wants us to be happy-B. Franklin
 
Posts: 1452 | Location: Oreegun Territory | Registered: 24 March 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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old hornets nest makes good wading for either shot or bear ball and it is quite P.C.


Iche Iia

"Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you."
 
Posts: 378 | Location: Prince George, Virginia | Registered: 04 April 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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I had to take a break from this conversation and get things ready for the Memorial day rendezvous in W. Va with the Shenandoah Long Rifles. Man did we have fun.

But back on topic: I’m still not convinced that char cloth shared a wide spread use. My son and I charred some Punk Wood this weekend and I like it a LOT. I found that the problem with me getting it to take a spark was ME not the Punk Wood. But boy I tell you what, when it did, I had to be sure to close my tinder box as soon as I could because it will not go out on its own. That one thing alone is worth me working more with it because you have a lot more time to catch a flame to damper tow and tender.

I’ll be the first to admit though that char cloth is easier to use.


Iche Iia

"Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you."
 
Posts: 378 | Location: Prince George, Virginia | Registered: 04 April 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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Here in PA we have what I believe are oyster mushrooms. I googled them and they look exactly like the ones that grow on trees in my woods. one of these are enough to fill up my tinder can. They catch a spark easily, and are almost impossible to extinguish. I just take them off the tree and dry them out, and then crumble them up into my can.
 
Posts: 269 | Location: Pocono Mts. in PA | Registered: 12 June 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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That is one of the things I believe they used back then too, especially the camp keepers who would have more time to dry out the fungus and less chance of getting it wet again.

I'm not too sold on cleaning patches because, again, it gets back to the availability of cloth. They had special jags (still used) made for tow that was made from flax. It was cheap and widely used from all I have read. Plus, when the tow dried and was no longer useful for barrel cleaning, it could be used for tinder. in fact, that worked really well because it had dried gun powder in it.


Iche Iia

"Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you."
 
Posts: 378 | Location: Prince George, Virginia | Registered: 04 April 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Hivernant
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So much has been said about this over the years but it is always interesting. First off yes cotton was in demand but after you've worn it out way not use some of it for char.

Also keep in mind you don't need much char as you are not in the woods trapping by yourself. In most cases you were with a brigade of men, some trappers, some camp keepers. The keepers would start a fire in camp and keep it going until the time you moved on. This could be days even weeks. What I'm saying is a small amount of char in a group of men would last a long time. You would not be starting fires daily but keeping the one you have, going.

Bottom line though is cotton is rare, but I think a small tin would last a man that is hunting in a group a long time.

You also don't need a tin to make char. Just bury it in some coals. Be careful when you uncover it though, any breeze will ignite it.

I've experimented with a lot of fungus and punk woods here in the mountains of Colorado. I've never had any luck with fungus, limited luck with conifer punk, but pretty good luck with Aspen punk. Works pretty good actually.

Fun stuff
 
Posts: 140 | Registered: 18 March 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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I can agree with your point about a worn out shirt but only to a certain degree. Yes they could have made char from it or even rags to clean guns with.

But lets say a new cotton shirt would last (random number) three months of hard usage. What did they use "before" the shirt wore out and why would they change from what they were already using just because it did?


Iche Iia

"Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you."
 
Posts: 378 | Location: Prince George, Virginia | Registered: 04 April 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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All of this is very interesting.

I don't think we need to get too caught up in the "worn out shirt" theme. Most people then, as now, wore shirts all of their lives. If a fellow "jumped off" into the wilderness with a new cotton shirt, maybe he saved his old shirt from before then.

Anyway, the traders had both yard goods and made goods, and while fabrics on the frontier were probably not wasted, I don't think they were all that scarce, either.

