Review of Fire Starters and how to use them.

Le 3 septembre 2002, par OldJimbo,

An in-depth review of fire starting rods, as well as practical experience on how to use them under rain.

We chose to research fire starting tools, and how to use these to start fires using both manmade and natural tinder.

Why a fire starter ?

The question often comes up as why not just to stay with matches or disposable lighters.

Matches of the "strike anywhere" type can be coated in wax and carried in a match safe. These appear to work well. The problem is the supply and the possibility of running out. A typical match safe holds less than 25 matches. While more than one match safe can be carried it is unlikely that these will be carried on the person - which gives the possibility of loss.

Disposable lighters may run out of butane. In this case it may be difficult to find tinder that can be lit with the small spark. A more likely problem is the possibility of the lighter getting wet. While the lighter is waterproof, the sparking mechanism takes a great deal of drying out. Typically you may have to try 200 or more times to get a spark under dry warm conditions, after shaking the lighter for three minutes to get as much water out of the striking mechanism as possible. This is not the case with the Spark-Lite. Why it looks like a lighter, it dries rapidly.

Disposable lighters are fairly durable on average. What we’re saying here is that some will withstand drops onto concrete - while others of the same brand will break apart on the first few drops. If you want to use a disposable lighter as a sparkler, then you really have to remove the metal casing around the gas jet. This is what protects the striking mechanism so the lighter will then be VERY fragile, typically breaking apart and becoming unusable on the first drop.


The lighters shown - after having the metal shields removed for sparking purposes - failed within two drops onto concrete.

The advantage of even a small ferrocerium rod is that it will give thousands of sparks, and it will spark after less than five tries (worst case) even after being soaked, and with one shake to remove larger water droplets.


The five tools tested so far are (from left to right) ANEW (Greg’s) ferrocerium rod, Coglan’s magnesium fire starter, Ferrocerium rod from "Camper’s Village, Blastmatch, Strike Force :

Here you can compare the amount of ferrocerium you get with a 3/8" rod (top) a 3"x 1/2" rod and an Epcamps 4" x 1/2" rod (bottom). Remember that when you add to the radius of a cylinder the total volume goes up dramatically. So the 1/2 rod contain more than 2/3 more ferrocerium and so are pretty heavy. Well you get the idea from the pictures...

The first consideration is robustness. All five were tested by dropping 100 times from a height of two metres onto concrete. They were dropped 25 times held by each end, and 25 times dropped to expose mid sections. Mostly they hit one way due to centre of gravity.


All testing at -15C to give an indication of rod, glue and plastic fragility.

Coglan’s Magnesium Fire starter

In this particular fire starter the ferrocerium rod separated from the magnesium on the first drop from waist height. The conditions were cold and the glue separated. As such it never entered the main test. While no actual breakage occurred, it does point out that a sharp blow to the fire starter may result in loss of the ferrocerium rod, since it is the magnesium section that is attached to the chain. Unless the fire starter is reglued or carried in a pouch the construction must be considered a liability.


Generic Ferrocerium Rod/Striker

This one really broke - but NOT in the two metre test. It was dropped from ten metres under very cold conditions. It is tempting to think of the rods as unbreakable but they appear to be compressed powder and as such if dropped on an imperfection.... Both sections were useable after breakage. This is NOT an indication of the likely results of a two metre drop test - it took several drops from 10 metres on to concrete to cause the damage and at -15C. At lower temperatures it may take less to break the rod. The important point here is that a rod may be deliberately snapped into two pieces if necessary for sharing between an injured person and a person going for help. The rod will not shatter, etc.


The Strike Force

As will be seen the amount of damage is very minor and of only a cosmetic nature. You will have to look closely even to see marks. This can be considered a very robust fire starter.


One end showing very minor cosmetic damage.


The other end showing very minor cosmetic damage.


Mid section showing minor cosmetic damage.


Opposite mid section showing minor cosmetic damage

The BlastMatch

This suffered only minor damage to the casing, with the cap that holds the rod in place being cracked. Unfortunately the striker also fell out. While the fire starter is still quite useable with an alternate striker such as a knife, the design flaw is apparent. Due to the centre of gravity of the fire starter it always falls on the cap. What seems to have caused the breakage is the ferrocerium rod hitting the cap and rebounding. The photographs should point out the poor attachment of the striker to the assembly - it is glued or press fitted into the small rectangular notch.


The cap end showing the breakage.


The striker assembly and striker which fell out.

The ANEW (Greg’s) Ferrocerium Rod

This broke because of size and mass. Once broken the pieces will no longer break on a repeat of the tests. Both parts were useable to start a fire.


The Spark-Lite

Pictures and details of robustness will be added soon. Lots of people have asked about this one, so I asked users for some input which I can detail here. It appears that the Spark-Lite does NOT suffer from the problems of disposable lighters when it gets wet. LOTS of users did the soaking in water test and reported that with a shake it was ready to use. Bagheera even did a second test where he soaked it in salt water for a while ! It passed that too. Reports of robustness seem good too. Note that the amount of spark is quite sufficient for man-made tinder but may be tough for natural tinder.

