4 Tips For Using Ferro Rods

I love spark rods. These durable, yet affordable spark throwers will work in any temperature extreme, and even work after being wet. And while a butane lighter may work best in most situations (since an open flame ignites a wider range of tinder than sparks alone), a “Ferro rod” makes a great piece of backup gear. This alloy produces hot sparks in excess of 3,000F when it’s scraped against a rough surface or sharp edge. This paint will need to be scraped off before the sparks start to fly. Most often, the pressure you’d apply to scrape off sparks will also scrape off the paint and expose the ferrocerium. Scrape Hard I often advise my students to scrape the rod “like you’re trying to break it!” Dainty scraping won’t remove enough material from the rod or provide enough friction to ignite the scrapings. Scrape it like you mean it! Pick The Right Fuel Spark rods don’t light everything on fire. Move the Rod, Not the Scraper I often see beginners throwing more tinder around than sparks.

I love spark rods. These durable, yet affordable spark throwers will work in any temperature extreme, and even work after being wet. And while a butane lighter may work best in most situations (since an open flame ignites a wider range of tinder than sparks alone), a “Ferro rod” makes a great piece of backup gear. They’ve also been around for over a century. Ferrocerium was invented in 1903 by the chemist Carl Auer von Welsbach in Austria. This alloy produces hot sparks in excess of 3,000F when it’s scraped against a rough surface or sharp edge. The recipe for this alloy varies, but it’s generally 50 percent cerium, 25 percent lanthanum, 19 percent iron, with small amounts of praseodymium, neodymium, and magnesium.

How to start a fire with a sparking rod
An array of different Ferro rod fire starters.

Ferrocerium rods are a popular fire starter among survival enthusiasts, though quite often, they are sold in packaging that is devoid of detailed instruction. This knowledge gap leads to frustrated newbies and mistaken claims that the products don’t work. Over the years, I’ve watched fledgling survivalists stumble over the same problems—which are…

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