AskDefine | Define tinderbox

Dictionary Definition

tinderbox

Noun

1 a dangerous state of affairs; a situation that is a potential source of violence; "the Balkans are the tinderbox of Europe"
2 a box for holding tinder

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Noun

tinderbox
  1. a small container containing flint, steel, and tinder (dry, finely-divided fibrous matter), once used to help kindle a fire
  2. In the context of "by extension": a place that is so dry and hot that there is danger of fire
  3. In the context of "by extension": a potentially dangerous situation

Translations

small container containing flint, steel, and tinder
potentially dangerous situation

Extensive Definition

Historically, a tinderbox is a small container containing flint, firesteel, and dry, finely-divided fibrous matter (such as straw), used together to help kindle a fire. Tinderboxes fell out of general usage when matches were invented.
In prehistoric times flint and pyrites might be used, and flint and steel from the Iron age onward . Some nonindustrialized societies used a bow drill to spin a stick and achieve sufficient heat to ignite wood shavings. This is far harder to achieve than with flint and steel.
In the 18th century, tinderboxes were in common use..
The tinder was fabric which had been previously scorched to carbonize it. The spark from flint and steel would ignite a very small fire due to the heated bit of steel burning as it flew through the air onto the tinder, the glow of which could ignite a wood splint, after which the tinder would be extinguished with a metal weight for further use. It took skill and about a half hour to start a fire. In the early 19th century a rotating metal wheel was used to create the sparks with superior results, and the wood splint might have been dipped in sulfur (sort of a primitive nonstriking match) for better results. The sulfur tipped matches were the results of household manufacture and were sold by "matchgirls".
A book from 1881 notes that back in 1834 an editor had predicted that despite the advent of "lucifers" (matches), the tinder box would likely continue to be common in the household, but that in fact, by 1884, it was only seen in museums. A book from 1889 describes such a tinderbox and says that the wear patterns on the flint are like those on ancient prehistoric flints in the collection.
In conventional usage, the term "tinderbox" refers to something that is so dry that it could catch on fire with the slightest provocation, perhaps even spontaneously.

References

tinderbox in Czech: Křesadlo
tinderbox in Dutch: Tondeldoos
tinderbox in Russian: Огниво
tinderbox in Slovak: Kresadlo
tinderbox in Finnish: Tulukset
tinderbox in Swedish: Eldstål
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