Magnesium fire starters are an absolute must have item when it comes to being prepared. Not only are they simple to use, light to carry, and inexpensive, they’re also one of the easiest ways to start a fire in nearly any condition. This review covers the properties that make them so valuable and why having one in your emergency kit makes sense.
First lets take a look at the make up of this item. The four parts that make up the magnesium fire starter that I tested are the magnesium block, flint rod, chain, and striker. The magnesium block is the largest portion of this item and is a piece of soft metal from which you shave slivers of magnesium. The striker is used to scrape the flint rod creating sparks while directing them towards the pile of shavings. In this and most versions I’ve seen, the striker is attached to the magnesium block using a small ball chain similar to that used to hold dog tags.
The supplied striker resembles a portion of hacksaw blade and has both a flat and serrated edge. In use I find it preferable to use the flat edge for the scraping of both the flint and the magnesium itself. I have found that if you vary the pressure that you apply when scraping you can get different sizes of shavings. Different thicknesses as well as lengths of shavings are important when it comes to making the most out of your fire starter.
The mechanics behind the use of this fire starter are simple and I recommend reading my article “Lets Learn about… Fire” as a precursor but it isn’t necessary. Magnesium burns at 3,100 °C or 5,610°F. That temperature is over twice the melting point of steel and hotter than Thermite. Magnesium burns white and is one of the principle ingredients in white fireworks and sparklers.
Fire needs 3 key ingredients, fuel, oxygen, and heat. Shaving the magnesium into small scrapings creates a greater amount of surface area and provides space for oxygen. Smaller scrapings are easier to ignite and larger scrapings will burn longer once ignited. A good mix of different sizes will ensure that you have the best chance of success. Once ignited the magnesium shavings will burn rather quickly so it is important to prepare tinder and kindling in advance. I like to place small bits of kindling or tinder around my shavings in a V shape in order to help direct any wayward sparks from the flint into the pile of shavings.
Once you have prepared by staging the area and getting the tinder as well as fire wood ready it is time to strike the flint. I have two favorite methods I use for striking. I like to hold the striker lengthwise and place the small flat end of the striker on the flint rod and apply my thumb in the middle of the striker with my forefinger on the opposite side creating a bend in the striker similar to shuffling cards. By varying the pressure between the striker and the flint, the edge of the striker should slide along the flint rod and produce sparks(this is the same method I use in my video). Alternatively if I need larger flint pieces due to a wet or humid environment I will use the long flat side of the striker and slide it down the flint rod like a knife being sharpened. The only difference being that I will be holding it at approximately a 90 degree angle. Either method will produce sparks and with practice you may find your own method that works best for you.
So how did this work for me?
When I tested the magnesium fire starter it was very damp and the ground was essentially made of wet sand. I collected the shavings on a flat rock and surrounded three sides with tinder. On the 3rd or 4th strike the magnesium lit and I added tinder to the flame being generated by the burning metal. It was very handy and in fact this test proved to be easier than using the UCO storm proof matches I had brought along as well. While it did take some time to prepare the site, scrape the magnesium, and ensure that the tinder was ready, it wasn’t that difficult once all the preparation had been made. This works great in dry or wet conditions but the scrapings and sparks can be hard to manage in windy conditions.
I would absolutely recommend this to anyone looking to have something for their fire starting needs beyond a lighter or some matches. As I said at the beginning this tool is an absolute must have item and is well worth its weight to carry. Like most tools this works best with practice so if you are in the market, buy two and practice with one while keeping the other for emergency use. Two things to keep in mind about magnesium fire starters is that they don’t go bad and they don’t run out of fuel.