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#40595 - 05/10/05 02:33 PM Magnesium block fire starter

Hi all,

After reading you guys, I decided to purchase a ferro rod as a fire starting device. I read about the Doan magnesium block and decided that is was a great idea to have the ferro rod and a fire starter attached together. So I bought the Coghlan's magnesium block fire starter (the only one I could find in the stores). After practicing on it for a while, I've got a bunch of questions.

- Is the rod diameter important? On this device the diameter is fairly small, but I still can get a good amount of spark (but I have nothing to compare it to).

- I made a striker with a hacksaw and it works fine. I read somewhere that you could grind and sharpen the back edge of that striker to get another backup "knife". I did that, but now I look at my ferro rod and I wonder if that cutting edge wares down the rod too fast. Is there a quality in ferro rod? Should I remove that cutting edge from the striker? Is my scratching technic wrong?

- Now for the magnesium block. The instructions says to scratch for the size of a quarter of magnesium shaving. So I set myself up to shave that amount of magnesium off the block... That is when I realised that my life depended on my belly button lint if I ever had to start a fire in a survival situation <img src="/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />.
I was comfortably standing over my work table with a fixed blade knife, it took me 30 minutes to get that amount. If I ever was outdoor with the wind blowing kneeling over a piece of bark in cold weather condition, I never could have done it. Once in a while the knife would hit the table and my magnesium would go flying in the air, imagine in the outdoor in a non controlled or stable environment. So my question on the magnesium block is: Do you really use it? Is it worth it to carry it (because in this case, size really matters)?

My initial setup was having the ferro rod glued to the magnesium block with my striker linked to it. This way the whole fire making device is together. But now I've decided to make a modification.

Attached together now is the striker, the ferro rod (I unglued it from the magnesium block), a straw (the tall one) filled with 2-3 cotton ball and a small straw filled with magnesium shaving (I did not sweat for 30 minutes for nothing). Both straws end are sealed with hot glue. This set up is much lighter than the initial one and I've got some cotton ball with it, the magnesium is also ready for use if needed.

I think the magnesium block will stay at home and be used for refills, unless someone tells me that there are advantages to carry it.


#40596 - 05/10/05 03:08 PM Re: Magnesium block fire starter
M_a_x Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/16/02
Posts: 1098
Loc: Germany
- The rod diameter is not so important for firestarting. The smaller diameter wears down faster. I have a rod thatīs about 4mm x 25mm on my keychain. A practicing sample lasted for about 80 attempts and is still good.
- Iīd remome the cutting edge if itīs on the long side. Thatīs an accident waitng to happen. Iīd sharpen the short side. The amount of wear depends on the pressure. If you think itīs too much apply less pressure.
- The opinion on magnesium is divided. I donīt like it too much. The magnesium block can get wet or crushed without too much damage. That might be an advantage. If it doesnīt work for you , practice more or take some other tinder.
- Make sure the shavings donīt get wet or theyīll oxidize and turn worthless.
If it isnīt broken, it doesnīt have enough features yet.

#40597 - 05/10/05 03:19 PM Re: Magnesium block fire starter
dogplasma Offline

Registered: 01/27/04
Posts: 34
Loc: Michigan
I think you'll find that a lot of people carry the swedish firesteel or the Kershaw product for the same reasons you've mentioned. I never thought the extra bulk of the magnesium was a detriment, but then again I've never actually used the magnesium for firelighting. Like you said, it tends to blow away and when you finally get it to flare up, the flame may not last long enough to ignite your tinder.

It's also mentioned that the Doan product is superior to the Coghlan's and other clones - as evidenced by the relative ease with which you removed the rod from the block. The lesser ones tend to separate if dropped.

I find that something with very sharp 90 degree edges, like an SAK or leatherman saw spine is the best striker. I wouldn't worry too much about wearing it down, with practice you'll aquire the right touch and the rods are cheap anyway.