Conclusions :

This was a very small scale test using a small sample - only one of each model was tested. Some possibilities can be suggested by the test though :

  1. The only serious defect shown was the loss of the ferrocerium rod in the Coglan’s magnesium fire starter. This could be life threatening since only the magnesium section is anchored by the chain.
  2. The Strike Force is VERY robust, despite various opinions to the contrary.
  3. A plain ferrocerium rod while breakable is very robust, and the fact that it can be broken may have advantages.
  4. The Blastmatch while suffering breakage in that it certainly won’t work as designed after dropping - is still perfectly usable with an alternate striker.

The general conclusion from all of this is that a ferrocerium rod is the way to go. If you like a magnesium addition then just make sure that you check and reglue. You may also want to check the dump for old water heaters and remove the anode which is magnesium - and make your own magnesium sticks to complement your fire starter of choice.

The BlastMatch is a great fire starter for people who don’t get to practise a lot. It’s simple to use and very effective. Just remember the durability problem !

The Strike Force is great ! It is very effective because of the thick rod, and very durable. If you work in cold climates, the fact that it is easy to hold and the plastic insulates you from the metal is a consideration.

The Camper’s Village ferrocerium stick is fine to use and cheap. The great pity is that they no longer carry the thicker version. The thin version is tougher to get damp tinder started with without a LOT of practise - just be aware of that.

The Spark-Lite is easy to use with the provided tinder and may be the most choice for teaching younger people fire starting since it doesn’t require a sharp striker.

The ANEW fire starter is in my opinion the best for my area. While it broke, it did so because of size and mass. There is the point that it is the most compact fire starter, which has enough thickness to give a spark, which will ignite natural tinder quickly without the use of magnesium or other non-natural tinder. Thinner rods just don’t compare when damp natural tinder are used. While the BM and SF give even more of a spark, their bulk and weight almost ensure (in my case) that they won’t be on my person when I need them. What I found (because of the breakage) is that I actually prefer a shorter rod. If the 4" rod is scored with a pipe cutter and broken into two 2" pieces - there will be no further breakage concerns. A handle can then be fashioned from a piece of lightweight pipe - if a longer holder is preferred. The result will be a light thin fire starter.


Blast Match

1/2 " rod x 2"

Length : 10.2cm 4"

Width : 3.4cm 1.3"

Thickness : 2.55cm 1" widest

83.7 g (76.6g listed) 2.95 oz (2.7 oz listed) total

Coglin’s Magnesium Fire starter

Length : 8.75 cm (3.05") ferrocerium -1/8" rod x 3"

Width : 2.85cm (1.11")

Thickness : 0.95cm (0.37")

Weight : 45.1g 1.59oz

Strike Force

1.9"x1/2" rod exposed

Overall length : 12.75cm 5"

width : 3.2cm 1.2" (not counting rib)

Thickness 2.2cm 0.87" (not counting rib)

Weight : 103.5g (104.9 listed) 3.65oz

Campers Village

1.8"x1/4" rod exposed

Length : 8cm 3.15"

Width : 0.95" widest (blue handle)

Thickness : 1.7cm 0.65" widest (blue handle)

28.9g 1.02oz

Anew (Davenport)

4" x 3/8"

54.7g 1.93oz

General Comments :

The differences in weights are not great. Perhaps the most important consideration is how the fire starters are to be carried on the person. The Strike Force is just too bulky to carry in a pocket, the Blast Match is almost too bulky. The ANEW can be carried in a pocket though a belt carrier would be more convenient. The Campers Village and Coglin’s are easily carried in a pocket.

Note that the CV and Coglins are thinner rods and more difficult to start a fire with damp tinder. This is especially true of the Coglin’s (1/8" rod). While the magnesium really works, and is easy to scrape off the block with a hacksaw blade striker - it’s hard to get a pile where you want it with cedar tinder (it falls through), and in windy conditions - when it blows away.

Post-Scriptum :

If you have questions, criticisms, or things to add - email me please.

Original article at OldJimbo’s site

par OldJimbo,



Le 15 juillet 2006

Great review, but the spark lite was better when could get the brass ones, not the new plastic ones.



Le 20 décembre 2007

Ferrocerium rod is made from Iron, Magnesium and mostly of an alloy of rare earth metals called mischmetal, which contains cerium, lanthanum and a small amounts of neodymium and praseodymium detailed as the following composition

  • Iron abt 18. 1 to 19. 3%
  • Magnesium 3 to 4%

Rare earth metal distribution

  • Cerium 49 to 51%
  • Lanthanum 26 to 34%
  • Neodymium 0 to 10%
  • Praseodymium 4 to 7%