Ferrocerium and Magnesium Rods Explained

By Nick Italiano

Starting a Fire with a Ferro Rod

Fat Rod made by baba_ross_bushcraft

The ability to start a fire is vital when spending time in the great outdoors! Fire provides warmth, cooks our food, boils water for disinfection, and can be used to signal search and rescue personnel. In addition to its practical uses and functions in an emergency situation, the simple joy of sitting around a campfire or fire pit is hard to beat!

When it comes to getting your fire started, there are a lot of options available, but one of the most common and useful tools employed by seasoned outdoors people is a ferrocerium rod, commonly known as a ferro rod. These are sometimes accompanied by magnesium bars or rods which can greatly enhance the fire-starting ability of a ferro rod.

What is Ferrocerium and How does it Work?

Fat Rod and a Wazoo Spark Necklace

Ferrocerium is a synthetic pyrophoric alloy of “mischmetal” (cerium, lanthanum, neodymium, other trace lanthanides, and some iron – about 95% lanthanides and 5% iron) hardened by blending in oxides of iron and/or magnesium. When you use a striker or 90-degree spine of a knife to strike a Ferocium rod, it produces sparks that are upwards of 5400 degrees that can be used to ignite tinder materials and start a fire.

Where does Ferrocerium come from?

Ferrocerium was first discovered by the Swedish chemist Carl Auer von Welsbach in 1903. Auer von Welsbach was experimenting with rare earth elements and discovered that by mixing iron oxide with cerium oxide, he could create a new material that produced sparks when struck. He named this material ferrocerium, from the Latin words ferrum (iron) and cerium.

How does Magnesium Help?

Fero and Magnesium Rod set made by Montana Mike (instagram.com/montanamike)

Magnesium is flammable and burns around 4000 degrees Fahrenheit.  The purpose of a magnesium rod is to scrape off magnesium from the rod with the spine of your knife to make little piles of easily ignited high-temperature materials to help start your fire.

Are Ferro Rods Easy to Use?

Yes, ferro rods are easy to use if you practice and have the proper techniques down. We recommend practicing with a ferro rod regularly and experimenting with different forms of tinder including magnesium, fatwood dust, birch bark, and man-made tinder. Once you have the proper technique in place you can feel confident in your ability to get a fire started anywhere!

Are Ferro Rods Reliable?

Ferrocerium Rod by Gear Convoy

Ferro Rods are very reliable tools, far more reliable than a typical lighter. While using a lighter may be easier, they are prone to failure when wet, or very cold, and they can run out of fuel. Ferro rods will make sparks at any temperature or altitude and can even spark in wet conditions. Ferro rods are inexpensive and a single rod can last many years before needing to be replaced!

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