I would say that rod diameter isn't hugely important. After all, even with a 1 inch diameter rod, a square striker is still only going to contact a very narrow strip of the ferro. If you've got good tinder, like a vaseline cotton ball or lint, the Coghlan's sized rod is even overkill.

Instead of the shavings, I would consider smashing up a trioxane bar and carry the powder in a straw for when you really need fire fast. It lights easily with a sparker and burns hotter than cotton and longer than magnesium. You should be able to get a three-pack at the army navy store for 99 cents.

#40598 - 05/10/05 04:13 PM Re: Magnesium block fire starter
brian Offline

Registered: 07/28/04
Posts: 1468
Loc: Texas
I have often kept a Doans MFS rod in my wallet. I can throw more sparks with the larger rods like the Swedish Firesteel but I get plenty off the little Doans rods for lighting my tinder. Honestly though I do better with a sparklite. I can light almost any tinder (natural or man made) with the sparklite. There is some video of me doing so somewhere in an old thread. The reason why, though the spark lite throws fewer sparks, is because its easy to get the sparklite right up on top of the tinder and "aim" your sparks right where you want them. Ironically I still carry a ferro rod far more often than a sparklite though because I am weary of the plastic and seemingly flimsy construction of the sparklite, though I have never accidentally destroyed one.
Learn to improvise everything.

#40599 - 05/10/05 06:00 PM Re: Magnesium block fire starter
aardwolfe Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/22/01
Posts: 923
Loc: St. John's, Newfoundland
The problem with storing magnesium shavings is that, as Max pointed out, they are far more likely to oxidize in that form, and you may end up with worthless magnesium oxide shavings when you really need a fire.

I find the Coughlin's and Doan's mag-flints too large for everyday carry, but you can buy smaller mag-flints that aren't much bigger than a standard key-fob.

You'll never get a pile of magnesium shavings in even a light breeze unless you have a sheltered area to catch them in. The only time I've ever successfully used a mag-flint block outdoors, I used a metal biscuit tin to collect the shavings, and was then able to set a piece on newspaper on fire with them. If I didn't have a biscuit tin, I would try digging a hole in the ground in the most sheltered spot I could find.

But the ferrocerium rod by itself is usually more than enough to ignite any decent tinder, even without the magnesium shavings.
"The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled."

#40600 - 05/10/05 07:05 PM Re: Magnesium block fire starter
Craig_phx Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 04/05/05
Posts: 715
Loc: Phoenix, AZ
<img src="/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />
Great topic!

I?m of the opinion that the magnesium blocks are a nice trick but useless for survival. I also think matches are of low value. The wind can blow them out and they don?t burn very long. The only thing I believe in is a ferro rod and a fuel saturated cotton based tinder. My favorite is the Coghlan's Emergency Tinder. I also think a butane lighter is very valuable. It is good for sealing the ends of cord and starting fires under ideal conditions. Carry a lighter, ferro rod or SparkLite, and treated cotton balls. Forget the rest!

As an aside: fatwood can be made to work in the place of treated cotton balls. Just scrape the side like the magnesium block until you get a pile the size of a quarter. It will light with a ferro rod and burn with a big flame for about 30 seconds. The shavings are bigger than magnesium and the wind does not blow them around as much. They are also a little sticky so they stay put. For awhile I liked the fatwood better. Now I?ll just take the treated cotton balls. They are quick, easy, and more reliable. They burn for a good 5 minutes with a big flame.

I?d like to add that I am a big fan of the lean-to style of fire lay. You have your back to the wind. Take a stick about as fat as your thumb and long as your hand and stick it into the ground at a 45 degree angle facing you. Then put on your favorite toppings. Put one of your treated cotton balls in the opening and spark. Sit back and enjoy your fire, add more toppings as needed. If the ground is too hard or the wood is too frail then use a log about the size of your arm and place your kindling on that with an opening facing you and do the above.

I have gotten the magnesium to work by putting down a neckerchief to catch the magnesium shavings. Then get a good tinder ball and pour the magnesium shavings into it and hit it with a spark. The spark will catch the magnesium and the magnesium will cause the tinder to catch fire.

