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Firesteel vs Magnesium Block

Discussion in 'Wilderness & Survival Skills' started by Dekz, Nov 18, 2007.

  1. Dekz


    Oct 26, 2007
    Firesteels seem to be all the rave around here and I'm tempted to pick one up and see what all the fuss is about.

    Is a Firesteel any different than the striking surface on my Magnesium block?


    If not, it seems to me that the mag block would be far superior, yet they don't seem to get much attention here, all you hear about are Firesteels.

    PLEASE do not bring up lighters/Bics/Zippos, there are tons of threads arguing for/against them, I just want to compare these 2 firestarting methods.
  2. mjdukefan23


    Aug 24, 2007
    the firesteels tend to give off more sparks and last longer than the ferrociums on the mag blocks, at least in my experience
  3. sodak

    sodak Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 26, 2004
    Mag blocks, at least for me, are time consuming to get enough mag powder, and then it burns fiercely for about 3 seconds. I get much better results with vaseline cotton balls, YMMV.
  4. sketchbag

    sketchbag Banned by Moderators

    Oct 1, 2007
    The striker is the same thing, theyre both ferro cerium, but like mjdukefan says, the fire steels give of more sparks, its because theyre so much thicker and have more area to scrape. Both are good, I prefer the plain firesteels because in my area there's tons of birch bark which goes up in flames with 1 good spark. I havent bought one of the doan fire starters, but I can imagine that in some cases I'd have to use the magnesium just because I cant get enough sparks to directly light the tinder. But if you have less than ideal tinder the magnesium scrapings would be helpful.
  5. stingray4540


    Mar 26, 2007
    A firesteel is the same as a mag block but without the mag. (i.e. the striking surface of a mag block is a firesteel)

    The problem is that the firesteel on the magblock is small and doesn't through as many sparks. Secondly, it takes a lot of work to get a significant amount of mag shaving to light, and when you do light it it only last for a second.

    A lot of people, including myself, find it much easier to start a fire by carrying a larger firesteel, and different ignition material.

    Some different ways of carrying tinder with your firesteel:

    1) Make a fatwood block. Epoxy a piece of fatwood to your firesteel. Esentially it is identical to you mag block, but with fatwood instead of magnesium. (It is a lot easier to get shavings and dust off of fatwood than it is off of magnesium)

    2) Carry Petroleum Jelly Cotton Balls. You can do this by making firestaws, stuff PJCB into a straw and seal both ends with pliers and a lighter, cut straw to desired length first. You can also put a cotton ball or two into a spy capsule. To make a PJCB smear the outside of the CB with PJ, when you want to light it, tear it open to expose dry cotton and set your spark to that. Lights easily and stays lit for a couple of minutes, not seconds.

    3) Carry Char cloth.

    Number two is my favorite tinder material, it is easy to make, albeit a little messy, lights easily, stays lit for a substantial amount of time, and is water proof. Try making a couple and use the firesteel on your magblock, you will fall in love.

    Here is a great idea that I am planning on trying. It is a compact way of carrying a firesteel and tinder in one compact package. A PJCB and some fatwood shavings would be some great fool proof tinder to store in these. http://www.bladeforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=512075
    sroll down to post #8.

    Also, many people don't carry tinder because they are able to make fine enough wood shavings that will catch a spark: http://video.google.com.au/videoplay?docid=-1618781026416227624
    the only problem is if all you have is wet would it will be harder than if you have your own dry tinder.
  6. T. Erdelyi

    T. Erdelyi Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 3, 2001
    I use flint and steel, the steel IIRC is forged steel hardened between 59-63 on the Rockwell scale, the harder the steel the longer the spark burns.

    This has worked well for me as does the Magnesium fire starters, the problem most people have with the Magnesium is that they don't use enough tinder or somethin' like a piece of char cloth to keep embers glowin' long enough to catch the tinder on fire.

    Once you used a flint and steel to start a fire you'll be amazed at how easy it is.:D
  7. foxyrick

    foxyrick British Pork

    Dec 26, 2006
    I've used the flint and mag to light quite a few fires - just for the sake if it. Stingray4540 is spot on. The smaller ferro rod is not nearly as effective as a good big rod. Scraping the mag block with a knife blade will dull the edge quite quickly; I carried a small, hard, half-of-a-pair-of-scissors blade that worked very well though.

    Using a big ferro rod with many types of tinder is definately easier than using the mag block. But...

    The mag block is absolutely impervious to water! Well, it will corrode eventually, but I still have one that I bought about 20 years ago. The flint is completely worn away from using it though.

    That's the big plus really. Most other tinders will need keeping dry in some way.

    I would be tempted these days to cut the mag block in half, lengthways, for carrying. It lasts so long that you don't need a full one unless you get stranded and decide to live there. Even then, the flint will be used up first.

    Stingray4540 - how is fatwood in regards to water? I've never used it but I imagine if there is enough resin in it it might be practically waterproof. In which case, I definately like your idea of gluing a piece to a ferro rod.
  8. Dekz


    Oct 26, 2007
    I guess my point of view is that all of these tinder sources could be lit with the mag block, but you still have the mag there if you need it.

    I understand that the firesteel creates more sparks, but I think it would be more beneficial to have the magnesium there if it's needed, plus it is an all-in-one package. Tinder could get lost/wet/etc.
  9. psy-ops


    Sep 27, 1999
    I am now carrying both. A friend came over today and we worked side by side. He had the mag bar and I a "light my fire" rod.

