Magnesium Fire Starter

Both Matt and I have carried these magnesium 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.

Since then I have received some advice on improving our technique.

  • To keep your knife from getting trashed is to use the back edge instead of the blade.
  • When scraping don’t use long fast strokes, use short controlled ones with a lot of pressure on the knife edge.
  • You need lots of shavings to start a fire; the bigger the pile of shavings, the more likely you will be successful at starting 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.
  • Set up a collection spot sheltered from the wind so you aren’t bent over a fire pit.  Scrape the filings onto something like a flat dried leaf and then put it on my kindling/tinder bed before sparking.

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.

I think I will stick with a Light My Fire steel starter and Vaseline coated cotton balls.

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