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Thread: All confused about flint, steel and magnesium

  1. #1

    Default All confused about flint, steel and magnesium

    I'm brand new to this stuff, and I'm getting a bit confused. I figured it was best to ask the experts before my head implodes.

    My understanding of starting a fire is that:
    Flint (along with some other similar stones) can be used to create small steel shavings which spark and can start a fire.
    A pile of magnesium shavings works great as a target for the sparks because it burns quite hot.

    But then I watch a short video on Mora knives where it appears their firesteel is made of magnesium. That's not right, is it?

    Can someone set me straight?

    I'd link to the video but can't since I'm a new member. You can see it by going to youtube and searching on "dD7hfCr4VTQ". It's only a minute and a half long and the fire starting bits are covered in the first 40 seconds.
    Last edited by gomerpyle; 02-27-2013 at 03:08 PM.


  2. #2
    Senior Member hunter63's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gomerpyle View Post
    I'm brand new to this stuff, and I'm getting a bit confused. I figured it was best to ask the experts before my head implodes.

    My understanding of starting a fire is that:
    Flint (along with some other similar stones) can be used to create small steel shavings which spark and can start a fire.
    This is done with a piece of hardened carbon steel. and used with charcloth or natural tinders

    A pile of magnesium shavings works great as a target for the sparks because it burns quite hot.
    Generally used with a "fire steel" ferro rod.

    But then I watch a short video on Mora knives where it appears their firesteel is made of magnesium. That's not right, is it?
    Didn't watch the vid, but I'm sure there is a ferro rod inbeded in the mag bar.....

    Can someone set me straight?

    I'd link to the video but can't since I'm a new member. You can see it by going to youtube and searching on "dD7hfCr4VTQ". It's only a minute and a half long and the fire starting bits are covered in the first 40 seconds.
    I'll watch the vid to see what you are talking about.

    Hope that helps.

    PS vid locking up for some reason?
    Last edited by hunter63; 02-27-2013 at 03:21 PM. Reason: added stuff
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  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by hunter63 View Post
    PS vid locking up for some reason?
    Was stuttering/freezing for me too. I had to lower the resolution to 480 for it to play well. I guess youtube is overworked today.

  4. #4

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    Calling a ferrocerium rod, 'magnesium,' is a misnomer. Just about every one on the market is made mostly (if not exclusively) of cerium and iron, though a few -- especially the much cheaper ones -- might have a small amount of magnesium to make the sparks larger and brighter (perhaps hotter or slightly longer lasting), though the ferrocerium is still the main source. The severely small amount of shavings demonstrated in the video, even had it been from a magnesium block, would have been insufficient to make a difference with the tinder compared to just showering it with sparks from the rod. Also, scraping down one's fire steel in that manner -- assuming enough was scraped off to make more of a difference -- is a waste of a good fire steel, as proper tinder and prep is more effective than generating a pile of tiny, feather-light shavings which blow away the moment you breathe in their general direction.

  5. #5
    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gomerpyle View Post
    I'm brand new to this stuff, and I'm getting a bit confused. I figured it was best to ask the experts before my head implodes.

    My understanding of starting a fire is that:
    Flint (along with some other similar stones) can be used to create small steel shavings which spark and can start a fire.
    A pile of magnesium shavings works great as a target for the sparks because it burns quite hot.

    But then I watch a short video on Mora knives where it appears their firesteel is made of magnesium. That's not right, is it?

    Can someone set me straight?

    I'd link to the video but can't since I'm a new member. You can see it by going to youtube and searching on "dD7hfCr4VTQ". It's only a minute and a half long and the fire starting bits are covered in the first 40 seconds.
    The rod is a ferrocerium rod (fire steel), not a magnesium rod. Fire steels have a protective coating on them that must be scraped off in order for sparks to be produced. Here are a few videos I did on the subject.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCnaCTU8xHE

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__zZjMihD5U

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jtYR3hlRIg
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    Administrator Rick's Avatar
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    Ferocerium rods are pretty much all the same. I've posted before but they all come from China today. They are made of Mischmetal (rare earth metal) : 76% minimum (composed of 50% cerium and 25% lanthanum, with small amounts of neodymium and praseodumium)
    Iron: 18~21%
    Magnesium 1.5 ~ 2.5%

  7. #7
    Senior Member Stiffy's Avatar
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    Just a thought on your 'pile of magnesium' shavings . . . personally, I hate using magnesium . . . I prefer a nice three inch piece of jute twine, coated with canning wax.
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    Let's see if I can clarify a bit.
    First, you have different things, that sometimes seem to be referred to as the same thing, depending on the terminology, and if the user is using the correct terminology. Let's talk terminology.