    I had 3 fires to his one. I do think the mag is good to have just becuase you have some water proof tinder. I will be carrying both.

    The ferro rod works much better.
  10. stingray4540


    Mar 26, 2007
    foxyrick: Ya, the fat wood is completely saturated in sap, so it is pretty impervious to water. Go ahead and give it a try, fatwood is much easy to get shavings from than magnesium.

    Dekz: You do have a point about it being impervious to water and attached to your firesteel, but some of the other tinders I mentioned would also be impervious to water and attached to your firesteel. Glueing a piece of fatwood to a firesteel is essentially the same as your magblock, but it's easier to get shavings from. The link I posted were the guy made a firesteel and tinder carrier out of a spy capsule, also is waterproof and keeps the tinder attached to the firesteel. Also, firestraws are water proof, but aren't attached to your firesteel which isn't a problem if it is part of a PSK, but isn't so good for carrying on your keychain.

    So, there are many options, it's just a matter of trying them all and figuring out what works best for you. Just don't make up your mind about a certain tinder until you've tried it.

    The reason I don't like magblocks is because they don't work for me. They take too much effort, and when I do get it going, I don't even get a flame, it just gets red hot for a sec and then it dies. Also, there too bulky.

    Here is a cool video on how to use all the different tinders (excluding fatwood): http://youtube.com/watch?v=4E1G2DQjrSs
    I like the innertube idea at the end, I'll have to remember that one.
  11. Burncycle


    Jan 3, 2005
    I perfer the magnesium blocks. Even so, all the stuff written above applies... bringing your own tinder can make life a lot easier and if you prep right, you may not need to use the magnesium much. If you have absolutely nothing else though, the magnesium does work. With patience and practice!

    They come in various form factors, from the rectangular magnesium block you posted, to the more compact ones like these: http://www.survivalschool.com/products/fire_starting/Strike_Master_Lafge.JPG
  12. k_estela

    k_estela Co-Moderator, Wilderness and Survival Skills Forum Moderator

    Feb 23, 2001
    At the WLC, we recommend carrying the 3/8" firesteel. We teach students to locate tinder as they become more aware of their surroundings. Of course, we show students how to use cotton and vaseline balls and carry them in creative ways such as an empty chap stick tube (twist the bottom and VOILA! Easy dispensing).

    The mag blocks are o.k. in my book but I prefer the 3/8" rod over all others. If you run out of striking surface on the mag block, you are left with magnesium. For the space it takes up, I'd rather take 3 large ferro rods or 2 and a tube of tinder. Look at the shower of sparks a 3/8" rod will make over the 1/8" rods or the rod on the back of a mag bar. What we have found works great as a striker is the corona machete sharpener. That combined with the mother of all ferro rods, the 1/2" rod, and you have a fountain of sparks.

  13. andrew7978


    Mar 19, 2007
    I like to rest my ferro rod in on the ground right in front of the tinder that way when I strike, the ground provides good resistance (a steady surface) holding the thing in the air becomes very difficult. If you try resting a mag block on the ground the striker rod is higher away from the tinder which means less sparks get thrown into the actual tinder. Hope that makes sense.
  14. T. Erdelyi

    T. Erdelyi Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 3, 2001
  15. skammer

    skammer Banned by Moderators

    Jan 18, 2005
    AH! therein lies the reason they excel, spark and tinder in one unit adn durable. Sure there is easier ways to get a fire but flint is always a backup to several bic lighters for me and with the magblock you always have tinder that will light up with the flint bar.

  16. beeperboy


    Jan 28, 2004
    I have a Doan magnesium starter that I've been practicing with in the backyard. It seems fairly effortless to build a fire quickly, but I have one nagging question. How would you go about building a fire with either the flint/tinder or magnesium starters in the dark? You might have a chance making some tider (or setting out some PJ cotton) and starting it with a flint, but you'd never find that little pile of magnesium in pitch dark. One bump, and it would scatter all over the place. Are there any tricks to doing this, or is that an inherent limitation of these type of fire starters?

  17. Barrabas


    Feb 8, 2005

    Good question,

    The way I get around that issue is to always have a LED with me :)
    Seriously though, you might consider folding up a few yards of Duct tape in a neat little square that you can carry in your wallet, and if the wind is up, or you just want a base, you can put your scrapings on a smal strip of the duct tape, and the plus side to this is the duct tape will burn as well so you have a 2nd stage.
    Another alternative that works in the wind, is dig a small hole and scrape your mag in there, and put your tinder on top.

    By the way Skammer - diddo to your thoughts as well.

  18. Salamander42


    Mar 21, 2007
    Good ideas for keeping those magnesium scrapings in one place. That's the one thing that I've never liked about the mag blocks. . . It's easy to scatter the magnesium with a wrong move, or have it blown away by the wind. I don't mind the time that it takes to get the scrapings. . . I use the file on my Swiss Tool to make relatively quick work of that step. I still mostly just use the ferro rod insert to light a PJ cotton ball though, instead of messing with the magnesium.


    Apr 14, 2006
    I carry both, as well as a Mini Bic in their new holder, and a modified lantern lighter. I also do hand drill and bow drill coals. Soon, I hope to have some Peanut lighters.

    "Excuse me, Miss, care for a light?" :D

  20. batosai117

    batosai117 Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 5, 2007
    I carry my magnesium bar everywhere, so it is good to know that it is the same thing as a fire steel. I was wondering the same thing until I read this thread.

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