Magnesium Fire Starter

On a trip to Tenant Creek Waterfalls we decided to use our magnesium fire starter to “initiate” the fire. Both Matt and I have carried these fire starters on many camping trips and decided that a little practice would be in good order. If you are not familiar with the device it is basically a block of magnesium with a flint rod embedded within the block. One shaves off slices of magnesium and then creates sparks igniting the magnesium.

Granted there may be differences among the various brands, but ours (probably both from Campmor) didn’t work. It was too hard to get any shavings using a knife. I did a little research and saw where some users recommended bringing a small hacksaw blade to make shavings, but that was more to save the edge on a knife than due to any complaints about making shavings. Maybe our blocks were cheap or old or something, but they didn’t work.

We got frustrated. We lit our fire with matches and then put one of the magnesium blocks in the flame to see how long before it would ignite.

Again, there may be problems with our blocks, and maybe there is a need for the increased surface area offered by shavings, but it took several minutes (5 or more) to ignite the magnesium block. However, once going it created a white, hot, intense flame warranting a welder’s helmet.

Has anyone else had experience using magnesium fire starters? Any ideas or recommendations for another attempt?

Follow our occasional Tweets @WinterCampers and visit us on Facebook.


8 comments to Magnesium Fire Starter

  • I agree with you that these are cheap. I’ve had very limited success in shaving the magnesium off of the block. I rarely get enough to start a fire. And the flint is second grade at that. I can get sparks but not easily. Actually, this winter the flint separated from the magnesium!

    A friend of mine has a “Primus Firesteel Fire Starter” which works like a charm. He skips on the mag. and uses char cloth. 100% better method.

    Keep practicing…

  • use a Doan firestarter. They are the best to get. the other ones are cheep imitations.

  • I found these Coghlan blocks are indeed a PIA to use. I can’t imagine how frustrated one would get trying to shave this thing into a usable pile with numbing hands, fading light and dropping temps.

    Doan’s are better made, but still a pain to use. The sparking rod on the Doan’s is attached in a much better way. I drop tested the two and found the Coghlan’s rod would fall out after a handful of drops on a hard surface.

    I found the best sparking rod is the Light My Fire Swedish Firesteel. Produces much more spark than the Primus mentioned previously. Get some Coughlan’s emergency tinder (waxed cotton earplugs) and you’re good to go.

  • Andy Bailey

    I have a little experience using these magnesium firestarters: There is a bit of a trick to it.
    #1. Bring along an old junky knife. The blade that you use to scrape the magnesium is going to dull very quickly, but in my experience, a dull knife works about as well as a sharp knife for this task.
    #2. You need LOTS of shavings to start a fire.


    The magnesium burns with a quick flash, and then it’s done.
    You might spend 15 minutes scraping enough magnesium to light 1 fire. Make a little pile about as big around as a quarter, or better yet, a half-dollar. This is harder than it sounds, because the slightest breeze will scatter the shavings all over the place! It works really well to scrape the magnesium into a container of some sort (like a bowl or pot) so that it doesn’t blow away and you can carefully pour it out into a neat little pile on the ground to light it.

    Lighting vaseline-coated cottonballs or charcloth with a firesteel is far easier and a lot less work than scraping magnesium. But the magnesium bar is more convenient to carry (1 piece, waterproof, small).

    I personally find it far easier to carry a firesteel and cottonballs and charcloth.

  • driver

    Don’t use the Magnesium. It isn’t worth it. carry dryer lint, jute cord, char cloth or other material to start the flame. Practice with all forms of fire starting to become well versed. Do your research and become a fire starter geek. Your friends will be amazed.

  • BillyBass

    Just get a good quality fire steel and some birch bark. crush up the bark to create more surface area. If you want some fire starters, get some gel wax from the craft store and dip cotton balls into the melted wax. when you want to use them just pull it apart a couple times to expose the fibers then hit it with a spark. search “amazing cotton ball” on youtube.

  • Steve in Reno

    Good!! I thought I was the only one who couldn’t use the magnesium firestarter! (And I have lots of experience starting fires otherwise!!)

    Thanx Guys!

  • Dan

    I know this is an old post, but is up on the google results so I thought I would weigh in.
    Those campmor ones actually work like a charm for me (have not tried the Doans).
    I found a trick to keep your knife from getting trashed is to use the back edge instead of the blade.
    Also, when scraping the Mg don’t use long fast strokes, use short controlled ones with a lot of pressure on the knife edge. You can also set up a collection spot so you aren’t bent over a fire pit when trying to use this little guy and you can find somewhere a little more sheltered from the wind. I use a nice flat dried leaf and scrape off into that, then put it on my kindling/tinder bed before sparking.