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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fire Skills with Ferro rods and Firesteels part 1

Fire is the most important skill and tool in the outdoors. I have read countless stories of people caught in survival situations who could not make fire and spent many miserable nights without one. Best case is your miserable and cold, worst case is you dont have a pulse anymore. Mastering fire skills to the point where you can light a fire at any moment in any weather condition will give you a great sense of self reliance and safety.

Learning to use a Ferrocerium rod or firesteel is a very good step towards mastering fire. These tools are more reliable than matches or a lighter but require a bit more skill in use. Your goal is to reach a skill level where you are as comfortable lighting a fire with a ferro rod as you are with matches or a lighter.

The first time you use a ferro rod type firestarter more than likely you will be scraping erratically throwing sparks at a big pile of tinder and because you are not stable you will knock the tinder pile out of the way while you are trying to throw sparks at it.This can be very frustrating , but with some practice and proper technique you can be successful every time. Here's How...

Controlled scraping action with a proper scraper.
For a scraper I stay away from using the cutting edge on my knives, this works well but is hard on your knife blade. In general you will need a hardened piece of steel with a squared edge on it. The spines of many knives can be squared off as in "Fine Tune Your Mora Part 1". The harder the steel the better, carbon steel blades work better but a good tempered stainless will also work. A cheap carbon steel hacksaw blade is what I would recommend for learning. Make sure it is carbon steel and break off a 3" piece and grind or file down the teeth....you are after the high tempered steel just beyond the teeth.

Scrapers I use on a regular basis are the backs of the saws on my swiss army knives , the spine on my mora knife and a piece of a hacksaw blade.(you can also use the hacksaw blade with a hard rock to produce sparks for "flint and steel firestarting")

Now that you have a good scraper you will want to practice getting good sparks off of your rod with it. Take your scraper and set it against your ferro rod at a 90 deg. angle. You should be able to scrape this back and forth with no sparks and not much friction. Now angle the scraper away from you just a bit while scraping until it bites into that ferro rod. Keep an eye on the angle it bites best into your rod. Now you can put some pressure on the scraper with the correct angle and a slow scraping action and you should be able to scrape off some fine ferro shards without any sparks ( these shards can be added to your tinder if needed for some extra boost).

Now increase the scraping speed and pressure a bit you will produce nice controlled hot sparks.

These instructions may sound a bit overdone, but the point is to get you comfortable with producing constant hot sparks with a slow controlled action.

Good quality Tinder

Good quality tinder is a must for learning and well worth keeping on hand at all times. For the beginner I would start out with 100% cotton , cotton balls or q tips. Fluff these up a bit and throw some sparks at them, they should catch real easy. To make the cotton balls and q tips burn longer you can rub some petroleum jelly into them to act as a fuel. Magnesium bars are just about bullet proof for starting fires. They are not quite as easy to use as cotton balls, but because the magnesium will burn even if it gets wet makes it one of the best "back up" tinder's to have. Its best to have a decent pile of magnesium shavings on top of a coarser tinder pile or mixed in with a "harder to light" tinder ready to catch the flame. Or light a feather stick from the fast burning flame the magnesium puts out.
Good tinder's include cotton balls , q tips , magnesium block , Wet fire tinder and the Fire Fixins tinder kit.

Stability of your firestarting
You need to be stable in this whole operation and it is a good idea to find something solid to push against with your ferro rod. A log , stick , rock or even hard ground works. You can also hold your scraper still and pull the firesteel away from it in a quick action to throw good sparks, but this is not as controlled or accurate and is best used with "easy to light" tinder bundles. Holding your ferro rod against something solid with a slow controlled scrape will produce the most concentrated controlled sparks capable of lighting course tinder such as the small curls on a feather stick. Another trick is to hold your tinder against your scraper with a good grip and just run your scraper over the ferro rod. This takes care of the stability problem and is nice when its hard to find a dry surface to stable yourself with.This also works well with properly carved feather sticks to create a "match"

Holding your tinder behind your scraper as you throw sparks works well with certain tinder's and gives you a "match" to light your fire with.

Fluffed up cotton swab, and a fluffed up twine from the fire fixins ready to catch a spark.

Fire Fixins "match"

From this point if you are a good boy scout you will have your fine kindling, feather sticks , etc. ready to be lit with this match.

I hope this will be helpful to get started on using ferro rods for your firestarting needs. Once you get some practice doing this it will become a very reliable way of starting a fire.

In part 2 I plan on covering natural tinders and lighting feather sticks with a ferro rod.....thanks Ben


Darren said...

very informative. It's a great help to me as I'm trying to master the firesteel. I like your online store also.

Keith said...

Too modern for me, I find that I learn a lot more from primitive methods such as Flint, steel & tinderbox (Flint & Steel).
Le Loup.