Ferro Rod vs. Magnesium: The Pros, the Cons & our Top Pick!

Ferro Rod vs. Magnesium: The Pros, the Cons & our Top Pick!

Nadia Tamara A Little Bit of Everything


Ferro Rod vs. Magnesium: The Pros, the Cons & our Top Pick!

Ferro rods and magnesium blocks are two popular fire-starting tools. They should not be confused with each other. They perform similar tasks but are not the same thing.

To decide which tool would be better, I went into the woods and tried to start a fire with each of them. It gave me an idea of how they can best be used, and although I didn’t have much success the first time around (with either of them) I believe they can be effective tools if used under the right circumstances.

Let’s take a look at each of their pros and cons.


Ferrocerium Rod (aka Fire Steel)


Ferro rods are composed of a mixture of metals called mischmetal. They typically contain cerium, lanthanum, iron, praseodymium, neodymium, and magnesium. Every brand may use a slightly different percentage of each metal as well as other added components to alter the spark quality.

Ferro rods come with a black protective coating that must be scraped off before using. The inside will be silver in color. I recommend setting up a safe fire-zone and practicing how to strike it several times so you get used to creating sparks. You can also attempt using a sharp rock as the striking source, that way if you ever lose the striker you’ll know how to use nature.


PROS


  • IT LIGHTS FAST.
    A ferro rod usually lights a fire starter quickly because its spark temperature is about twice as hot as a regular match. Some of my favorite fire starters that work well with ferro rods are petroleum jelly cotton balls, waxed cotton pads, and char cloth. Check out a complete list of the best (and cheapest) DIY fire starters here

  • LONG-LASTING TOOL.
    A couple of sparks and the right tinder is all it takes to get your fire going. A ferro rod will provide thousands of sparks with the potential to start hundreds, if not thousands, of fires.

  • WEATHERPROOF.
    Ferro rods will work even after they’ve been submerged in water for a long time, making them waterproof. Also, if you’re striking it with enough force or the right striking tool, you will get a spark even when it’s windy. Getting the spark to become a flame is the hard part (again, you will need a good fire starter).

  • SHOCKPROOF.
    It’s hard for a ferro rod to break but even if it does it will still work.

  • SOME COME WITH A HANDLE.
    I prefer the rods that have a handle because it makes them much easier to grip (especially if your fingers are cold), but I know some people prefer the ones without it. Having choices is good though and with these strikers, you get to choose what you prefer. Note that it’s possible for the plastic handle will come off at some point so some people will make their own. If you get a thicker rod without a handle, you can wrap wide gorilla tape to one end to get a better grip- the tape can serve as back-up tinder in an emergency.

  • LONG-LASTING.
    Coating your ferro rod in clear nail polish may extend it’s shelf life if you’re storing it for long-term use.

CONS


  • IF IT COMES FROM CHINA IT'S PROBABLY LOW QUALITY.
    Bad quality means the sparks will not be nearly as strong. Chinese knockoff brands typically use materials that are cheaper so they may not be as effective as you would expect. If it’s inexpensive, you might pay the price later when you can’t get a fire to ignite.

  • A FERRO ROD ONLY PROVIDES SPARKS.  
    If you’re gentle, you can scrape some shavings into a pile and light them (as you would with magnesium) but that would be a waste of ferro rod so it’s not worth it in my opinion. You’re better off setting aside a great pile of tinder.

  • NOT ALL FERRO RODS ARE CREATED EQUAL.
    Based on how much magnesium is used in them, you will get a different spark and duration of that spark. High magnesium content means that your rod will be softer making it more difficult to get a spark out of it, but the sparks will last longer and be hotter. Before making a purchase, make sure that you read the label to see what materials it has been made from. The best ferro rods are made from high carbon steel.

