How To Use A Magnesium Fire Starter
The basic process of using a magnesium fire starter is easy. Simply use the included scraper or the back of the blade of your knife to scrape off a small pile of shavings from the magnesium block and then strike the ferro rod with the scraper or knife to create sparks and ignite the magnesium shavings.
Here’s how to use a Magnesium fire starter to start a fire in 7 simple steps:
- Prepare your fire bed, preferably in bare soil or on exposed rock. Make sure your fire bed is at least 10 feet away from dry grass, leaves and other combustible material that could accidentally catch fire.
- Gather your tinder and kindling and set it aside. Dry leaves, bark, twigs, pine needles, fatwood shaving or even cotton balls dipped in petroleum jelly can be used for your tinder. For kindling, use fatwood or smaller twigs and branches that are completely dead and dried out.
- Create a pile of magnesium shavings. Use the included scraper or the back of you knife to shave off a small pile of magnesium that’s about the size of a quarter. Collect the shavings on a dry leaf, bark or even a piece of paper.
- Sprinkle your magnesium shavings on top of a small pile of kindling in your fire bed.
- Use the ferro rod and the scraper (or the back of your knife) to ignite the shavings. Tip: Hold the ferro rod close to the magnesium shavings at about a 45-degree angle. Place the scraper near the top of the rod (so it makes solid contact with the rod). Pull the rod back (away from the tinder) with a slow and steady motion to create a show of sparks that will eventually ignite the magnesium. Tip: see our How To Use A Ferro Rod article for more info.
- Add more tinder to the fire to help build a solid flame-foundation for the rest of your fire.
- Carefully add larger sticks (less than 2 inches in diameter) and twigs to the burning tinder. Be careful to not smother out the flames… fire needs to breathe.
Tip: Check out our How To Build A Campfire article to learn more about how to build a roaring fire.
What is the best magnesium fire starter?
The best magnesium fire starters are compact, durable, come with a striking rod and attached scraper, and are made of high-quality materials. Though you can use your own knife, I prefer to always get one with an attached striker and scraper as a backup in case you forget or lose your knife.
There are fire starting kits that come with a lot of extras that may seem nice to have, like a compass or a whistle.
If you do think things like a whistle and compass would be useful – and I personally think any camping or survival kit should have these things – then it’s better to buy quality versions so you know they’ll work when you need them.
What is a magnesium fire starter made from?
A magnesium fire starter is typically made from a solid block of magnesium with a ferro rod or flint embedded in one side. You shave the magnesium off the block into a small pile of magnesium shavings and then you strike the ferro rod or flint with a metal striker (like the back of your knife) to create sparks and ignite the magnesium.
Most magnesium fire starting tools will also include a striker and scraping tool made from steel that is attached to the magnesium block with a small metal ball chain or a paracord strap.
Is magnesium a good fire starter?
Yes, Magnesium is a good fire starter because it’s highly flammable and burns even when wet. Plus, they are inexpensive, reliable, simple to use, and waterproof.
They’re also lightweight, relatively safe, compact and highly transportable, which is why they are one of the most popular fire-starting tools used by outdoor enthusiasts, survivalists, and just about anyone that needs a reliable way to start a fire, especially in adverse weather conditions.
How does a magnesium fire starter work?
Magnesium is a soft and highly flammable metal that burns by reacting with the oxygen and other gases in the air. Shaving the Magnesium creates greater air flow and more surface area for the magnesium to react with the oxygen and other gases. That’s why you shave your magnesium block… it allows the magnesium to ignite more easily and burn more intensely.
Magnesium also reacts with water to create hydrogen gas, which is an extremely flammable gas that provide even more fuel to burn. That’s why you should NOT try to put out burning magnesium with water. Use dry sand to smother it out.
Magnesium fire starting kits usually come as either a single magnesium stick with a flint or ferrocerium rod (ferro rod) embedded in the side, or as a set with the magnesium block and sparking rod attached to a chain. Sometimes, a small blade will be included in the set or you may need to use your own pocket knife; A pocket knife is a useful tool you should always carry with you while adventuring, and you should always include one in any emergency bag!