    Flint and steel: This uses a rock (flint or some other very hard rock) and a piece of high carbon steel. You strike the two together and get a few sparks.

    ferrocerium rod: This is generally a black rod (black is the outside coating, the inside is more silvery). If you scrape this a certain way with a piece of hard, sharp metal, you get sparks. Rick and Crash explained these earlier, and are correct.

    Magnesium: This doesn't spark. But, if you make a pile of shavings, and then throw a hot spark into the shavings, it will catch fire.

    You can buy a magnesium block with a ferro rod attached to it. People will sometimes call this a magnesium fire starter. I am sure that because others called it a magnesium fire starter, that people eventually associated any type of spark fire starter as a magnesium fire starter. Then, when those other people see a spark fire starter that doesn't have magnesium attached to it, they might call that a magnesium fire starter as well, mostly because they don't know what magnesium is.
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  9. #9

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    Not all fire starters are made equally. But here is an explanation regarding the flint and magnesium and why you use them.

    The main components of a good fire starter include:-

    Magnesium: This is silver in colour and is shaved off to help start the fire. Magnesium is used because it burns at something like 3000 degrees celcius. It also burns better when it is wet so if you need to light a fire and it is wet. That is when you use the magnesium. It is not essential to start a fire.

    Flint: Most people call it flint but now days it is actually ferrocerium. Which could be considered better. It is dark in colour. What you do is strike firmly against the flint to create sparks, the hotter and brighter the better. They actually use ferrocerium in lighters now, and not flint. Good flint or ferrocerium burns at twice the heat of a standard match.

    Striker, this is the bit you use to strike the flint or scape the magnesium and needs to be something like high carbon steel.

    I have used heaps of these flint fire starter survival tools. Some have the flint impregnated into magnesium strip. Some have a block of magnesium. It varies. The one I like best separates itself from the others with the highest quality ferrocerium and flint (you can tell it sparks so much brighter when you look at it side by side with the other ones.) is the Aussie Survival Tool. It has both flint and magnesium mounted on a handle. Check fire starters from ebay are hard to strike, the spark is weak and the striker is usually painted which stops it from working.

    The Aussie Survival Tool flint fire starter survival tool has added an additional component of rosewood timber which is used as a handle but can be scarped off much like the magnesium to provide an emergency source of tinder or kindling.

    There are a few good videos on the Aussie Survival Tool on youtube, you just search Aussie Survival Tool. There are a couple of short ones that show the magnesium burning, how you scape it and the flint or ferrocerium sparking. It looks like a fire is being started with molten metal. Google the website it also gives a good explanation and the videos show good examples of both magnesium and flint, the difference between the two, how they are used in application etc in a fire starter.

    Hope this helps!

    Quote Originally Posted by gomerpyle View Post
    I'm brand new to this stuff, and I'm getting a bit confused. I figured it was best to ask the experts before my head implodes.

    My understanding of starting a fire is that:
    Flint (along with some other similar stones) can be used to create small steel shavings which spark and can start a fire.
    A pile of magnesium shavings works great as a target for the sparks because it burns quite hot.



    But then I watch a short video on Mora knives where it appears their firesteel is made of magnesium. That's not right, is it?

    Can someone set me straight?

    I'd link to the video but can't since I'm a new member. You can see it by going to youtube and searching on "dD7hfCr4VTQ". It's only a minute and a half long and the fire starting bits are covered in the first 40 seconds.

  10. #10
    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    Magnesium: This is silver in colour and is shaved off to help start the fire. Magnesium is used because it burns at something like 3000 degrees celcius. It also burns better when it is wet so if you need to light a fire and it is wet. That is when you use the magnesium. It is not essential to start a fire.
    This information is not correct. Magnesium shavings do not burn better when wet, especially when using a ferro rod to have them catch a spark.
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    Senior Member Stiffy's Avatar
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    Not sure about this, but I think ifyoudare may have been suggesting that, when your tinder is wet, magnesium is a better choice as a starter. I dunno, just a guess.
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  12. #12

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    To be specific, when I am using the fire starter and the conditions are wet, I also scrape off some magnesium into my tinder and then direct the sparks from the fire starter into the tinder and magnesium shavings to assist lighting a fire as it lights better with the magnesium then without in these conditions. If the conditions are not wet I do not use magnesium and simply use the flint and striker by directing the sparks into the tinder and kindling.

