Starting a Fire With Magnesium
By Adelia Ladson
There are so many options available when you need to start a fire without matches or a lighter when you’re camping or facing a survival situation. Some are well-known like a flint or ferro rod and steel striker. Some are a little more obscure or dated like a magnesium bar. Since, I’ve seen some chatter recently on how to start a fire with magnesium, I did some research and here’s what you need to know.
What Is Magnesium?
To start with, magnesium is a chemical element that’s a silver-white metal part of the alkaline earth series and designated by the symbol “Mg” on the Periodic Table. Magnesium is used to make strong and light alloys and it’s also used in pyrotechnics.
How Does It Work?
As a firestarter, you’ll usually find magnesium in a small bar form and often a ferrocerium rod and striker will be included with it. Magnesium does not spark when struck like the ferro rod but is used rather as the tinder to ignite with a spark. This is especially useful when good tinder is scarce in your environment or the tinder that you find is damp. Since, magnesium catches fire quickly and burns hotly, it is easy to set ablaze with just a spark. You take the magnesium bar and scrape shavings off of it until you get a cluster of them that you can ignite. If you don’t have a metal striker, which is a small hack-saw like blade, then you can use the spine of your knife to scrape shavings off with. Strike the ferro rod with the metal striker to get a spark to light the magnesium shavings. The drawbacks to using a magnesium to get your fire going are that it does take some time and effort to scrape off enough shavings to clump together so they can be ignited, and the shavings can be blown away by wind, if you’re not careful about protecting them. Also, you absolutely need a spark source to use them so that ferro rod or flint and striker is extremely important.
Striking A Spark With A Ferro Rod
Ferrocerium, usually shortened to “ferro”, is a synthetic alloy of iron and the rare-earth element cerium. It was created by an Austrian chemist in 1903. When the alloy is struck, exposing fragments to the oxygen in the air, it will spark. You will find ferro pieces in pocket lighters, strikers for gas welding and in ferro rods, which are most often found as a firestarter in survival kits. Take the ferro rod firmly in your hand and scrape down it with your striker (the edged metal tool) with quick long strokes. Once you’ve gotten the hang of producing sparks, you’re ready to build your fire.
Building A Fire
To build a fire, you need three things: tinder, kindling and wood. Tinder is any material that’s easy to ignite like magnesium shavings, dry grass, pine needles or an empty bird’s nest. Kindling is small pieces of twigs, leaves and sticks and wood is going to be the larger pieces like branches and logs. Once you have all the things that you need to build your fire, use your ferro rod to strike sparks into your tinder, then when the tinder catches, use your kindling to feed the small flames. Be careful not to smother the flames by piling the kindling on top. You need to add it slowly, allowing the flames to increase in size. Then, add your larger pieces of wood until you have a sufficient size fire going. You need to make sure that you have enough wood collected to keep the fire going for as long as you need it.