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Learning how to start a fire using different methods is an extremely useful and inexpensive skill to hone. In this post, I am going to explore the world of ferro rods or “fire steel”.
First, let’s get a few things straight about the reality of learning how to start fires.
It takes practice and a bit of patience.
Oh, it is so easy to find a bunch of videos or whatever that makes it seem like you can just get a fire going a ton of ways with ease.
You need tinder and small sticks or debris
I have made the mistake so many times of getting impatient and trying to start with wood and debris that is far too big to get a fire going. Like so many things you need to start at the bottom and not at the top if you want to experience success. It will take you longer to get a fire going by trying to take short cuts. I have fell victim to doing it this way far too many times.
Tinder can be anything that is dry, lightweight, and fluffy. You can carve up some dry wood with a knife or you can use a cotton ball or cheap gauze.
Some people like to dip their tinder in wax or mineral oil and store for quick use. Remember that tinder goes up fast so you also need a supply of more substantial but small sticks or dry pieces of debris
A Bic Lighter or matches
is always going to be faster than your emergency firestarter
Starting a fire under good circumstances can be a lot easier than in a survival situation no matter what you have to start it with.
Remember that during a real emergency or survival situation that you may be tired, shaky, and not thinking too clearly so using something may be harder than usual even if you have practiced a little bit. It may be a good idea to practice with a ferro rod at a firepit in your backyard after you are tired at the end of a long day and don’t really feel like doing anything at all.
Ferro Rod Size
There are many different sizes of ferro rods to choose from. Some of the most inexpensive come in packs and do not have handles. Some folks have fun whittling handles for them or just use as is. I kind of like having a handle on mine even if it is just a small handle.
The video below was taken by my husband on a recent fishing and camping trip. This is one of the first times I got a fire going with this rod and I feel like I learned a lot about using it on this trip. Here is what I learned.
- You need to have
veryfine tinder. I got frustrated and sacrificed a single cheap piece of gauze from our small medical kit. Carving up some dry wood could have saved me a piece of gauze.
- Method is everything. Using the striker to push sparks towards your tinder could work theoretically but I found it to be a losing effort. I used the striker rapidly on the fire steel and approached my tinder from above. The sparks dropping
downonto the gauze led to success fairly fast. As you can see in the videoI was pretty excited to finally getit right!
- This would be a stressful way to start a fire if I was in a bad situation and did not have a lot of prior experience.
Altoidstin made into a firestartingkit would be of immense value out in the bush.
Starting a fire is a survival basic that is a great way to get kids and teens started out in bushcraft!
I loved fire when I was a kid and still do. I had a magnifying glass that my Dad bought me at the grocery store. He showed me how to use it and I thought that was so great! I was probably around 7 years old and I can tell you right now
Emergency firestarting methods require some hand dexterity and stamina
I work with my hands a lot.
Between typing thousands of words a week and working a farm and vineyard, my hands get tired and I have to take care of them or I get white fingertips, shakiness, pain, and even swelling. I try to be aware of adding anything else into the mix that could add to the stress I put on my hands. I will tell you right now that emergency fire starters take some stamina and dexterity to use. Fire pistons require slamming a rod through a cylinder rapidly and ferro rods mean repeatedly striking the rod at a fast pace until you get enough sparks.
Magnifying glasses and fresnel lenses are good alternative emergency fire starters for those that cannot use ferro rods
I did an article on starting a fire with a magnifying glass or fresnel lens that is worth looking at if you want an alternative to matches or a lighter and cannot use a ferro rod effectively.
Quality and thickness of your ferro rod matters
The thicker a ferro rod is the more “strikes” you get out of it. No ferro rod will last forever but I have never heard of anyone wearing one out. When you buy a rod, there will probably be some information in the description that lets you know a range of how many strikes you can expect to get out of it. The thinner rods are very inexpensive so you can just buy a lot and not really worry about how many strikes you get.
Composition of Ferrocerium Steel
The actual composition of fire steel rods can vary a bit but the general composition is usually something close to the following:
Small amounts of praseodymium,
Finding the best fire steel for your money
Buying a super cheap rod that
Swiss Fire Steel
I would say that any fire steel made in Switzerland or by Swiss-based companies is top quality. Maybe there are some cheap or inferior examples out there but so far I have
Light My Fire Swedish Fire
Steel 2.0 Army 12,000 Strike Fire Starter with Emergency Whistle
überleben Zünden Fire Starter
This ferro rod measures 5 inches long total with 2.75 of that being dedicated to the actual fire steel. The striker includes a ruler, bottle opener, and can scrape wood or other debris to gain valuable tinder. There are 3 thicknesses available that will yield 12,000-20,000 strikes.
Arcadia Gear 3/4″ x 6″ Large Diameter Ferro Rod Fat Boy
This is a very large
Firestarting Tinder Torch Survival Tin by Kaeser Wilderness Supply
I know that
Fire-Fast Trekker Ferro Rod and Magnesium Fire starter Combo
This rod is an interesting combination of fire starter and magnesium tinder stick. I actually really want to buy one of these and try it out. I like that it is an all in one solution for times when tinder is hard to find or if you simply forget to bring anything with you that you are okay with sacrificing to start a fire. The thick hardwood handle is advertised as being a source of tinder but it would break my heart to carve up something that pretty unless it was a true survival situation!
Kaeser Wilderness Supply Lot Of 10 Premium Ferrocerium Steel Ferro Rods Flint Magnesium 3in x 5/16in Survival
If you want to put back a lot of inexpensive
Three Oaks 5 piece Striker Scraper Set
Sources of Tinder
Tinder is so important to getting a fire started. While there are kits like the one I included in this post, you can make your own tinder using a variety of materials. Here are a few ideas and materials you can use to put back some tinder for emergency fire starting.
You may want to have a some items like this so you can make your own fire starters for getting a fire going fast in your wood stove in the winter time. While I have electric heat in my house and a wood stove, I sure remember those times when all we had was wood heat and struggling to get a fire going as fast as we would have liked after coming home!
- Jute twine soaked in soy wax
- Cotton balls (can be soaked in wax or mineral oil but it is not necessary)
- Dryer lint
- Magnesium shards
- Wood shavings
- Char Cloth (You can make your own or buy it). I will try to put together a post on how to make char cloth in the future!
- Fatwood that you gather. This is highly resinous pine that is bone dry usually but other resinous woods are viable options too.
If you are looking around in your surroundings for tinder, you want to look out for dry leaves, twigs, grass, etc.
Remember that you need more than just tinder to get your fire going. Make sure that you have small sticks or twigs and then some increasingly larger pieces of wood to burn. Start small and work your way up and you will have a good strong fire going much faster than struggling with trying to use pieces of wood that are too big.
Do you have a favorite fire starter or ferro rod
Samantha Biggers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.