Campfire
Lou Ambers cooking over a campfire, using a tin can on a stick, from New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection (Library of Congress)

This advice for starting a campfire without matches came from “Mountain Scouting, A Hand-Book for Officers and Soldiers on the Frontiers,” by Edward S. Farrow, U.S. Army, 1881. I’d be interested to hear if any readers have methods other than those described below. Please respond in the comments.

If without matches, a spark may be obtained as follows:

1st- Take out the object glass of a telescope, if there be one, and use it as a burning glass. The inside of a highly polished watch case might answer.

2d. Try the Indian method of producing fire by the friction of two pieces of wood, called the drill stick and the fire-block. Any hard and dry stick will do for the former, but the latter must be an inflammable wood, with a medium softness and little grain. A walnut gun stock is excellent. The drill stick is roundly pointed at the end and brought to bear upon the fireblock with pressure, while it is rapidly revolved by means of the hands or a string passing around it.

A little powdered charcoal sprinkled on the fire-block (which may be scraped off the trees in most any section where forest fires have raged) will greatly assist in the production of the spark.

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3d. By means of a flint and steel. The flint may be replaced by silicious stones—quartz, agate, jaspar, etc., or even by granite. Crockery will often make a good spark. If there be no steel at hand, a link of chain, a piece of a bit or horse shoe may be case-hardened and used. Pyrites is frequently employed.

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