If you are watching a survival show and you see someone use a ferro rod to make a fire it seems really easy. That's because the people on the show doing it are professionals. I am not an expert survivalist by any means. I am still a student, but as a student I can tell you that using a ferro rod without any practice can be difficult.

That's why after weeks of practicing my ferro rod skills, and lots of trial and error I wanted to write up this post on the three key elements of success for making a fire via ferro rod.

For those not familiar with a ferro rod, "ferro" is short for ferrocerium. A ferro rod is also called a metal match, fire steel or a mischmetal rod. It's a rod of various pyrophoric material that creates sparks when scraping off small amounts using the back of your knife or a striker. Those sparks reach roughly 3000 degrees Fahrenheit and can catch dry tinder on fire. The best reasons to use a ferro rod over matches or lighters are because matches get wet, and lighters can fail at certain temperatures. Ferro rods work in any weather condition.

A Schrade Ferro Rod
Just making sparks from your ferro rod doesn't guarantee you fire. What you need in order to be successful are these three things:

  • The right tinder: If you are trying to catch your tinder on fire and it just won't catch a spark and produce a flame it's probably because you don't have the right tinder. I ran into that on my last camping trip in the mountains of Colorado. Everything up there was wet, and all of the grass was green. It took me a while to figure out that pine wood scrapings or fatwood scrapings are my best bet for ferro rod tinder in the mountains of Colorado. Pine wood scrapings take a few extra strikes on the ferro rod to ignite, but fatwood scrapings usually starts up right away due to the extra pine resin.

    Pine scrapings (Via Youtube)

    Another item that makes decent tinder is cattail fluff.

    The tops of cattails have fluffy material inside that makes great tinder
    If you want to bring tinder with you to guarantee a fire, maybe in an Altoids tin or some other fire kit, grab some dryer lint.

    Save your dryer lint in an Altoids tin for your next camping trip

    Make sure to find out what makes the best tinder in your area. Google search it, or watch Youtube videos.
  • The right technique: Not correctly using your ferro rod will make starting a fire with it frustrating as hell. Trust me from experience. I had to suck up my pride and watch some Youtube videos to get a technique that works for me because I was simply doing it wrong. There are a number of techniques, but it basically comes down to two. The first one involves keeping your knife steady just over the tinder and scraping the ferro rod back towards you in a pulling motion. I call this the pull technique.

    Pull technique

    The second technique, which I have found works best for me, involves holding the tip of the rod down on your tinder and pushing the striker towards the tinder. You have to be careful with this one and use a controlled movement or else you risk pushing your tinder out of the way. If you do it right, your rod will pin the tinder down so it won't move and the sparks will land on target.I call this the pin technique.

    Pin technique

    Here's a video from Dave Canterbury that helped me a lot showing both techniques. I thought his description of the pin technique being "for children" was a bit condescending, but the video was still helpful and I'm a big fan of Dave.

    You will notice that in both techniques you have to keep one item steady and move the other. With the pull technique the striker stays steady and you pull the ferro rod back. With the pin technique you keep the ferro rod steady and you push your striker towards your tinder in a controlled motion.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice: The final key to ferro rod fires sounds like a cliche, but it's some seriously good advice. Don't wait until your life depends on your ability to make a fire using a ferro rod. Make sure to practice all the time. Find the right technique that works for you, and find what tinder works for you and practice until you can consistently make a fire with your ferro rod.
I'm assuming that if you are reading this post that you are a lot like me and are trying to learn the best ways for making a fire with a ferro rod. I hope that what I've written here is helpful to you. By following the three steps above you should find yourself mastering the ferro rod in no time!

If you feel that I've left anything out please let me know in the comments.