In order to get a fire started, you will need to use the attached blade or your own knife to shave bits of magnesium into a quarter-sized pile. Be sure to situate this pile in easily-flammable material such as moss or wood shavings. Once your pile is ready, ignite it by striking the blade with the flint or ferro rod. This will eventually produce sparks which will ignite the magnesium shavings.
It should be noted that the best way to do this is to hold your blade still and strike the flint or ferro rod against it, scraping your sparking material upwards toward you with considerable force at a 45-degree angle to the blade. This will put the sparking point closer to the ground which will increase your chances of igniting your magnesium powder faster. This also reduces the chances of having the blade slip and potentially injure yourself.
Magnesium burns at 5,610 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to catch even damp materials on fire if necessary. Once your initial material catches fire, quickly add small sticks to the pile and work your way up to bigger sticks and eventually logs. While magnesium burns hot, it also burns quickly, so you’ll want to work fast once you get it going. Just be sure you don’t put out the flames or smother your fledgling fire in your hurry.
How to store a magnesium fire starter
Magnesium is incredibly stable in block form and difficult to ignite when it is packed densely together. Getting it wet will not decrease its effectiveness a fire starter, and it tends to be light and easy to carry. Because of these properties, there is really no precautions that need to be taken when storing magnesium in block form. You could carry it around in your pocket or throw it in your bag if you wanted to.
Some people choose to carry magnesium in its own plastic bag, store it in a metal tin like those used for breath mints, or wrap duct tape around it for added safety and convenience.
It should be noted that if you have pre-shaved magnesium powder or flakes you need to keep them dry and as sealed-off from the air as possible so they don’t oxidize too quickly. If the shavings get wet or oxidize they won’t ignite as well, but as long as it’s in its block form, magnesium is pretty hassle-free when it comes to storage.
How safe is a magnesium fire starter?
Magnesium is highly flammable so you should handle it with caution, but it’s hard to ignite unless it is broken down into shavings or powder and exposed to an intense energy source such as a open flame or sparks from a ferro rod or flint. That means it can safely be left in a hot car or direct sunlight without fear of it bursting into flames.
Warning: Burning magnesium can NOT be extinguished with water. In fact, adding water will only intensify the fire and cause it to burn more violently, which is why dry sand is traditionally used to smother-out the flames of burning magnesium.
How long will a magnesium fire starter last?
How long a magnesium stick lasts will really depend on how frequently you use it, and how good you are at getting it to work. Most sticks say that the flint or ferro rods are good for up to 15 – 16 thousand strikes.
Having said that, the fact that only a small amount of material is needed and the rods can produce thousands of sparks means that these kits can last a long time, even for the clumsiest of users. You should be able to get a minimum of 100 fires from a good kit, but it’s possible they can last longer. They don’t expire or need replacing unless the material is gone, so theoretically you may only need one of these kits in a lifetime, especially if you are using it for emergencies or the occasional camping trip.
What happens when you throw magnesium in a fire?
Magnesium in block form is very stable and hard to ignite, so you shouldn’t be too worried about dropping it in your fire when trying to get one started. Magnesium needs to reach 883 degrees Fahrenheit to burn, so a small or even moderately sized fire will take a while to have an effect on a magnesium block. This means you should have plenty of time to use a stick or something similar to knock it out of the fire before anything too drastic happens.
However, it’s important to know that magnesium blocks aren’t completely impervious to fire. If you were to throw it into a hot enough fire it will eventually ignite after a few minutes. When this happens, it will burn with a bright, white light for around 5 minutes or so depending on the size of the magnesium block. Eventually it will go out and turn into a pile of molten slag. If a magnesium block catches on fire, it’s not easy to put out, especially with water. If you do need to extinguish burning magnesium, then you should try to smother it out with dry sand.
Due to the intense heat and the difficulty in putting out a magnesium fire, I would not recommend throwing your starter kit into a fire for fun. However, it should be noted that magnesium in these small amounts doesn’t explode, and it does burn incredibly brightly for a few minutes. If you are ever in a situation where you need rescue, this could be a good way to get the attention of a helicopter or search and rescue team. The downside is that the blaze won’t last long, and once it’s out you’ve lost your means of making a fire, which greatly decreases your chance of survival.