  • THERE'S A MISCONCEPTION THAT FERRO RODS AND FLINTS ARE THE SAME THINGS.
    They're not. Flints are made up of different materials than ferro rods, they’re harder to strike, and they don’t produce as hot of a spark. In the case of a ferro rod, the material that is being shaved off the rod produces the spark, therefore you can strike it with virtually anything that is sharp. A flint, on the other hand, doesn’t produce too many sparks, but the magnitude of the spark largely depends on the material of the striking source. In order to get sparks, you need a carbon steel striker- other materials might not work as effectively. Both flints and ferro rods are susceptible to corrosion and deterioration (depending on what percentage of metals they’re made up of). If your rod is covered in rust, you can scrape it off with a knife and continue to use it as a striker. [Fun fact: Submerging a flint or ferro rod in salt water can cause it to disintegrate…not that anyone should willingly store it like this but it’s a fun experiment.]

  • A ferro rod and striker will only make awesome sparks but it’s a great piece of equipment to keep in a Bug Out Bag, a survival kit, in a hiking backpack, etc, so long that you have a reliable fire starter stored with it.

  • Practicing how to successfully strike the rod to create powerful sparks will ensure much success when you really need to use it.

  • They’re a convenient second option to a lighter or another fire-starting tool that might be less reliable in high altitudes or in freezing temperatures.

Our thoughts on ferro rods


  • A ferro rod and striker will only make awesome sparks but it’s a great piece of equipment to keep in a Bug Out Bag, a survival kit, in a hiking backpack, etc, so long that you have a reliable fire starter stored with it.

  • Practicing how to successfully strike the rod to create powerful sparks will ensure much success when you really need to use it.

  • They’re a convenient second option to a lighter or another fire-starting tool that might be less reliable in high altitudes or in freezing temperatures.

Recommended brands


  • High-grade European ferro rod, such as this one made by Uberleben or Light My Fire

  • GobSpark Firesteels which can be found here.

  • Solo Scientific Ecco Fire-starter: It contains magnesium which helps make a stronger and hotter spark. You can find it here!

  • EricX Light Ferro Rod is also highly rated among outdoor enthusiasts. Find it here.

Many people have used these ferro rods in all types of conditions with great results.


Magnesium Bar


PROS


  • LIGHTWEIGHT.
    A small mag bar weighs next to nothing.

  • CONVENIENT.
    They can be attached to a zipper pull on a backpack, keychain or stored in a small pocket since they’re so compact.

  • LONG-LASTING.
    It’s durable and won’t deteriorate nor corrode over time.

  • BURNS AT A HIGH TEMPERATURE.
    The sparks from the ferro rod will provide a very hot spark so when they come into contact with the magnesium, it has the potential to create a flame quickly. Be prepared with enough dry tinder.

  • WATERPROOF.
    A magnesium bar that has been submerged in water will work even if it’s soaking wet.

  • MAGNESIUM SHAVINGS WORK AS TINDER.
    Note that wet shavings are harder to ignite with sparks from the ferro rod.

CONS


  • TYPICALLY BAD QUALITY IF IT COMES FROM CHINA.
    Low quality means they will be useless when you need them most. Beware of Chinese-made mag bars- you’ll find a lot of them on Amazon. If the price is too good to be true, it probably is! Spend a few extra dollars on a product made from quality magnesium- your life could depend on it.

  • MAGNESIUM CAN ERODE IN SALT WATER.

  • MAKING MAGNESIUM SHAVINGS TAKE TIME AND EFFORT.
    It can become a hassle to scrape the magnesium into a fire-starter pile. You may spend several minutes scraping it off the bar and piling it up on your tinder. You will also need a steady surface, otherwise it can take you even longer. This might not seem like a big deal on a summer evening but it will become a difficult task during the winter when your fingers are freezing and possibly numb.

  • WIND IS YOUR ENEMY.
    To use magnesium as tinder, you need to make a small (nickel-sized) pile. A breeze can blow your shavings away so you’ll have to build a fire that is sheltered from the wind.

    • TIP 1: Scrape the magnesium shavings onto the sticky side of a piece of duct tape, so the wind doesn’t blow the shavings away. Duct tape is also flammable, making it a great option to get your fire going quickly.

    • TIP 2: If you have a stainless steel ring (preferably about half an inch tall), you can collect the magnesium shavings in there to keep them collected if it’s windy. Don’t forget to retrieve the ring afterward.