The point about wadding for smoothbores is certainly true. However, it is my understanding that most of the Americans in the period that interests us preferred rifles. Cooper's "Leatherstocking" and his buckskin patches notwithstanding, I think cloth patches were the norm for shooting if not cleaning, and they had to be gotten from somewhere. As for tow, I had thought up to this point that the word "tow" applied strictly to coarse flax fiber, but I believe Iche Iia is right in that it can be and has been used in reference to other fibers, as well. For discussion's sake, I have not seen tow listed with the western trader's inventories, and the little item people call a "tow worm" nowadays was called a "gunworm" back then. Oddly enough, the Spanish term for a gunworm is sacatrapos, literally "rag puller."

With all of that said, however, I do agree with Iche Iia that char made from punk was probably pretty widely used. Like brother Iche, I have found in my own experiments with it that punk char does catch a spark quite readily. I'm still working on my technique, but I believe laying the fiber "nest" on top of the embers in a tin of char and blowing on it to ignite the tinder may be the way to go.

One other item which has not been mentioned is the tinder tube. This was a rope or cord of some length, passed through a snug-fitting metal cylinder. The cord was charred on one end. You push the charred end of the cord out of the tube a little way, strike a spark into it and blow on it to enlarge the ember. This can be used to light your pipe, or I suppose it could be tucked into your tinder nest to get the fiber ignited. Once you have lit whatever you want to light, you pull the hot end of the cord back into the metal cylinder where it gets starved for oxygen and goes out, leaving a charred end ready for your next light. This was the frontier Zippo.

There is yet another frontier artifact worth considering. Many of the old strike-a-light outfits attributed to plains Indians include with the pouch, flint, and steel a hollow horn tip. The ones I have seen pictured are typically not drilled for a suspension string. Museum curators simply call it a "powder charger," which it resembles, but evidently don't ponder the fact that it is in the pouch with the fire-lighting gear and not with the shooting gear. I think the horn tip may have been used in conjunction with the flint and striker in some way, but I'm not sure how. Maybe to hold some little chunks of charred punk? It might be difficult to direct the sparks into it. I have not figured this one out yet.

So much to learn...

Best regards,

Notchy Bob


"Should have kept the old ways just as much as I could, and the tradition that guarded us. Should have rode horses. Kept dogs."

from The Antelope Wife
 
Posts: 309 | Location: Florida | Registered: 24 May 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Free Trapper
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There was actually a LOT of cloth that went to the western fur trade, both to rendezvous and to the posts as well, to be traded to Indians and to trappers, etc. Here is a link to mtnmen.org. http://mtmen.org/mtman/bizrecs.html
This link takes you directly to the business records page which contains a lot of inventories, bills of lading, etc. Infinitely interesting to those of us interested in the western fur trade.
My point in all of this is to show that cloth was readily available in the mountains in the form of whole cloth and also in pre sewn shirts and pants. So cloth for gun patches and char was available. Unfortunately the ones who kept journals didn't record much in the way of explaining day to day things like building fires as those things were commonly known by everyone and didn't need explaining. I'm pretty sure that going to rendezvous only once a year them fellers probably ran low on supplies by the time summer rolled around and probably did have to improvise for things such as char and gun patches, but that is conjecture on my part. I hope there are some AMM fellers out there who would weigh in on this and maybe shed some more light on the subject.
And I agree, I haven't seen tow listed either.


"They do not live their lives 'by your leave'! They hack it out of the wilderness with their own two hands, bearing their children along the way!" - Cora Monroe - "Last Of The Mohicans"
 
Posts: 186 | Location: Turkey Creek on Cimarron Drainage | Registered: 10 September 2014Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Hivernant
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Just a thought,wondering if a well dried out buffalo chip would catch a spark also I am sure that they would have known about tinder fungus.
 
Posts: 113 | Location: Alberta Canada | Registered: 25 March 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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Good point! They were use a LOT for fire in general but I am not sure if they would take a spark on their own. Good question.


Iche Iia

"Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you."
 
Posts: 378 | Location: Prince George, Virginia | Registered: 04 April 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Booshway
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As for the tender fungus, they absolutely knew about that. Harder to take a spark but it last a lot longer which is good for a damp birds nest.


Iche Iia

"Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you."
 
Posts: 378 | Location: Prince George, Virginia | Registered: 04 April 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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