Friday, January 20, 2012

Fire Steel - 5500 Degrees In Your Pocket

I've decided to make January fire month! What an awesome name for a month. I love fire! This is the third post in a series on ignition sources.

You cannot make fire without an ignition source. For the next few posts I am going to highlight the most popular ignition sources. I will also review a few fire making tools, show you some novel ways to make fire, and give tips for using all of them.

Fire Steels, commonly refered to as flint, are actualy made of ferrocerium. Ferrocerium is an alloy of rare earth metals that give off a shower of very hot sparks when scraped across a rough surface. That "flint" in your BIC lighter? It's ferrocerium. A traditional flint and steel works by shaving off pieces of steel with the flint rock. Ferrocerium works by shaving off pieces of ferrocerium with a piece of steel. Ferrocerium makes more sparks and burns at a higher temperature than steel.

It happens so fast it is hard to get on camera. That big white flash is a spark from a fire steel.

You use a firesteel by rubbing a striker, or the back of a knife over it. This creates a 5500 degree Fahrenheit shower of sparks. The sparks last long enough to get dry grass, bird nests, cattail fluff, and other fine materials lit.

Firesteels come with a black coating on them. This coating needs to be scraped off for you to get a good spark. When striking these with a knife most people use the knifes edge. This is not the best way. Ideally, you should use the back or your knife. The right angle on the back of your knife is perfect for a good spark. This also prevents you from dulling your edge. One caveat however, if the back of your knife is rounded off, it will not make sparks. This is the case with my Swiss Army knife.

Firesteels work when it is wet, cold, or windy. It is small, lightweight, and always works! They are the perfect all weather fire starting device. They are more reliable than a match or lighter and work in any condition.

The downside to them is that they require a small amount of practice to use. This is simple to remedy, just go in your back yard and use it! You should make several fires in a controlled atmosphere before you go into the woods and try to light a fire with just a fire steel. This goes for any fire starting device. You can read all about it, but nothing beats hands on practice.

The fire steel on the right is of high quality. Notice the thick rod.
The fire steel on the left is for emergencies only. It's thin rod will not spark well.
When buying a firesteel look for one at least 1/4 inch thick. The thicker the better. A thick rod will last longer and produce more sparks. I like a ferrocerium  rod that is at least 2 inches long. A good one will cost $10 - $20. You can buy thinner ones for cheaper, but they are only good for emergency situations. Thin rods are prone to breakage after much use and do not spark as well.

One tip while using them; touch your tinder with the end of the firesteel. The sparks cool down very quickly. The closer you are to your tinder, the hotter the sparks will be when they hit.

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