<img src="/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />
Thermo-regulate, hydrate and communicate.

#40601 - 05/10/05 09:38 PM Re: Magnesium block fire starter
Chris Kavanaugh Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/09/01
Posts: 3824
All firemaking instruction or efforts at mastering a new method properly start with reading Jack London's TO BUILD A FIRE. We all have our favourites and dislikes. Let me pose a few scenarios. You are face down in a snowdrift turning blue. A troop of girlscouts passes by almost without noticing you.The last one spots you, runs over, gives a tentative nudge. You move ever so slightly. HEY MISTER! want to buy some cookies? Ignoring this, she realises you are hypothermic. She goes through your pockets (No, not for cookie money) and pulls out examples of all the firemaking strategies discussed here. How many people are familiar with a book of matches vs every other item? Now lets reverse roles. You find a troop of boyscouts face down in the snow, and, opening your PSK find it's full of tobacco and is the new tin you meant to build a second PSK with. You go through the scout's pockets and find------ block after block of magnesium. So, even though you personally hate magnesium blocks, did you become good enough with the lousy things to build a fire? Your sled dog is giving you a wary look about now <img src="/images/graemlins/blush.gif" alt="" />

#40602 - 05/10/05 11:36 PM Re: Magnesium block fire starter
haertig Offline

Registered: 03/13/05
Posts: 2191
Loc: Colorado
I'm no expert in firestarting, having had little practice under terribly adverse conditions. But I do try to practice - albeit on nice sunny days usually - whenever I can. I carry a couple of different firestarting methods when I go hiking. A Bic mini-lighter, waterproof matches, a Boy Scout HotSpark, a fresnel lens, trick birthday candles, ranger bands, and vasoline/cotton tinder in my pocket kit. I then carry all this stuff redundantly in a kit in my daypack as well, except the HotSpark is replaced with a large Swedish Firesteel and I have an additional larger candle and many more matches. Also a large knife for carving wood down to it's drier innards for tinder/kindling. If I had to pick one and only one firestarter, it would be the large firesteel for it's all-weather versatility and robustness. For speed under good conditions? I'd light a few of those ranger bands with the Bic! (Similarly, for signalling I could pull out the StarFlash mirror and the Fox40 whistle, but first nod would go to calling 911 on the cellphone and relaying my exact coordinates off the GPS!)

#40603 - 05/11/05 03:52 PM Re: Magnesium block fire starter
M_a_x Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/16/02
Posts: 1098
Loc: Germany
The thread started with the magnesium block topic so I thought I could ommit the basics. Mea culpa <img src="/images/graemlins/frown.gif" alt="" />.
I carry matches, stormproof matches, a BIC lighter, a ferrocerium rod and a metal match. Someone who can build a fire should be familiar with at least one item of this collection. I paint my PSK tins in bright red. I could tell the difference to a tobacco container (considering may painting skills even blindfolded) .
Now to the game with the reversed role:
Yes I did practice enough with the magnesium block to get a fire going. It?s not yet as easy as other methods for me. I may even practice a little more to get better. I still doubt that it will inspire love for it though.
I hoped that I did express that my personal dislike for the magnesium block was my opinion. It?s biased. When others disagree it?s alright for me.
If it isnīt broken, it doesnīt have enough features yet.

#40604 - 05/11/05 04:15 PM Re: Magnesium block fire starter
Chris Kavanaugh Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/09/01
Posts: 3824
Max, I too, do not use magnesium blocks. I even had an awfull pair of magnesium framed service issue snowshoes. I tossed them on a fire and THEY didn't burn. All the stuff we discuss and review is out there; the good, the bad and the ugly, erroneous information about solar stills gushing bottled water in Death Valley and camouflaged, hollow handled RARE survival knives on Ebay with 1001 free items for $ 9.99. New people have to crawl over this stuff, it's why we are here. None of us would think of going into the wilderness with a packet of paper matches. Yet, with care they can be used in emergencies. Like a knife, the best firestarter is what you have.

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