Thursday, July 22, 2010

Comparison of various firesteels

When it comes to choosing a firesteel there are no shortages in terms of what options you have to pick from. Firesteels, or 'ferro-rods' as they are called, are made of the same substance you find in Bic or Zippo lighters that give you the spark when you strike the wheel. The so called 'flint' is actually a metal alloy called Ferrocerium (hence the term ferro-rod), and is actually composed of rare earth metals, iron and magnesium in varying ratios.

Not all firesteels are alike, and their behaviors depends greatly on the ratios of the metals used to compose them. As a result, they do not all perform the same and so I decided to do a comparison of the ones that I have personally used. For obvious reasons it is easiest to compare brand name versions, because of the consistency in product that the manufacturer needs to uphold to with each batch.

This list is not exhaustive, as I am only comparing firesteels I have used personally. There are many more out there (Blast match and StrikeForce come to mind) that I have not used and so cannot comment on personally.

The Generic
We'll start of with the cheaper generic versions you'll find selling on the internet (deal extreme, ebay) and in big box stores (Canadian Tire, Wal-mart). I've lumped them all together because I find that they have performed similarly enough to warrant the broad generalization.

These work reasonably well, and are usually priced significantly less than a brand name firesteel. They are much their composition is much harder and so require less force behind the strike, but consequently throw less sparks (since it is harder to remove enough material to generate a good shower). Not a problem if you carry your own dry tinder (dryer lint and cotton balls stored in ziplock bags come to mind) but I've found them to be less than ideal when using natural tinder.

If you're picking one up to play with, or learn good technique (without using up a more expensive firesteel) then it's worthwhile to look into one of these, but I would prefer to have something more substantial with me as my go-to fire starter.

Magnesium Bar
Categorized here due to the undeniable similarities in use, this is the perfect firestarting tool for a novice . Composed of a ferrocerium rod secured to a block of magnesium it is almost a bomb proof way of getting a fire going. Rather than depending on the ferrocerium alone, the magnesium block can be scraped to make a fine dust which will burn extremely hot when sparked.

The drawback here is that the ferrocerium used is of a hardness comparable to the generics above, which means that you almost have to rely on the magnesium when using natural tinder. An effective pile to use wet usually requires a size about the diameter of a quarter, which takes a considerable amount of time to build and is fluffy enough that a slight breeze can blow it away.

Because of the hardness of the magnesium, I find that the spine of a knife is rarely enough to efficiently make shavings, so it's important to pack a dedicated striker for this purpose (a piece of old hacksaw blade works nicely in this role).

I picked this up from SurvivalResources to throw on my key chain, and it is basically a scaled down version of the mag block listed above. Small enough to throw in a small back up kit, or just carry around in your pocket. I like this one because the ferro-rod on it is comparable to a LMF model and I can reliably produce tight controlled sparks which can be used to ignite either tinder or in an emergency, a small pile of magnesium scraped from the body.

The limiting factor here is that the small size prevents it from being anything more than a back up.

Mischmetal Blanks
Sold at places like and, I have found these to be much softer than most of the other firesteels. As a results you get brilliant sparks which have been described as being closer to 'molten globs of metal' rather than traditional sparks. These sparks burn hot and last a long time, which makes it great for lighting either natural or prepared tinders. The draw back is that because the metal is softer, it requires more force to generate enough friction to ignite the shavings. This can lead to throwing the sparks wildly rather than controlling them where you want to go, but of course the ones that DO go where you want them get the job done nicely.

One nice thing about blanks is that they are low profile, so easy to just throw in a pocket or pack. Of course, making your own handle is also an option, and the one I tend to go with.

LMF Swedish Firesteel
The Light My Fire Swedish Firesteel is my preferred model. The sparks from this are bright, hot and most importantly...controllable. I've had the most success with this firesteel in using the "thumb push" method, which I think results in easier firemaking. I've gotten everything from birch bark to feather sticks to light with minimal difficulty using the push method, and the make up of this alloy has a lot to do with that success. It sits at a hardness lower than the generics, and higher than the mischmetal blanks, meaning this porridge is "just right". The thickness is perfect for the loops on most knife sheaths to carry, and is supposedly good for 12,000 strikes (which is not the same as 12,000 fires, don't make that mistake!).

The deciding factor here for me was the consistency with which I could get tightly focused controlled sparks, almost every time. This sold me because it's important that you can reliably reproduce that controlled spark and put it where you want it in your tinder pile time and time again without knocking over your pile, or pulling the firesteel back wildly against the striker with no sense of where your sparks will land.


  1. Thank you for this real-world comparison. I've been meaning to purchase another firesteel, and this will help me make an informed decision.

  2. Thanks for the kind words.

    There are many more options that I myself haven't tried, so don't hesitate in reporting back your own experiences!