How to Start a Fire with a Ferro Rod

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Written By Michael Culligan

With over 12 years of experience in Oregon's forestry industry, I have established myself as a skilled and knowledgeable lumber professional. As a passionate competitor in local timbersports events, I have consistently ranked among the top lumberjacks in my area. I take great pride in meticulously maintaining an extensive collection of restored vintage axes. I personally test every axe I review by using it to fell and chop up oak firewood on my land.

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To start a fire with a ferro rod, prepare a tinder bundle and place it on a flat surface. Hold the ferro rod close to the tinder and scrape it with a striker or sharp edge, directing sparks onto the tinder. Once the tinder ignites, gently blow on it to nurture the flame, then add kindling and fuel.

A ferro rod (ferro is short for ferrocerium, also known as a firestarter or firesteel) can truly be a lifesafer out in the wild. Only, of course, if you know how to use it to start a fire. This article is all about how to start a fire with a ferro rod.

A ferro rod is a very simple device, but requires knowing some basic principles of use to use it with good effect. Spending 15 or 20 minutes trying to get a fire going isn’t much fun.

In this article, I’m going going to teach you how to use a ferrocerium rod correctly and properly, so that you can get a flame going in less than a minute. Read on to find out more!

Things you’ll need to start a fire with a ferro rod

It’s good to be prepared if you plan to (or think you might be forced to) use a ferro rod to start a fire.

  • Dry tinder, such as dead grass, dry wood shavings, cotton balls, pulled apart twine. This is a crucial item: if you fail to find, make, or bring along dry tinder, it’ll be much harder to start a fire with a ferrocerium rod.
  • A set-up campfire space where you can get the fire going without fear of it getting out of control. This can be as simple as clearing away dead leaves, twigs, and brush or as complicated as digging a dakota hole fire or setting up a stack of wood for burning in the style of your choice. Remember – it’s easier to stack wood and kindling before starting a fire – after it’s burning, you’ll have smoke in your face and fire nipping at your fingers.
  • Any kind of sturdy blade or metal tool (such as an axe or knife) with an uncoated and squared-off spine.
  • And, of course, a ferrocerium rod of your choice. I recommend getting a firesteel that comes from a reputable brand and has good reviews. The cheap one-dollar ferro rods can and do break easily or spark badly, which is the last thing you want. 

The Bayite Ferro Rod is a sturdy and reliable firestarter and the one that I use. It’ll give you a 2,980-degree spark in any conditions at any altitude – more than enough to start a crackling fire.

If you’re looking for something cheaper, the X-Plore Gear Firestarter is a bit less expensive and includes both an emergency whistle and a mini-compass (although that is a bit gimmicky and shouldn’t be relied on) in addition to its main function as a firesteel.

Starting a Fire with a Ferro Rod

With all the items listed, you should be good to go to start a fire with a ferro rod. Here’s how.

Step 1. Set up your campfire

It is up to you what kind of a campfire to set up. I’d recommend you to go for a tee pee fire because it is easy to make and is beginner-friendly.

It’s up to you to decide whether you want to try to start the fire in the campfire construction itself, or whether you want to light your tinder and transfer it to the campfire. In any case, it’ll save you a lot of smoke in your face and bother if you build your campfire beforehand.

Step 2. Prepare your blade & ferro rod

As we’ve mentioned above, you need a blade with a squared-off and uncoated spine. This can be the spine of an axe or a knife, but a knife would be much easier to maneuver.

You will be using the knife to strike the ferro rod so that it produces sparks. These sparks need to fall onto the dry tinder to fire it up. To produce this spark, you need to put a good amount of pressure onto the rod by striking – sliding – the knife spine down along the rod.

This is the easiest to do with a fixed-blade knife with a squared-off spine. A sturdy knife will provide you with a solid surface to strike the rod, allowing you to exert the required amount of force.

You should go for a knife that has an uncoated spine to save you time, because some coatings can prevent sparks from forming. If your knife’s spine is coated, then you might need to waste time to scrape it off. In an emergency situation, you might not have any time to spare.

The coating issue is present in ferro rods as well. Newer ferro rods are going to have a coating on them which will need to be removed. This is a design feature, not a defect – it’s meant to prevent accidental sparking. Fortunately, this happens naturally when you use the ferro rod as you’re meant to and strike it with the striker it comes with or the metal edge of an axe or knife.

Step 3. Use the ferro rod with the knife or axe

After you’ve got your tools prepared, the only thing left for you to do is to rub the ferro rod against the spine of the knife. This may sound really simple, but there actually are some common mistakes that you need to avoid here.

The majority of beginners make the mistake of rubbing the knife over the rod towards the fire. This results in too many sparks falling short of the tinder. In addition, pushing your knife towards the tinder, you risk knocking off the fire. And the last thing you want to do is to start everything over.

Instead, try using the “pull-back” method of using a ferro rod.

First of all, grab the knife with your dominant hand, with its edge facing up and spine facing down. Brace your hand on the ground closer to the tinder. You will be keeping the hand with the knife stationary during the striking.

Grip the ferro rod with your secondary hand. Bring it under the knife spine, tilting it to about 45 degrees relative to the blade.

Lastly, pull the ferro rod toward you, making sure that it rubs against the knife’s spine. This will generate the sparks. You can see the method demonstrated in the following video.

Sometimes, the tinder isn’t started up easily, and you’ll need to put some extra effort to produce more sparks. Rub the rod back and forth against the spine of the knife to produce additional heat.

Most of the time, a minute or two of striking should be enough to get a fire. If it doesn’t start though, your tinder may be too wet, or it may be an improper material.

If possible, you would need to go out and look for new tinder. Otherwise, you would have no other choice than to keep trying. In wet conditions, it could take close to 20 minutes to get a fire running.

Step 4. Practice starting a fire with a ferro rod before going out

It’s a good idea to practice starting a fire with your fire rod before actually going camping. This can be done pretty easily without building an entire campfire. You’ll be able to practice how to strike the rod against the knife spine correctly, as well as will learn how to position yourself properly so that the sparks reach the tinder.

One easy way to practice is to use a cotton ball. Pull the cotton ball apart a bit to make it about 3 sizes bigger. This way, it will catch sparks easier.

Lastly, follow the steps we described above. With a couple of strikes, you should get the fire going.

If you follow the steps in this article and practice, you should be able to start a fire in any weather. Good luck and thanks for reading!

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