Here are the ins and outs of using a ferro rod, including different materials you can use to create and catch sparks to start a fire.
Dave Canterbury of the Pathfinder School talks about making fire with a ferrocerium “ferro” rod. He discusses the composition of ferro rods and the advantages they have over traditional spark generating tools such as flint and steel.
Canterbury goes over proper technique in using a ferro rod and striker to effectively throw sparks, including unusual materials such as glass, that may be used as a striker.
Finally, he demonstrates, with several spark catching tinder examples, how a ferrocerium rod is able to light even marginal tinders.
One thing worth mentioning with ferro rods is to make sure to remove the black protective coating that the rods usually come with. Scrape it off to reveal the silver metal underneath before attempting to light a tinder bundle.
Some of the bullet points Canterbury highlights are:
- Use the longest and largest diameter ferro rod that you can comfortably carry.
- Softer rods are better than harder rods, because they create more shavings that will catch sparks and burn extremely hot.
- Put a handle on a ferro rod, even if it’s only a duct tape handle.
- Various materials can be used as a striker, so long as the material is harder than the rod.
- It is best to anchor the rod on the tinder bundle itself, or pull the rod toward you as it scrapes the striker, rather than strike the rod from an elevated position and possibly knock your tinder bundle away.
“A broken piece of glass works fantastic as a striker,” he says. “Unfortunately glass is everywhere. So it’s something that’s very easy to find.” Stone materials harder than the rod, like flint or chert, work well too.
Canterbury lights several tinder materials in his demonstration too, starting with a small bundle of slightly damp tulip poplar he picked up from the ground. He also creates embers using fungus (looks like a chaga fungus) and fatwood (pine tree heartwood).
There’s no question that ferro rods are extremely effective fire starting tools. Every outdoorsman and woodsman would do well to pack one or two when heading out into the wild. But I’d also advise to learn as many fire starting methods as possible, including bow drill and other friction methods, flint and steel, solar methods and more.