Learning how to use a Ferro rod to start a fire is like learning to use any other survival gear. It’s better to learn the process now than wait until you actually need it to save your bacon (or cook it).
Ferro rods are made of ferrocerium, a man-made alloy and are basically waterproof matches. The formula varies, but usually includes iron, cerium and magnesium.
The combination creates sparks when scraped with a rough surface or a sharp edge. And it works under cold, wet, windy conditions that would defeat matches or a lighter.
Some Ferro rods come with strikers. Almost any sharp-edged item will do, even a rock. But you’ll get the most consistent sparks from a hard steel object, like the spine of a knife blade.
(Because Ferro rods contain iron, they’re often coated to prevent oxidation. You’ll need to scrape away the coating to expose shiny metal before first use.)
The process is like using flint and steel, but with an important difference. Flint and steel produce a spark of about 800 degrees F.
Better quality Ferro rods can produce a spark of 3000 degrees or hotter. That’s roughly 30% hotter than a blast furnace and almost 70% hotter than the hottest molten lava.
A Ferro Rod Expands Your Options
That extra heat can make a big difference when you’re lost or cold and hungry.
When you know how to use a Ferro rod, you gain a wider range of potential tinder, because the rod will ignite material you can’t light with other tools. And the Ferro rod will be more forgiving of bad luck or inexperience.
When you’re ready to build your fire, start by clearing enough protected surface area to contain the fire.
Then gather material, starting with tinder to catch the first sparks. This can be anything that will ignite quickly. If you’re collecting on the spot, consider pine needles, plant fibers, bird nests, hair, shredded strips of duct tape, even fine strands of steel wool. In this video I show you how the Everstryke Match with the built in ferro rod is a great cotton ball fire starter with just a little vaseline and a single spark.
Commercial products are also available, from resin-rich fatwood to manufactured firestarters made of compressed sawdust and paraffin. You can also make your own from materials around the house like dryer lint or cotton balls soaked in Vaseline.
Whatever your tinder and kindling, you should also collect pieces of wood of various sizes from fairly fine, dry twigs to larger pieces that will burn longer. You’ll add these to the fire gradually as it becomes more stable.
How to Use A Ferro Rod
To light a fire, many people will hold the ferro rod next to the tinder and rub the scraper toward the tinder. That’ll produce a spark. But it also risks bumping into the pile of tinder you built so carefully.
Better to hold the rod next to the tinder at about a 45? angle. Put the scraper on top of the rod and pull the rod back sharply.
You’ll create a spark at the same place. You’ll do it without scattering the tinder.
And you’ll have mastered a survival fire starter technique that will light a fire when everything else has failed.