Fire is a necessity, and the ability to kindle fire was basic to survival. While there were a number of early methods for making fire, flint and steel was clearly the best. Whenever the materials and skills were available, flint and steel became the standard method. Strikers are compact and durable. Striking fire with flint and steel is quick and easy. It can even be automated, and is the basis for the flintlock firearm. Mechanized tinderboxes were also widely made.
At one point I decided I wouldn't smoke unless I lit my pipe with flint and steel. In the end, I didn't smoke any less; I just got better with flint and steel. I think it actually worked better in windy conditions than my Bic lighter!
Strikers were made in many styles. Broadly speaking, the earliest North European styles seem symmetrical, while Mediterranean and Byzantine styles were more likely to be asymetrical. However by the medieval period a common English style was the asymetrical "rattail", perhaps derived from the Byzantine bird-head style brought back from Miklagard by returning Varangians. This is pure speculation however. Strikers are small and portable. It's likely they were traded widely. All iron/steel strikers were by far the most common, but elaborate strikers with cast bronze handles were also used from the earliest times. I've seen a bronze handled striker dated to the 5th C. BC. There are also some lovely bronze pendants with steel striking edges in the Danish National Museum which don't seem to have been published. Striker steels were also sewn into the bottom edge of pouches, which held the tinder and flint. These were very common in the Far East until modern times, and were even used by the American Indian.
Styles tend to persist, or be reinvented, and what is called the "French oval" striker in colonial times is identical to the oval strikers found in Viking Sweden. Later strikers were often combined with pocket knives, tinder boxes, pipe tools etc. As I add graphics, I'll illustrate some different styles.
An excellent, but rather pricey, book on strikers of all periods is called "Fire Steels" (surprise) and is available from the Smoke & Fire folks.
I'm always looking for documented examples of early strikers. If anyone has any good references, please let me know. I have found very little good information, at least in English. Even in the major European museums, collections are seldom displayed. It is necessary to arrange access to the stored collections to do any real research.
Here's some other related pages courtesy of The Viking Answer Lady. Thank you Gunnora!
Koch, Eva. "Fire:
Translation of a paper printed in Skalk no. 5/1990, in the
version edited by Skalk".
Accessed 15 May 2002.
[Contains an illustration of a fire-steel from the Viking Age found at Berge, Borgund parish in Norway.]
"Fire-Steel (TYA 283:21)."
Raisio Archaeology Archive. Accessed 15 May 2002.
[Contains an illustration of a fire-steel from the Viking Age found at Raisio, Ihala, Mulli abode in Finland.] This is what I call the "Viking striker". While the Vikings used many different.styles of striker, as far as I know they were the only ones to use this style. It's also the style chosen by the national museums for sale in their shops as a typical Viking striker. I've also seen it called "lyre shaped".
Fire-Steel (TYA 619:273). Accessed 15 May 2002.
[Contains an illustration of a fire-steel from the Viking Age found at Raisio, Ihala, Mulli abode in Finland.] An oval striker from the Raisio Archaeology Archive. Ovals were apparantly quite common, particularly in areas of Swedish influence. I don't recall seeing any in the Danish National Museum collection, but I've recently seen a number that have found in Finland or Eastern Europe.
"Eldstål Med Ryttarfigurer." Statens Historiska Museum Photo Database.
Accessed 15 May 2002.
[Elaborate Viking Age bronze and steel fire-steel from Sweden.] This is very similar to another found in Luistari, Finland illustrated in the book 'Fire Steels' cited above.
"Råstoff, reiskap, våpen og smykke: Eldstål og stein." Gamle Naboar Website. Accessed 15 May 2002. [Viking Age West Scandinavian fire-steel plus striking stone showing groove from the steel.]
(To be continued) Back to Home Page
If you need a striker, you might want to look at the catalog page.