How to Start a Campfire with a Ferro Rod/ Firesteel

There’s an immense feeling of satisfaction that comes from starting a fire from a single spark. When I first got into camping this was one skill I was determined to master, and since then I’ve had a ton of practice.  That in mind, I’ve developed some solid tips that should make your first time much easier.

Starting a fire with a Ferro Rod requires patience, but more than that, practice! It is a skill that I have taught my kid, my friends, their kids, and it always comes down to thesame five steps.

The tools you are going to need are:

You don’t need many tools, but a sharp knife and ferro-rod are essential.

Step 1: Build Your Kindling Pile

If you want to start a fire with a ferro rod, the first thing you’re going to want to do is have a great kindling pile. You’re almost always going to need more than you think, so just get carving!

Like many things in life, a great fire needs a great foundation.  As the fire grows, you’re going to need to continue to feed it.  The larger the fire gets, the larger the kindling should get – so you really can’t be over prepared.

Step 2: Build Your Fire Structure

I know that this is a bit of a hot take, but I firmly believe that the “right” way to build a fire is whatever feels right in the moment.  I will sometimes use a log cabin, and at other times, I like to tent logs together.  Either way, it is important to build your structure beforehand, because you will need to put your flaming kindling in or on your structure in a bit of a hurry.

Step 3: Build Your Strike Bundle

When you light a fire with a ferro rod, you need to start with kindling that is really small.  I like to get a nice pile of wood shavings together. These should be thin and wispy– the thinner the shavings are, the easier they will spark.  I really like using a feather stick in addition to the shavings – the making of which usually produces a ton of shavings so you can get two birds with one stone!

A featherstick is part of an essential bridge to get from spark to fully-fledged fire.

I then pile the shavings and bundle them together with either one awesome feather stick or a couple of passable ones.  If you are in the woods, you can augment your strike bundle with pine needles (full of resin), old man’s beard, and small sticks. I usually put this bundle on a piece of canvas, leather or a nice piece of bark so it can be easily transported into a fire pit.

Step 4: Throwing your Spark

The next step is to figure out your aim and how far you can throw a spark.  If you have never used a ferro rod before, try to spark it a couple of times; you’ll probably need to make some adjustments on your angle and pressure. It’s something you have to figure out by feel, but essentially you want a firm pressure, without white-knuckling it, and a roughly a 45 degree angle of your striker to the rod. Make certain your striker is sharp, like the striker that comes with the Kupila or back edge of a Mora knife. Many knives have rounded spine, but if you are so inclined you could give them a striking edge. Just be aware, striking a ferro rod will leave burn marks on your blade.

The cool news is that once you’ve made a spark, you can definitely do it again!  For myself, I like to hold the tip of the ferro rod steady against the log or the ground right next to my kindling bundle because I am known to flail a bit.  Again, try to be comfortable– sometimes it takes a few strikes!  Watch where your spark is going– ideally, you want it to land in the middle of your bundle.

Step 5: Making the Flame

If the feathers on your feather stick or your shavings are thin enough, it will light as soon as you have cast a good spark.  But, if you are like me and don’t always get them thin enough, you can strike the ferro rod until you see an ember catch– once you have a little, bright red burning spot in your bundle, try to throw another spark on it– this will catch immediately, but you have to be a little quick!

As soon as you’ve got a little flame going in your bundle, protect it from the wind and be prepared to move, because it will start to burn fast!  I always have my bundle on a piece of leather, bark or canvas so that I can effectively place (dump) my flaming bundle in or onto my prebuilt fire structure.

Pre-sorting your kindling by size helps you gradually increase the size while feeding your fire, without smothering the flame.

After this, you just have to keep feeding your little fire until it will sustain itself. Huzzah!! You did it and it feels amazing.

The final advice I can offer is practice, practice, practice.  The only way to get great at this is to do it a lot!  When I am teaching folks how to start a fire with a ferro rod,  we often end up practicing around the campfire, or lighting tiny fires in the doldrums of a summer afternoon. And consider packing some stormproof matches on your trip, just in case plan A doesn’t work out. Have fun, and be safe!

Only you can prevent forest fires.

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