7 Modern Fire Making Tools

afrankelSurvival, Survival Gear, Survival Skills

You’ve heard of 7 ways to leave your lover, but what about 7 modern ways to make a fire?

Maintaining body a body temperature of approximately 98.6 degrees is the primary goal in survival situations–at least according to Cody Lundin’s book 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive. Fire is one of the most crucial aspects of maintaining body temperature. However, fire is important for several reasons beyond just maintaining body temperature. It also cooks food, sanitizes water, and warms the soul.

So with that said, here is the skinny on 7 modern fire making tools…


Disposable and nondisposable lighters are by far the most convenient and conventional tools for making a fire. They’re easy to use, readily available, cheap, and lightweight. Using them to start a fire is rather straight forward and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who couldn’t start a fire with one.

People have a bad habit of turning a lighter sideways and putting it down to their tinder bundle. What inevitably happens is that they burn their thumb. Pickup a portion of the tinder, light it, and use it to light the rest of the bundle.

The problem with lighters: They tend not to last very long–relative to a few other fire making tools–and most are not very durable. Lighters also require fine motor skills to operate which would be an issue in cold weather survival situations.


Safety matches and strike anywhere matches are an extremely popular fire making tool in survival circles. This is especially true of the coated waterproof matches. They’re light weight, compact, inexpensive, and easy to operate. Weatherproof Matches are typically the preferred type for survival purposes.

The issues: Matches are delicate and require fine motor skills to use. With training and practice, the motor skill issue can be over come. But most people aren’t going to make themselves hypothermic repeatedly in order to learn.

Magnifying Glass

Many of us learned the wonders of burning things–usually ants–with a magnifying glass at a young age. Operation is simple enough, they work for as long as you don’t break them and the sun keeps burning, and they can be pretty small.

Jewelry’s Loops are the best option. They’re compact and come with a protective housing.

Downsides are: Magnifying glasses are, well, glass. They are very susceptible to damage. There’s also the issue of being dependant on bright sunlight.

Fire Piston

The most interesting fire making tool, the fire pistons can provide a seemingly endless supply of fire. As long as you have tinder and hands to operate it, the fire piston will keep making a coal for you.

To operate, a small bit of tinder is placed inside the tip of the plunger (exactly placement may vary slightly).  Put the two parts of the Fire Piston together and smack one end hard. If you see a small plume of smoke, gently separate the two halves and tap the coal out into your tinder bundle. Finally, cup the tinder bundle around the coal and blow softly progressing to hard.

As it turns out, the Fire Piston is a primitive device. But it’s so damn fascinating, I decided to include it anyway.

Issues to be aware of: Fire piston use requires practice and can be a little bulky compared to other tools. While operation is easy, learning to make a fire from a coal does take a little practice.

Flint & Steel

Bordering on primitive, using a flint and steel to make a fire is popular amongst the wilderness survival community. A spark is created by friction when piece of steel at high is shaved off at high speed with a sharp piece of flint. Typically char cloth (fabric that has been chard under high heat) is the tinder of choice as it takes a spark extremely well and is light weight.

Operation is fairly simple. Hold the flint in one hand and strike the steel against it in a downward motion quickly.

A note on short comings: In my experience, the flint and steel method of fire making is the most problematic. The user is required to drag along char cloth or find exceptionally good tinder.

Magnesium Fire Starter

Mag Blocks are a small block of magnesium that has been married to a small Ferro Rod (up next). They’re cheap (under $10), extremely durable, compact, lightweight, and if used properly can start a fire in almost any conditions. While everything about them is a consumable, they will also last you a very long time.

Using a Magnesium Fire Starter is straight forward. Using the squared spine of a knife or any piece of metal, scrape off shavings of the magnesium into a pile. Once you have a pile that is ½” in diameter and ?” deep, place a tinder pile over it with enough of an opening for a spark to get in. Then, strike a spark off the Ferro Rod towards the pile using the tip described under Firesteel below.

For best results, find a bowl shaped leaf or creased piece of paper to shave the magnesium into. Keeping the shavings in a pile is very important. It’s not Pixie Dust. Sprinkling it over your tinder does not work very well–if at all.

A note on drawbacks: The tinder pile of magnesium shavings is time consuming to create in sufficient quantity, it is susceptible to wind, and it must be kept in a small pile to be effective.

Firesteel / Swedish Steel / Ferro Rod

Called by several names, the Firesteel is my personal favorite fire starting tool. Like Magnesium Blocks, they are extremely durable, compact, and lightweight. Typically they are inexpensive (starting at $10). However, they can get as high as $65 for Ferro Rods with exotic handle materials.

I should point out that, in my experience, price is not a reflection of effectiveness. My $65 Firesteel is less effective than my $7 Firesteel.

Ferro Rods should be operated in the opposite manner that would seem intuitive. Instead of running the the striker towards the tinder, hold the striker firmly near the tinder and draw the Ferror Rod backwards. This keeps you from accidentally disturbing your tinder pile.

A note on drawbacks: All Firesteels are not created equal and price is not an indicator of effectiveness. They also require knowledge of what is good tinder and what is not.

No matter which modern fire making method you choose, fire is so important it is recommended that you keep at least one on you at all times…