Learning how to build a fire is perhaps the single most important survival skill to learn. A fire provides you with warmth, light, protection, and the ability to cook food and boil water.
One of the most effective fire starting devices that you can carry around in your vehicle, survival kit, or in your get home bag is the ferro rod. While a simple device, there is still an art to using a ferro rod efficiently, and that’s what we’re going to discuss today.
In this guide, we’ll learn what a ferro rod is, some vital tips on how to use one, and a crucial mistake you’ll want to avoid.
What Is A Ferro Rod?
So, what is a ferro rod to begin with?
A ferro, or ferrocerium, rod is typically made out of lanthanum, iron, and cerium, that creates sparks for fires. The exact materials included differs slightly across manufacturers, but most rods will include those above metals.
Take note that the cheaper a ferro rod is, chances are good that it has reduced cerium in contrast to more expensive models. A ferro rod with limited cerium should still work, but just not as effectively.
What matters more than the specific levels of cerium in your ferro rod are the width and length of the rod itself. The longer and wider the rod, the more surface area and contact time your striker will have with it, which should make it easy to strike a spark.
In the next section, we’ll talk about how to use a ferro rod with a survival knife, the best kind of tinder to use, and a critical mistake that you will want to avoid.
How To Use A Ferro Rod
Now that we’ve established what is a ferro rod, here are the top tips on how to use one:
Ferro Rod Technique
If there’s one thing to know about using a ferro rod, it’s that you should always strike it very firmly and controllably. Don’t treat striking a ferro rod like a match where you strike as delicately as possible.
Start by assembling your tinder pile (we’ll discuss the best kind of tinder and kindling to use soon) and holding your ferro rod down next to it. Make sure that the tinder is dry, and not exposed to rain or wind.
Take either your scraper or the back of your knife blade (more on the knife part in a bit as well) and strike the rod at a forty-five degree angle.
This next step is crucial: instead of pulling the scraper back to strike the rod, instead hold the scraper in place and pull the rod back against the scraper. Assuming you’re holding the scraper at the right angle, you should strike several sparks that fall over your tinder.
While you can move the scraper if you so choose, the truth is that moving the rod is much more effective. This is because when you move the scraper, your hand can get too close to the tinder. This means that you can potentially disrupt your tinder pile, or your sparks can cool down by the time they land over your pile.
As soon as you get a spark over your pile that ignites, cover it with your hands and gently breathe from the bottom. Hopefully the spark will be converted into a small flame, at which point you can gradually add more dry tinder and fuel. Otherwise, continue pulling the rod back against the scraper using the above method.
How To Use A Ferro Rod with a Survival Knife
Learning how to use a ferro rod with a survival knife properly is of the utmost importance. That’s because striking the rod with the sharp edge of your knife is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Doing so will cause the blade of your knife to dull very quickly.
The best alternative strategy is to use the back edge of your blade. Ideally, the knife will not have a ninety degree edge on the back. Besides using your knife, you can also use anything with a similar edge. Examples could include broken glass, a multi-tool, or the back of a small saw blade.
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Regardless of which tool you end up using, just follow the same technique from above.
Tinder For Your Fire
It is critically essential for your tinder to be as dry as possible. The best kind of tinder to use with your ferro rod includes dry grass, dry moss, small twigs (split them into smaller pieces), paper, or cotton balls (soak the cotton balls in Vaseline or hand sanitizer to make them extra flammable).
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Perhaps the most effective tinder to use of all, however, is char cloth (which is simply cotton that has been turned into charcoal).
Besides the materials you use for your tinder, how you arrange your tinder pile is also critical. Choose a dry area on the ground. If it’s raining, choose somewhere underneath a tree (just make sure that branches don’t hang too low, or else they could catch flame when the fire starts). If it’s windy, put your back against the wind to help shield the fire.
Use your tinder to create a nest on the ground. Have larger pieces of fuel, such as sticks and branches, nearby to fuel your fire when it begins to grow. Hold your ferro rod and striker over the tinder, and follow the process as discussed above.
As a final piece of advice, be sure to practice. You never want a true survival situation to be the very first time you use a ferro rod. Instead, take an afternoon to go out into the woods and practice using a ferro rod in a safe environment until it becomes easy for you to do.
You never know when you’ll need it.