Originally uploaded by Hiltibold

The Frontier Tinder Pouch

by Jason Earls, Image credit Hiltibold

Long ago pioneers and Native Americans carried ‘tinder pouches,’ which contained fire-making implements along with additional items used for survival. Shouldn’t the hunter, camper, or hiker of today also carry a tinder pouch? An outdoorsman never knows when they may need to make a fire, and having additional survival items at their disposal is also a bonus.

A tinder pouch of the type mentioned above was usually made by lacing a piece of leather that served as a belt loop to another larger piece of leather cut to the proper size of the pouch. Then the lower section of the leather would be folded up over the middle portion so that a flap was left at the top. The sides were then laced together and a button attached to hold the flap closed. Simple.

Some tinder pouches were decorated by adding bead work to the leather before folding and lacing them up. Other pouches were painted with various designs. The button could be made from a slice of deer antler cut with a hand saw; or made from a slice of wood, bone, clam shell, or other material. Or one could use a salvaged pewter or brass button saved from a piece of clothing.

So what did a frontiersman’s tinder pouch usually contain? Flint, steel, and tinder, along with additional items that we’ll get to in a minute. Concerning tinder, the best kind was made by charring natural wool or cotton cloth in a container of some type, which is similar to the way charcoal is made. In fact, if cloth wasn’t available back then, decayed wood was sometimes dried out and used for tinder. This wooden tinder was called ‘punk’ and occasionally it would be charred. Other expedient tinders to use in your pouch could be plant thistle, cattail heads, shredded weeds, plant stalks, or even bird’s nests.

A modern day tinder pouch could also contain a magnesium fire starter kit rather than the traditional flint and steel kit. The piece of steel for the magnesium could be fashioned from a piece of broken hack saw blade (a hack saw being another valuable survival tool in itself). Break a piece off about 3 to 3 1/2 inches long from a coarse-toothed hack saw blade by putting the saw in a vice and hitting it with a hammer, being sure to wear eye protection. Roughen up the sides of the blade section by rubbing it on a stone, then sharpen the broken end to a flat, squared-off, chisel-like edge. You can use this tool to strike your magnesium fire starter by simply cutting with the chisel-like edge; and you can use the other end as a screwdriver; then use the teeth to shred dried plant stalks for more tinder. Or if you want to use pieces of flint, you can purchase them from a welding supply store, or an auto parts store.

Other suggestions for items included in your tinder pouch could be fish hooks and line, needle and thread, a length of heavy cord, a small coil of wire, or a few nails – all or any of these things could come in handy when camping or being outdoors.

One thing to remember is to gather up all the items you want to include in your tinder pouch before you actually make it, to determine the exact size you will need before starting the pattern for your pouch.

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