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Firesteel experiment
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John G
(JohnG10) - F

Locale: Mid-Atlantic via Upstate NY
Firesteel experiment on 01/01/2010 11:53:31 MST Print View

I ran some experiments with my LMF Army firesteel.

Comparing the volume of sparks thrown to the striker the LMF firsteel comes with to the tools on a Victorinox Swiss Army knife (SAK):
the back of the SAK saw worked about 200% better than the LMF striker
the large SAK blade worked about 100% better than the LMF striker
the small SAK blade worked about 50% better than the LMF striker
a 3.5" piece of hacksaw with a squared spine worked 50% better than the LMF striker
the teeth-side of 3.5" piece of hacksaw worked about the same as the LMF striker than the LMF striker
the SAK Alox soldier awl worked about 50% worse than the LMF striker

The springiness of the saw seem to be an advantage. The awl was "hard to use" from the standpoint that it was very sensitive to the angle it was being scraped at.

ps: does anyone know why the hacksaw didn't perform as well as the file ? Both are springy. I ground the spine of the hacksaw square using a diamond stone - carefully (I'm sure it wasn't rounded). If anything, I expected more sparks from the hacksaw since it's probably a lot harder than the SAK saw.

pps: Does anyone have any experience lighting wood shavings without dried grass (etc). I couldn't get it to work. Would a mish-metal rod work any better ?

After getting advise from several forums, I tried the "back" of the Alox awl. (ie: used the sharpend edge, but held the knife in my left hand). It produced about 20% more sparks than the saw back - and only experienced a 1/4mm nick whereas the saw had a 2/3cm area that was "nicked up to the point of almost being rounded". The awl was also no longer sensitive to the angle it was held at. Apparently the original angle issue was caused by how closely I held the sharpened edge to 90degrees to the firesteel. The reduced spark volume must have been because it was at 75 degrees etc and not using the sharp corner as effectively as it could have.

Edited by JohnG10 on 01/03/2010 09:26:56 MST.

Joseph Morrison
(sjdm4211) - F

Locale: Smokies
"Firesteel experiment" on 01/01/2010 12:07:07 MST Print View

Never use the blade of a knife to strike a firesteel. Why waste the blade. If you can't find anything else a sharp rock can be used to stike a ferro rod. I use the back of the saw on my SAK. I feel it works best.

You can light shavings of pitch pine with a ferro rod. Where I backpack I use birch bark. Even when somewhat damp it will take a spark. The key is to find something resinous.

Always carry some man made tinder in case natural tinder is hard to find. PJ soaked cotton balls in a film canister is the cheapest. I like Landmann firestarters which can be found at many grocery stores in the BBQ section.


Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
firesteel on 01/01/2010 14:36:21 MST Print View

I'd recommend against using your knife blades (unless you have to), instead use the spine of the knife- it helps if the spine is very squared up

the LMF steel generally sparks easier than the misch metal ones HOWEVER the misch metal ones generally throw a much larger, hotter spark (almost glob like)

for lighting any tinder you want the steel very close- I see videos of guys throwing sparks from feet away, you'll have better luck close

for lighting most wood, making fuzz sticks is the way to go- takes practice to get them very thin (and curly)- "fatwood" (resin impregnated) is the wood of choice if you can find it (or like a lot of folks they carry it)

I think LMF now has a new striker that is supposedly much more effective than the old one- might be worth looking into that

George Geist
(geist) - M

Locale: Smoky Mountains
Re: Firesteel experiment on 01/01/2010 15:26:05 MST Print View

> the back of the SAK saw worked about 200% better than the LMF striker

Hi John,

I ran the same set of experiments last year using rods and found the same thing you did -
the BACK of the Victorinox saw worked much better than anything else.

Like you, I found the hacksaw worked quite a bit better than the supplied striker. I threw the striker away and now just use the BACK of the SAK saw blade.

> Does anyone have any experience lighting wood shavings without dried grass (etc). I couldn't get it to work.

It is very hard. Takes lots of practice preparing tinder. Much easier to just don't leave home without some spark-catching tinder on you.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Firesteel experiment on 01/01/2010 16:53:03 MST Print View

> Does anyone have any experience lighting wood shavings without dried grass (etc).

Not worth the effort. It's possible but really hard. The wood has to be REALLY dry, the shavings really thin. Actually, just shavings weren't enough.. I needed to partially split the shavings to get extra surface area / edges. It's much easier to get the sparks to catch on something a bit more flammable.

I found that it well worth carrying 1 gram worth of firestarter. A cotton ball, drier lint, some commercial firestarter, etc.


Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Firesteel experiment on 01/01/2010 20:38:16 MST Print View

"ps: does anyone know why the hacksaw didn't perform as well as the file ?"

Yep, files are famous for being made of very hard steel. The harder the steel the better the sparks.

As for grass used as tinder..
Grass is more of a kindling -used to get a fire started with a coal or small flame.
What you need is a tinder- something used to catch a spark, usually something that creates a "coal" from a spark which in turn is used to make a flame.

Joseph Morrison
(sjdm4211) - F

Locale: Smokies
Re: Re: Firesteel experiment on 01/01/2010 22:16:35 MST Print View

Brian, alot of people confuse a firesteel with a ferro rod and the method of firestarting for both. Because of LMF and other manufacturers calling ferro rods a firesteel it has become confusing for many people new to firecraft.

A firesteel is a very hard high carbon steel. When struck with a piece of flint it throws very few small sparks. You have to start with char cloth to catch the very small sparks. Then you transfer the spark into jute twine unraveled into something that resembles a birdsnest by blowing into it. From there you place the flamming birdsnest into natural tinder such as birch bark or dry grass. Here is a link to a video I made of me using a ML firesteel:

A ferro rod like the LMF Army is a misch metal consisting of:
Iron: 19%
Cerium: 38%
Lanthanum: 22%
Neodymium: 4%
Praseodymium: 4%
Magnesium: 4%.
It really doesn't matter how hard the item being used as a striker is just as long as it is sharp. Allthough a harder material will hold a sharp edge longer. A ferro rod throws much more sparks so the first few steps that are done with the firesteel are not needed. It will easily light dry natural tinder by itself. Another link to a video of me using a ferro rod:

BTW grass is considered a tinder. Kindling is always wood.


Brian UL

Locale: New England
Re: Re: Re: Firesteel experiment on 01/02/2010 11:08:38 MST Print View

Sure, firesteels and ferro rods are usually used interchangeably. So are the terms tinder and kindling.
I learned fire building skills the Kochanski way as described in his book "Bushcraft" in it he clearly defines tinder as something that lights from a spark- whether it turns to flame or coal and kindling as something that lights from a coal or is light easily by a flame. No mention of kindling being specifically wood. A quick Google search only turned up definitions like " any material thats easily combustible" and the like- but nothing specifically about it being wood.
Lots of schools and books have different definitions though.