Actually these are two separate, but closely related methods of starting a fire. Since they are so closely related, we’re going to call them just one, even though you use different forms of fire starters and the methodology is slightly different. Nevertheless, these two cousins both use magnesium and a “ferro” rod to start a fire.

Magnesium is interesting in that even though it is a metal, it is highly flammable, especially in powdered form. This is the same shiny metal that is used to make “mag wheels,” so if you ever see a car with mag wheels burning, don’t even bother trying to put the wheels out; you won’t be able to.

Ferrocerium is a man-made material, which has been created as the functional replacement for flint. When flint and steel are struck together, you get sparks; likewise with ferrocerium and steel. The difference is that you get more and hotter sparks (3000oF) from ferro than you do from flint. By the way, if you happen to be in the Rocky Mountains and need to start a fire, but all you have is your knife, start hitting rocks (with the back of your knife so you don’t dull the blade). You’re bound to find some flint before long and get a spark (we’ll just call that little trick a freebie).

Metal Match—This is a trade name, turned common name for the original magnesium fire starter. It consists of a magnesium block, with a ferro strip inserted into one side. A little bit of magnesium dust is scraped (that’s not cut, but scraped) off onto the tinder with a knife, and then the ferro rod is hit with the same knife, sending sparks into the magnesium powder to burn. Here’s a tip while using this tool: Be careful to work in a place where you are out of the wind, as the magnesium shavings you scrape off the block will blow away easily, making you start over.

Ferro Rod—The ferro rod consists of the same elements as the metal match, with the difference in that the rod is only about one-quarter inch in diameter, instead of a block of magnesium. It’s a little harder to use, as you don’t scrape a pile of magnesium shavings onto the tinder first. All you do is use the ferro rod and the serrated blade that comes with it to create sparks. Those sparks, falling on your tinder are supposed to help you get a fire started.

Push Down Fire Starter—An adaptation on the ferro rod is one that is installed in a nice handle. This was created by some clever individual that realized that most people have trouble using a ferro rod. The end of the rod is placed on the tinder and the starter is pushed down. This causes the ferro rod to rub against the blade, creating sparks. Being spring loaded, it returns to its “cocked and locked” position when the pressure is released these is perfect for starting a fire when you only have one hand available.

Remember that you can harvest the ferrocerium out of a butane lighter when it is empty. While a very small piece, it will still work. You can also harvest it out of welding “sparkers” that are used to ignite welding torches.


92,960,000 miles away from us is a great big ball of fire just waiting to help start your campfire burning. All you need is a clear sky and little bit of focus.

There are a lot of different things that can be used as a lens. All it takes is a little ingenuity in figuring out how to access the lens and make it work. So, we’re going to take a look at a variety of fire starting methods that all use lenses.