In early times, percussion firemaking was often used to start fires. Before the advent of steel, a variety of iron pyrite or marcasite was used with flint and other stones to produce a high-temperature spark that could be used to create fire. There are indications that the "Iceman" called Ötzi may have used iron pyrite to make fire.
From the Iron Age forward, until the invention of the friction match (ca. 1830), the use of flint and steel was a common method of firelighting. Percussion fire-starting was prevalent in Europe during ancient times, the Middle Ages and the Viking Age.
When flint and steel were used, the fire steel was often kept in a metal tinderbox together with flint and tinder. In Tibet and Mongolia they were instead carried in a leather pouch called a chuckmuck.
The type and hardness of steel used is important. High carbon steels (1060, W1, tool steels, etc.) generate sparks easily. Iron and alloys (like stainless steel, 5160, etc.) is more difficult and generates fewer sparks. The steel must be hardened but softer than the flint-like material scraping off the spark. Old files, leaf and coil springs, and rusty gardening tools are common, re-purposed sources of strikers.
The sharp edge of the flint is used to violently strike the fire steel at an acute angle in order to cleave or shave off small particles of metal. The pyrophoricity of the steel results in the shavings oxidising in the air. The molten, oxidizing sparks ignite the fine tinder. Tinder is best held next to the flint and the steel striker quickly slid down against the flint, casting sparks into the tinder. Charcloth or amadou ("tinder fungus") is often used to catch the low-temperature sparks, which can then can be brought to other, heavier tinder and blown into flame.
- Bush, Darren. "Traditional Firestarting Part I: How to Make Fire with Flint and Steel". Manly Skills, Self-Reliance, Survival. Art of Manliness. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
- "Do you have 5 Ways to Make Fire?". Survival Cache. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
- "Fire from Steel - Custom forged fire steels from Roman through Fur Trade time periods". Angelfire.com. Retrieved 2013-07-21.
- "Flint and Marcasite Fire Making".
- "Ötzi, l'Uomo venuto dal ghiaccio".
- "Viking Answer Lady Webpage - Viking Age Fire-Steels and Strike-A-Lights". Vikinganswerlady.com. Retrieved 2013-07-21.
- Alice (23 December 2010). "Do-it-yourself kiribi".
- Gordenker, Alice (16 December 2010). "Kiribi" – via Japan Times Online.