In the age of flint and steel, the guns were all fired by this method. Fig. 33 shows the gun-lock of an old musket; the hammer holds a piece of flint, a small piece of buckskin is folded around the inside edge of the flint and serves to give a grip to the top part of the hammer which is screwed down. To fire the gun the hammer is pulled back at full cock, the steel sets opposite the hammer and is joined to the top of the powder-pan by a hinge. When the trigger is pulled the hammer comes down, striking the flint against the steel, throwing it back and exposing the powder at the same time to the sparks which ignite the powder in the gun by means of the touch hole in the side of the barrel of same. This is the sort of a hammer and lock used by all of our ancestors up to the time of the Civil War, and it is the sort of a hammer used by the Confederates as late as the battle of Fort Donaldson. In the olden times some people had flint lock pistols without barrels, which were used only to ignite punk for the purpose of fire-building. But when one starts a fire by means of flint and steel one's hands must act the part of the hammer, the back of one's knife may be the steel, then a piece of flint or a gritty rock and a piece of punk will produce the spark necessary to generate the flames.
In the good old pioneer days, when we all wore buckskin clothes and did not bother about the price of wool, when we wore coonskin caps and cared little for the price of felt hats, everybody, from Miles Standish and George Washington to Abraham Lincoln, used flint and steel. Fig. 27 shows ten different forms of steel used by our grandsires and granddames.
Flint in its natural condition may be found in many states, but, as a rule, any stone which was used by the Indians for arrowheads will answer as a substitute for flint,* that is, any gritty or glassy stone, like quartz, agate, jasper or iron pyrites. Soft stones, limestones, slate or soapstones are not good for this purpose.
Most of the old steels were so made that one might grasp them while thrusting one's fingers through the inside of the oval steel, Fig. 28 (left handed). Some of the Scoutmasters of the Boy Scouts of America make their own steels of broken pieces of flat ten-cent files, but this is unnecessary because every outdoor man, and woman, too, is supposed to carry a good sized jack-knife and the back of the blade of the jack-knife, or the back of the blade of one's hunting knife is good enough steel for anyone who has acquired the art of using it as a steel.
But if you must have steels manufactured at the machine shop or make them yourself, let them be an inch wide, a quarter of an inch thick, and long enough to form an ellipse like one of those shown in Fig. 27. Have the sharp edges rounded off. If you desire you may have your steel twisted in any of the shapes shown in Fig. 27 to imitate the ones used by your great granddaddies.