ferro rod fire lighter

The Ferrocerium rod

You may have noticed that a lot of things in survival revolve around fire. It is no accident that we focus our time on this subject with great emphasis.

All fires start with ignition. This can be from various sources from primitive methods such as a dull spark from flint and steel to friction and an ember. Man has created many methods to give initial flame such as lighters and matches, unfortunately though, these have a short life span and are heavily affected by water ingress. The humble lighter though is very durable, and after unearthing one which has spent ages in the wet ground I have managed to clean and dry it out rapidly and get a usable flame. Never walk past a discarded lighter!

This leads us to one of the most valuable tools in the world of survival. The Ferro rod.

Ferrocerium was invented in 1903 by an Austrian named Carl Auer. It soon became the ignition source of choice for many pieces of equipment and has become a very popular piece of equipment for knowledgeable outdoorsmen and women. Call me a pedant, but if any “pro” calls it flint and steel, run away from them and don’t look back, they are a charlatan!

It works simply by scraping the material with an item harder than itself, the sparks that are created can then ignite various tinders, both natural and manmade.

The beauty of the “fire steel” is that it is unaffected by water and will give many thousands of fires. The only downside is that without the knowledge to use it correctly many struggle to find it a reliable method of creating ignition.

I always carry a lighter, in fact I carry two, but the ferro rod is always with me and I have another in my pack. We teach it’s use on all of our experiences at different levels and it is held with the same importance as our knife.


This is the key, in fact this is the key to all fire lighting. However, with sparks we need to make even more effort to find and process the correct materials. I have compiled a short list of possibles below:

  • Cotton wool and Vaseline (the old fave)
  • Fatwood (this needs a high resin content)
  • Feather sticks (willow, hazel and conifer are the best)   
  • Char cloth
  • Birch bark
  • Dry fibrous material such as grasses/bracken and moss (I used an old birds nest once)  

The list goes on and on, Mors Kochanski has a very good video on YouTube demonstrating all the tinders under the sun. He is very thorough!


Personally I always carry tinder but seldom use it. I find I am surrounded by birch trees and utilise the bark for most of my fires. Either that or I use feather sticks if necessary.
We demonstrate all the possible tinders on our fire lighting sessions; though I still feel that for the effectiveness and the price you can’t beat cotton wool and Vaseline.

The striker is very important. We must have something to scrape the rod with. I have found broken glass to be very effective. The spine of a knife, when properly prepared, is well placed along with the spine of the saw on a swiss army knife. Most come with a small striker though. I would still advise you to experiment with other options in case this is lost.

Birch (Betula pendula)

This is one of the UK’s most recognised trees and one of our most useful. Unfortunately many have no idea of its usefulness! The birch tree is a pioneer species, meaning it is very good at being a tree. This is handy as it is also very good at dying. When this happens we can find it laying on the forest floor with the wood rotten and wet but with the bark still fully intact and full of oil, which when correctly processed this is one of the UK’s best tinders on offer.

Learn your trees and their uses

So the moral of the story is to always have the ability to make fire on your person. I would always advise multiple methods of ignition and know how to use them and the basics of fire lays and finding dry kindling and fuel.

Making fire is our unique skill as humans, it separates us as the apex species and allows us to create tools, glue, cook food, boil water, signal, provide light and warmth, a sense of place and the intrinsic characteristics of being human. Without it, the world is a dark cold place, with it, we can survive and thrive.

The Ferrocerium rod

Learn these skills on the following course: