What if you were stranded unexpectedly in the wild? Could you make a fire without a firelighter? There are several different ways to make fires from natural materials. Sure, you could rub sticks together until you broke out in a sweat or you might sacrifice your bootlace to build a fire drill. On the other hand, you might just go find yourself some stone. Be able to know where to find a little piece of this rock could save your day. Find the flint, strike it against steel, and light your tinder to start your fire. In this guide, we’re going to show you how to find this valuable mineral.
What is flint?
Flint is a form of quartz. Its defining mark is how hard it is. This tough mineral is found all over the world. Deposits are not spread evenly, but a determined seeker can find pieces in their local area.
Scientifically, flint is called a sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of quartz. It occurs mainly in chalk and marly limestone. While you can the material lying around, it starts as a round nodule inside other rocks.
People have been using hard rocks as tools for hundreds of thousands of years. Flintknapping was a skill many communities relied on for centuries. Small flakes were used as blades or arrowheads while large chunks were shaped into axes and other tools.
How do these rocks and minerals form? Let’s pause for a moment of science:
No one really knows how these nodules of hard minerals form inside other rocks. The best guess is snails. Well, not snails, exactly. Rather, marine mollusks and other animals bore holes in softer rocks. These holes become filled with a jelly-like substance that later turns into a hard mineral. That’s one idea, anyway.
Enough of that. Now on to why formation processes matter.
The important thing about the formation of these rocks is the clue it provides to find them. They are either inside other rocks or they have somehow been taken out of those rocks. Likely rocks can be broken to find the valuable minerals inside. Learning to look at the landscapes around you will help you spot the forces that might bring flints out into the open.
The most basic point about the appearance of flint, and minerals which can be used like it, is it appears different to surrounding rocks. Remember, these nodules form inside other rocks. They do not look like the other rocks for this very reason. Instead, their appearance has a few common signs. You can spot them in some old buildings, especially in England.
First, hard minerals appear shiny or lustrous. They aren’t mirrors or windows, but they are much shinier than concrete. In fact, one of the ways to test a rock is to rub sand on it. If it looks slightly shiny after a little rubbing, then it is probably what you’re looking for.
Second, most of these mineral nodules are going to be dark in color. They can be many different shades of grey. They can also appear nearly black and a little smoky. However, due to the different rocks it may have formed in, the mineral you’re looking for could also be sandy brown or a reddish brown.
The reason why you want to know where to find flint is also one of its main characteristics: it is very hard. It’s a form of quartz. Because it is so hard, it can create sparks when violently collided with metals such as iron and steel.
The hardness of minerals is measured, at least in one way, on the Mohs scale. The theory behind this scale is harder materials scratch softer materials. Thus, a person can attempt to scratch one rock with another one. A scratch reveals the softer rock.
Different materials have hardness ratings varying from 1 (talc) to 10 (diamond). Your fingernail is probably rated just over a 2. Your pocketknife is probably close to a 5. The Mohs scale is subjective and is used by comparing rocks rather than measuring something about them. You’ll see why this is useful when it’s time to test what you collect.
Where to find flint in different areas
Okay, now we know a little about what we’re looking for. It’s time to move on to how to find it in the wild. While these kinds of useful minerals can be found all over the world, the deposits are not even. France, for example, has deposits of quartzite along its western coast and eastern borders. The center of the country has far fewer deposits. In America, Ohio is famous for its rich deposits while the Northeast is almost barren of these useful minerals.
However, the lack of a large deposit doesn’t mean small rocks and useful fragments cannot be found nearby. Let’s show you what to look for in the landscape around you.
Flint can be near…
…water. If you remember these minerals are formed inside other rocks, then you can start to look for the forces that bring these nodules out into the open.
The chief culprit is water. Nodules of hard minerals solidify within softer rocks. These rocks can be worn away by water through erosion or freeze-cracking. As the soft rocks wear away, the harder nodules come out into the open. To find them, look near beaches, rivers, and waterfalls.
These rocks can also be found in areas where softer rocks are being broken up by other forces. You can try looking at the bottom of cliffs where rocks have fallen. Another place to check is dry stream beds or flood plains. Seasonal deluges may move rocks around, bash them against one another, and reveal the mineral nodules within them.
Another place to look for useful pieces is in your history books. Native American settlements were gathering places for tools. Knowing where an ancient meeting place or trail was located might point you towards a few useful pieces.
Flint can be in…
As you can see, the best place to look for these minerals is inside other rocks. Chances are slim you brought along testing equipment to peer inside a rock, though. What you can do instead is smash a few rocks. Pick up a chunk of soft rock, such as limestone. Lift it above your head and then let it drop down on another rock. As the softer rocks split, you can look at the new faces to find nodules of harder minerals inside.
One of the ways flint forms is in thin layers between other sedimentary rocks. You can look for areas where rock layers are weathering and exposed. Small fragments of useful minerals can be found lying on the ground at such sites.
Testing what you find
Let’s imagine you’ve been hunting faithfully for a useful bit of stone. You’ve cracked open a large rock and discovered a dark grey nodule. Is it what you want? Can you start a fire with it? There are a few ways to test stones out in the field. Thankfully, these methods are low tech and do not require much special equipment.
One simple thing to try is breaking the rock. You are looking for rocks that flake when they crack rather than simply splitting in half. If you can knock a small flake off your rock, then it will probably be great at creating a spark as well.
Remember the Mohs scale of mineral hardness? Here is where we tell you what to do with that bit of science.
The way to use this in the field is to find a likely rock and try to scratch it with something about which you already know the hardness. The best example is glass. If the rock you are holding can scratch glass, then it is at least a 5.5 on the Mohs scale. Quartzites, such as the one you’re looking for, are rated as a 7.0 on the same scale.
You can also use a pocketknife for this test. If you can scratch your knife with the rock, then your rock is probably above a 5.5 on the Mohs scale.
The final test is the most crucial one: will it spark? The answer is probably yes, but making sparks isn’t quite as simple as finding rocks.
To make a spark, you need to have a little bit of technique. Your rock should have a sharp edge you can strike. The crucial principle is this:
Hit the least amount of rock with the highest level of force.
You’ll never make a spark by grinding steel against a flat surface. Instead, find a sharp edge and strike it sharply with your steel. If it sparks, then you have a good fire starter rock.
To help you, here’s a great little video about how to use a flint and steel:
The final clue
Here is one final clue to help you in your search for where to find flint. You don’t need flint! It is related to another rock called chert. There are several minerals equally hard as flint and chert. Most of them can be used to make sparks. The clue is in the usage you want. To make a fire, you need a spark. The spark doesn’t come from the rock. The spark comes from the steel. So, use our guide to help you find some hard rocks. Find them, strike them, and light your fire.