Trying to get fire when you need it most can be quite a daunting task. Picture yourself in this situation. You’re a mom with your 3 kids driving on a trip and you turn off looking for a gas station in a rather remote country area and get a bit lost or turned around. It’s a wintery day with snow covering the road with ice and snowing down pretty hard. Cell phone lost signal as you’re frustrated trying to find your way back to the main road, and you drive off the road and get stuck in a ditch.
You are now in a serious emergency and have little ones counting on you. As the hours go on and gas is low, you know eventually your gas will run out and no one has driven by for hours now, and night is falling. Sure, you may have extra wool blankets with you that’s great, and even a candle to light to help keep the inside warm, but it may be nice to get a fire going to aid as a signal and let everyone stand around it to help get through till help arrives.
But getting a fire going in this situation can be a bit difficult and normal lighters and matches can be tough to get that important fire going, so knowing how to properly use a Ferro Rod or also known as Fire Steel, is a great skill to have. In either case, these tips will help you get that magical fire you so badly need.
First, if you are going to use a lighter, I recommend the metal flip-top ones filled with lighter fluid. They stay lit longer, you’re not wearing out your thumb, and won’t get heated up like say those Bic-type ones. If you have matches, please carry something other than the standard book matches that only stay lit a few seconds, 10 at best.
Go with some Stormproof Matches that are wind and waterproof. These ones stay lit a good while, almost 30 seconds, and burn way hotter. Now, using these is fairly easy to do, and using them with any of the surefire tips below will help get you that fire. But what if it comes down to a situation where all you have is a Ferro rod? Then what? Look below>>>
Gather up a bunch of tinder which is very dry and easily combustible. It can be anything like dry grasses, pine needles, or leaves, or you can shave sticks for wood shavings. You can also carry cotton balls with you, dryer lint (which is one of the best because of how it’s produced), even some twine string, or even a piece of shredded cotton cloth. I even carry Charcloth with me, but we will cover that in another segment. All this when added to your tinder bundle will hedge your bets and success in getting that lifesaving fire!
Once you have this gathered up and ready to go, gather firewood and build an initial tee-pee fire in a cleared area. Try to make sure it is as dry as possible, even lay down a pile of dry leaves or pine needles on the ground to ensure moisture (the enemy of fire) doesn’t become a factor working against you. You could even set it up on a large rock, preferably a flat one. In the Wintertime, look for dead branches in the trees off the ground, which are very easy to find.
Once that is set, gather as much firewood as possible and pile it up high. Once you have it, take a look at it to see if you have enough, and then double it. You can never have enough firewood, heck make it a pile taller than you! LOL! You will then want to have a few piles of wood or fuel ready to go, so make a pile of tinder twigs, that are small and combustible to go on the fire first to help keep the flame burning easy.
Then some kindling sticks the size of pencils all the way up to thumb size, and lastly, your main fuel fire logs from about an inch round to 3 inches. Once the fire has been burning well, and the coals are plentiful, you can add bigger logs. Setting the conditions for success is key here, and a lot goes into fire prep before you ever spark a match or strike a spark. Now get that Ferro Rod out, and you’ll also need a fixed blade knife, preferably made of 1095 High Carbon Steel like the Mountain Predator from Stroup Knives.
Now that you have everything set and ready to go with a tinder bundle and fuel piles, you are ready to get that fire going. Use your knife to scrape off the dark coating on the Ferro rod that is used to protect it from rust if it’s brand new, it will allow you to get to the sparking material you will need. When you use the spine (back) of your knife to slide down the Ferro rod it will send off a shower of sparks which is what you will need to turn your tinder bundle into flame.
Many beginners make the Rookie mistake of striking the Ferro rod by pushing the knife over the rod and toward the fire. You see this on a lot of these Survival TV Shows, and you see them many times frantically and quickly and seemingly desperately trying to get that fire going before the night falls and the insects come.
Now understand that this isn’t a wrong technique, but I have seen a lot of times where people push the rod forward into the bundle and send it flying, and if you have a pile of enhancers in it like cotton ball shredding or magnesium shavings, they’ve gone flying all over the place. Sparks from the Ferro rod also fly all over the place and miss their mark which is frustrating.
My preferred technique is to strike forward using your strong hand with the knife, the spine side facing down and the edge facing up. Now take your hand and steady it on the ground close to your tinder for support and it will be stationary during the process. Now take the Ferro rod in your other hand and bring it under your knife spine tilting it at a 45-degree angle to the blade, as this will generate sparks, by pulling the Ferro rod towards you.
It is a lot more accurate way to throw sparks where you need them to go. As it slides against the edge of the knife spine you will see a lot of sparks head right into the tinder bundle and if set up right, one of the sparks should catch and ignite the bundle.
If there is any moisture in the air or ground, you can run your knife back and forth on the Ferro rod quickly to heat it up and then use it to lay in the tinder bundle in several places to help dry it out some from its heat generated. Never give up trying and thinking outside the box. Frustration will lead to stress, and you need a clear head to get this important life-saving task done. It can take well over 20 to 30 minutes to get that fire going in wet or moist conditions.
I have found when a fire is fickle…always hedge your bets with enhancers. These things help give the fire-making process the winning edge in my professional opinion. There are many things on the market like Blackbeards Fire Starting Braids, Fire Disks, Wet Dry, Handy Sanitizer, Insect Repellent, or my fave Good Ole Magnesium Shavings (preshave some onto a piece of duct tape which helps keep it in place, especially in the wind). A favorite hack of mine is having your cotton balls pre-dipped in petroleum jelly (I carry mine in zip lock bags) will make the fire on the cotton ball burn way longer, almost like a candle.
So, if you happen to be an Everyday Joe or Joan and have never thought about this scenario, you now have some great fire-starting knowledge here to use. Even the seasoned woodsman looks for an edge when it comes to fire because even though we might be able to get a fire going by rubbing sticks together, fire is never a guarantee…So, ALWAYS HEDGE YOUR BETS, with the ideas I have shared here! And practice, practice, practice! It’s a Life-Saving Skill you want ready when YOU need it most!!! FIRE! FIRE! FIRE! ~ EJ SNYDER