Ferrocerium rod, ferro rod, firesteel, metal match & fire flash, the names and sizes are endless, but they all function in virtually the same way. When small shavings of it are removed quickly enough, the metals exposure to oxygen ignites the shavings, converting the metal to the oxide i.e. the sparks are tiny pieces of burning metal.
A little history...
Ferrocerium is a relatively recent invention (1903) by an Austrian chemist (Carl Aue Bon Welsback) It has quickly become a modern-day replacement for the more traditional flint & steel methods. The ferrocerium compound is a synthetic ‘pyrophoric’ alloy made up of several metal elements, two of the core metals being Iron (Ferro) and Cerium (a soft, rare earth metal) which gives it the useful properties and function we see.
The sparks generated from a ferrocerium rod can be up to 3000* Celsius and even higher! This means they have the ability to instantly ignite a lot of the tinder options; Including all flash tinder, birchbark, most plant downs and fine dust tinder.
You also have the option to use your ferro rod to generate an ember, if you wish to create a fire using a tinder bundle, rather than jumping straight to an open flame. Coal fungus and charred materials are best used in this case.
To prepare your fire steel ready for use you will need to expose the compound underneath the protective black coating. To do this, simply take your striker and slowly scrape from the top of your ferro rod to the bottom, you should start to see the shiny ferrocerium becoming exposed underneath. You do not need to use much pressure to achieve this. It is best to do this outside and in an appropriate area, as the process will likely generate some sparks.
There are two main techniques for generating sparks, with pros and cons to both. Before progressing, make sure you have located the ‘sharp’ scraping area on your striker, this is the part that has a slightly raised ‘lip’ that will make contact with the ferro rod, allowing the soft metal to be shaved off.
Method 1: This approach focuses on keeping your ferro rod grounded and in a fixed position. Scrape downwards with your striker towards the tinder source maintaining the striker at a 45* angle and stopping just before you hit the tinder. This method allows for a much higher degree of precision but is also far more likely to knock your tinder pile and/or extinguish any flames.
Method 2: The reverse of method 1, ‘locking’ the hand holding the striker into a fixed position (striker at 45* in contact with the rod) and pulling the hand holding the ferro rod itself backwards, whilst maintaining contact with the striker. This option is a little more tricky to be accurate with, but avoids crashing down into your tinder source.
1. With your fine tinder positioned, Place the end of your rod at the edge of your tinder.
2. Place your striker at a 45* angle at the top of your ferro rod.
Ferro Rod Maintenance & Care
Because ferrocerium contains iron it can rust when exposed to water &/or moisture, so it is good practice to keep it in some type of container or pouch to avoid it degrading over time.
Get out there and start practicing! If you are new to using ferrocerium rods they can be a bit frustrating but perseverance is key, it will become instinctual and second nature in no time.