    Although I have noticed that when someone is not very practiced at using a fire starter, they do seem to have better luck with a bit of magnesium added to their kindling to aim the sparks from the flint into, even if the conditions are dry : )

    I am no expert, I just live in the bush and use fire starters and love them!

  13. #13
    Senior Member Thaddius Bickerton's Avatar
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    Flint and steel is one method of fire starting.

    Ferrocerum rods (firesteels) are a different style.

    magnesium blocks glued to a fire steel allow one to build a pile of magnesium shavings that will ignite from the sparks of a firesteel, but a firesteel does not need them to build fires, so many just carry the rod and something to scrape it such as the back edge of a knife (assuming the edge on the back is crisp enough to scrape it. or use something like a piece of broken hacksaw blade. Try not to use the sharp edge of your knife as it will wear the edge down and dull it, and may risk cutting you.)

    Flint and steel used flint to cause small (think molecules) of hardened iron to fly off a piece of hard steel (often called a striker) (a file is a good example of the type steel that works and in fact a file and piece of flint (or quartz or other rocks). Many do not know that steel when having sufficient surface area (molecules) is so reactive that it ignites (sparks). the stone is something able to cause the small sparks to fly off. Other things may work, but require more speed and power to achieve the effect. (think of the sparks off a grinding stone when grinding steel to get the idea, but if you spin the stone against the steel by hand, no sparks.)

    These sparks are not as hot as those from a fire steel so need a very easily ignitable tender. One of the very best is called char cloth (sometimes cord if a cotton cord was used to produce it.)

    To make char cloth (or cord) you need a small air tight tin like a cookie tin or a nice tight fitting other metal container. You build a fire and put your 100% cotton cloth or cord into the air tight tin with a very small (finishing nail size) hole in the airtight tin and heat it in a fire.

    As the air in the airtight tin heats up it causes the cotton material to begin to give off a gas (this is also how wood gas generators make the fuel for powering internal combustion engines on a larger scale) Light this gas with a burning piece of wood from your fire and it will burn kind of like a propane stove flame. when this flame sputters out, put the tin out of the fire and let it cool to room temperature. What remains within will look like blackened cloth. This is a very easy to catch a spark version of charcoal which is made the same way but using larger containers. (not like the pressed bricks of 'charcoal" from the bbq, but similar to what one finds after a fire burns out on incomplete burnt firewood)

    Hold a piece of the char cloth and the flint and strike the steel in a manner to let a spark fall into the charcloth and it will catch and hold a spark / coal. This has to be put into a tinder bundle (think a tinder taco) and folced into it. By blowing oxygen into this spark either by mouth and / or waving it in the air or using a short straw / tube one creates extra heat, similar to how a bellows in a forge heats up the charcoal, again on a smaller scale.

    assuming you have small good quality tender it will hit the temp to ignite into flame and you have flame.

    A fire steel is so hot you can ignite many simpler tenders and often get flame without having to blow it into flame.

    let me suggest:

    Dryer lint

    cotton balls rubbed with a dab or petroleum jelly (vasiline) (my sure fire get a fire going tender is this one and a fire steel.

    both are great to put your charcloth flint and steel coal into, or just spark them with the firesteel and boom flame.

    For fun I will pull out a q-tip and dab some vasaline on it and hit it with my firesteel then light my pipe when I want a quick way to show off for people new to not match / lighter started fires. It is really that fast.

    In fact I have used a worn out bick lighter top that uses the friction wheel / flint to light the propane gas and after some plyer work to rip off the top and expose it I can flick a spark ont tinder using this and make a fire also even when out of "fuel" for regular use.

    other ways to make fire would be

    bow drill
    9 volt battery and steel wool
    fire piston (something you can DIY from home depo parts and works on principal like a diesel engine)

    many other ways.

    If you are limited in what you can get your hands on and want to play around some for small money try a firesteel / mag block with firesteel from home depot or wally world. Often the steels on the wally world ones will come unstuck from the mag block and I just put a small knob on the steel and carry separate tinder. I like to wear such around my neck on the same cord as my neck knife, but many also have a sheath with a loop to carry theirs, keeping knife and fire making tool in one place.

    Well I have rambled on long enough, and Hope ya'll dont mind,

    But I''m back LOL

    Thad
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    Senior Member hunter63's Avatar
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    Hey, you are back.......
    Personally I hate dryer lint.....smells like burning dog hair....
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