A firesteel is a rod of material including magnesium that is scraped with a specially designed scraper or the back of a knife to produce sparks that in turn set light to tinder and thence the kindling and main material for the camp fire. Often used in bushcraft or camping, wild camping, hiking, sailing or walking with a rucksack on your back and included in your survival tin or kit These simple fire starters are a most useful piece of survival kit. The ability to start a fire with a firesteel can mean the difference between life and death in survival situations. So a vital essential inclusion in your survival kit, but what makes a good one? Firesteels come in many different diameters and lengths and in general terms the longer and thicker the better. Thin and short firesteels give fewer lights and break after only a comparatively few strikes. Thicknesses range from 4mm to 12mm or even more and this makes a difference to the weight, the best thickness for a firesteel is 8mm as this size gives a good balance between longevity and weight hanging, of course on the length.
What is the optimum length for a firesteel I hear you ask? Well I'll tell you that in my opinion the best length is around 100mm or 10cm, 4 inches in imperial measurements. This enables the user to push the striker over a length of 2 – 3 inches or 50 – 75 mm or 5 to 7 cm which if you are using a good quality firesteel to light your tinder to start your camp or bushcraft fire means that a goodly shower of sparks burning at up to 3000 degrees centigrade will result. The more sparks the better so a good solid grippy handle is a necessity in a top quality firesteel, to enable the camper, hiker, fisherman, outdoorsman to firmly hold the fire steel even when wearing gloves or in the rain or snow or hail as it is easy to use a firesteel to start a fire to keep you warm or cook your food and dry your clothes when it is raining. These are vital tools and even Ray Mears uses a firesteel.
To properly use your fire steel to light your camp fire or barbeque or gas heater or cooker even your gel cooker or c4 used as a burning material or more often hexamine solid fuel stove you need to make a good shower of sparks. Firstly how on solid fuel or if you are lighting tinder made from birch bark, maya dust, tumble dryer fluff, cotton wool, cotton wool soaked with petroleum jelly or Vaseline, you need to carefully scrape some particles of magnesium from the firesteel without making them turn into burning sparks. The idea behind this is that when you strike sparks from the magnesium rod with your striker they will fall onto the scrapings and set them alight so making the fire more intense.
To strike sparks from your firesteel hold is about 1 or 2 inches above the tinder which you have prepared by impregnating it with magnesium filings, and holding the striker at right angles in all directions about 2 inches from the end of the firesteel firmly strike forward with a flick at the end, the resulting sparks will ignite the tinder.
In summary a firesteel is an essential piece of kit for anyone interested in bushcraft, who is camping or otherwise spending time outdoors. Remember these tools can be lifesavers so make sure you have one in your bag next time you venture out.