A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

The Man Scout: Stick with me in End Times, we will feast like kings – just be sure to bring a flint stone

By Chris Cole
Special to NKyTribune

Last week I shared details about my fear of fire and a few incidents from my childhood that undoubtedly fueled that fear. The very night I wrote that column, the house my grandparents lived in when I was growing up burned down, just a few blocks from the house fire 36 years ago I described last week.

Fire is a beast, merciless and remorseless. It can destroy a home in minutes and burn through memories even faster. My mom has had a rough week. She said seeing the old house burn up somehow made the loss of her parents feel final, even though they’ve been gone close to 30 years now.

That’s the power of a flame.

With some flint stone, a piece of steel and some tinder, a 10-year-old scout can make fire in just a few minutes. It took The Man Scout a bit longer.

It added extra heft to this week’s Man Scout challenge of learning to make fire. But before I get into that, I want to share what I learned from the Boy Scouts Handbook about why a fire burns in the first place.

For wood to burn, it says, the wood must be heated to such a temperature that it will change into a gas a little at a time. When this gas mixes with the oxygen of the air and is lit, a flame occurs and the wood burns.

The Handbook walks young scouts through the selection of materials and properly laying the fire (the tepee and crisscross methods are illustrated) before shifting to the main event – lighting the fire.

The Handbook focuses on two types of flame-making – flint and friction. You never know what fate might throw at you, so I decided to try both.

For starting a fire using flint stone and steel, the Handbook says you simply, “Strike spark, hold smoldering wick in tinder — and blow!” I don’t know if they don’t make flint like they used to or what, but I’ve updated this section to read: “Strike, strike, strike, strike, strike, strike, strike, strike; switch hands and strike, strike, strike, strike…spark; watch spark quickly go out before you can generate a ‘smoldering wick’; then strike some more.”

I assume I had more trouble with this than most 10-year-olds, but after consulting with Scout Master Google, I was eventually able to strike correctly and blow just right to make a flame.

So, if we ever find ourselves in End Times, stick with me and this Weren’t No Boy Scout can at least make fire. Eventually.

Friction fire is a whole other story.

Tom Hanks famously shouted, “I have made fire!” after building a friction fire in the movie “Castaway.” (Courtesy of Everett Collection)

On television, this looks simple – you rub sticks together until one gets hot enough to magically make a flame. Voila – fire. Reality is more like Tom Hanks in “Castaway,” rubbing and rubbing and sweating and adjusting and then rubbing and rubbing some more.

Basically, everything has to be perfect. If the piece of wood you place horizontally on the ground (your “hearth bed”) isn’t flat, it will wobble and this will kill any chance you have of making a spark. If the notch you cut into the hearth bed isn’t the right size, this will kill any chance you have of making a spark. If your spindle (the stick you rub against the hearth bed) isn’t cut clean on the contact end…well, you get the picture. The stars have to align.

Unfortunately for me, they never did. I tried the Handbook’s method, using a string to move the spindle, and could only generate a little smoke. Then I ditched the string and just rolled the spindle between my hands, but that only made me sore and frustrated. I heated up, but the tinder never did.

So we’ll call this one a draw. When End Times come, just be sure to bring some flint stone along with you and I’ve got you covered.

Until then, remember to always be vigilant about fire safety and, of course, to Do a Good Turn Daily!

Chris Cole is Director of Enterprise Communications at Sanitation District No. 1 and a deacon at Plum Creek Christian Church in Butler. He lives in Highland Heights with his wife, Megan. The Man Scout chronicles Cole’s journey to acquiring some of the skills of the head, the heart and the hand he failed to learn as a child of the 1980s growing up in Newport. His field guide: a 1952 Boy Scouts Handbook he found on eBay.

Related Posts


  1. Olivia says:

    Way to go for conquering your fear! I’ve always thought if I were a contestant on the show Survivor and my game came down to a fire-making challenge; I’d be a goner. I hope I never face that situation or worse, but if so, I’ll take a note from you, channel my inner Tom Hanks and keep at it.

    On a side note, I’m so sorry to hear how your mom was affected by that fire. I hope all involved are safe and heal.

    • Chris Cole says:

      Thanks, Olivia! I don’t know if I’ll ever feel truly comfortable near a flame, but I’m going to have to get used to it if I’m going to be a Forged in Fire champion some day.

Reply to Olivia Cancel Reply