  • MAGNESIUM DOESN'T PRODUCE A SPARK BUT THE SAVINGS BURN AT ABOUT 4000 °F.
    The downside is that it burns very quickly, so if you don’t have additional tinder ready you might miss your opportunity to light your fire. After the magnesium is done burning, many people have experienced ash (or some type of residue) floating in the air. Don’t inhale it.

  • DON'T RELY ON THE FERRO ROD ATTACHED TO THE MAG BAR.
    The ferro rod insert that comes attached to the magnesium bar is so thin that it will probably wear out long before you’ve made a dent in the mag bar. Also, the ferro rod is usually glued to the mag bar, so if it falls out and you lose it at any point, your striking source is gone.

  • IT COULD BE HARD TO LIGHT THE SHAVINGS.
    In order to light the magnesium, your striker has to make a significant spark within an inch of the magnesium shreds. If the shreds fall through the tinder, it may not light it.

  • MAGNESIUM BARS DON'T COME WITH A HANDLE.
    Most of the mag bars I’ve seen are just a rectangular piece. It would be nice if there was some sort of grip or handle attached to them to make shaving them an easier process.

  • THE RIGHT KIND OF BLADE IS RECOMMENDED TO MAKE THE SHREDDING PROCESS EFFECTIVE.
    Using a blade edge (like a knife) to scrape the bar will dull out the blade, rendering your knife ineffective for other survival uses. Instead, use a serrated blade (with ridges) or the back of the knife.

Our thoughts on mag bars


  • They’re a great tool but they don’t work the best in all situations, especially if you don’t have much experience using them. We highly recommend testing them out before going into the wilderness.

  • Save some time and future effort by scraping magnesium shavings beforehand and storing the flakes in a waterproof container (a pill bottle works). Alternatively, you can buy pre-shredded magnesium right here on Amazon.

  • Soft magnesium bars will be easier to shave.

  • If you’re going somewhere where tinder is not found easily, take the magnesium bar as a backup to add to the burn time of your fire.

  • TIP: To get your fire started, make a dry tinder bundle (a teepee, for example). On a leaf, collect a nickel-size amount of magnesium shreds. Strike the side with the ferro rod to catch the magnesium and slide the leaf under the tinder bundle. 

Recommended brands


  • An esteemed American brand is DOAN. Make sure they have their name stamped on it since there are many replicas out there but none will match the quality of DOAN. See the picture below for a comparison on a DOAN mag bar and the cheap knockoff.

  • At firesteel.com you can find magnesium bars at a good price as well as other fire-starting supplies.

  • If you’re an Amazon shopper, I recommend this magnesium rod. Although it’s more costly than the other options, it’s also one of the best in terms of quality. You’re getting 1 lb of 99% pure magnesium!

DOAN Fire Starter vs. Knockoff

In conclusion


Based on the many discussions on this topic, the majority of contributors agreed that a quality ferro rod trumps a magnesium bar.

My consensus is that the best fire-starting tool isn’t either of these on their own, but rather the combination of a large piece of magnesium (99.99% pure) and a high-quality ferro rod (made with carbon steel) that is matching in size.

Using these tools together will ensure optimal fire-starting performance, reliability in multiple conditions, and longevity (it may last you a lifetime). In addition to this, I recommend carrying a sharp knife. The knife can help you shred some magnesium and strike the rod efficiently. I wouldn’t always trust the striking tool that the ferro rod and mag bar come with.

As with anything preparedness-related, have a back-up fire lighting source. This can be a BIC lighter, matches and/or a Zippo (a reusable metal lighter) in waterproof containers. Waterproofing can be as easy as putting everything inside a Ziploc baggie.

These things take up little space and don’t weigh much at all. It’s better to have multiple options and be over-prepared than to have no luck with your one and only option.

The ferro rod and magnesium bar will take some time to learn to use, especially if the quality of your tools are not so good. You should practice starting a fire with them long before you need to rely on them as your primary fire-starting source in the wilderness or during an emergency situation.


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