The Steel and The Spark

by ahanagata

  We know the more primitive way of fire starting with sticks and minimal material, and I should hope that you know how to use a lighter; what might be new to some of you is the firesteel. Firesteels, fire strikers, ferro rods, or Swedish firesteel are all basically evolved versions of the good ol’ flint and steel combo. The flint portion wasn’t really all that important as it turns out, any non porous rock will take chips off the steel in the form of sparks. Having a steel that is made from ferrocerium (where the ferro rod gets it’s name) will generate a lot and very hot sparks. As you can imagine, this makes the tasks of starting a fire much easier. Firesteels are technologically inbetween a lighter and rubbing sticks together, and if you know how to use them, are probably more reliable and tougher than both.

  Okay, so what’s the point of this right? You have matches, you have a lighter, you know how to make a hand drill. Well, I personally prefer carrying a nice firesteel to matches. It’s basically like carrying around 1,000 plus waterproof matches around, they do eventually run out, but until they do they’re nearly free from malfunction and breakage. Most firesteels pack easily as well. Find a better way to carry around that many matches and I’ll convert.

  Maybe some of you have used the good ol’ flint and steel, if you have you know it’s not really easy to use. I mean the act of getting sparks is generally easy enough to pick up but the sparks generally aren’t that plentiful or as hot as one might like. This means you’re generally limited as to what kind of tinder you can use. The Ferro rod however will send a shower of super hot sparks into your tinder.

  While backpacking recently in the Sierras, there was an abundance of punky wood. I started every fire with my firesteel and crushed up punky wood. Why? To be honest it was the easiest way to get a fire going that I had available to me. If you don’t have that abundance of punky wood, any of the tinders I mentioned will do great with a good firesteel. You can even start your fire easily with a feather sticks or charcloth. If you don’t know what those are, stay tuned and I’ll get to those in another article.

  Using a firesteel is pretty straight forward. All you really need to do is put your striker to your rod and give it a good scrape. Some people use their knives as strikers which work well in a pinch, but I’d rather save my knife for better suited tasks. Be sure you’re close enough to get your sparks to your tinder quickly, the longer they spend in the air traveling the cooler they become. You also want to make sure that your don’t disturb your tinder when you scrape; knocking your pile of carefully gathered tinder is easy to do when you’re scraping your rod. One tip someone gave me was to hold the striker in a static position while pulling the rod backwards sharply. This keeps forward motion away from your tinder pile and eliminates the risk of knocking it over. Now, I’ve seen that technique work perfectly, and it makes a lot of sense. Is that how I do it? No…when I try to do that I feel like I’m trying to throw with my off hand. Though a bit of practice, I think it’d work fine and probably be the better way to go in the long run.

  If you’d like to purchase the firesteel I’m using in the pictures you can do so HERE. You can also purchase firesteels that come attached to a magnesium block, which when shaved off into a pile produces excellent tinder. However, I make out just fine without the magnesium and just carry a few emergency cotton balls. I do highly recommend practicing with your firesteel on a variety of tinders before actually relying on it. It takes a small amount of practice to get it right and start a fire lickity split. Many times you’ll have to blow an ember to a blaze just like with the hand drill so you might want to re-read that article if you feel you need to brush up on that skill.

  That’s about it for one of the more overlooked, but really great fire starting alternatives. Packs light, get thousands of fires out of it, waterproof, and tough as a coffin nail. Need I say more? As always, be responsible with your fire. Be aware that the sparks coming off this thing are ultra hot, make sure you have a wide clear area to work in, a stray spark could be harboring an ember that you don’t notice until it’s grown into a fire you didn’t plan on.

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