How to start a fire with a flint rod

Published: April 16, 2019

campfire-by-a-peaceful-lake Ppa/shutterstock

There are literally dozens of ways to make a campfire, but starting one without a match or lighter is a great survival skill that is easy to learn, impresses friends and gives the feeling of being a true survivalist. Using a flint rod is the most common match-free approach, so, here’s how to do it.

First, a note on flint rods. These can be found at most outdoor stores and are not expensive. Keep in mind that not all rods are made of flint. Most are, in fact, made from magnesium or ferrocerium (iron or iron-oxide). There is little difference between these options, just that the magnesium and ferrocerium burn hotter and might be a little easier to work with than actual flint—but the process will be the same for all.

image-of-a-black-flint-and-kresalo
Flint and Kresalo. Igor Litvyak/shutterstock

To make a fire with a flint rod you will need: a flint rod, a camping knife (if the flint rod doesn’t come with its own steel), tinder, kindling, and wood of increasing size from small twigs to logs.

For tinder, there are lots of options such as newspaper or bathroom tissue. Cotton balls work amazingly well. If, however, the goal is to only use what’s available in nature, great tinder options include strands of birch bark (always use bark from the ground, never strip it off a live tree), dried grass, the tops of milkweed plants, spruce tips, and pine needles.

To start, take a few small twigs and make a little log cabin. This will be the “bed” for the tinder. In the centre of the bed, add the tinder and make it into a small nest. The tinder should be sitting a little off the ground to allow for airflow. Make sure there is extra tinder, kindling and twigs nearby, as tinder will burn fast, and the fire will need more fuel as soon as a flame gets going.

Next, add flint shavings onto the tinder. You will notice that when you scrape your flint rod with your knife, one side will make sparks while scraping the opposite side will peel shavings off the rod. Make a small pile of shavings on top of your tinder. For beginners, try making it about the size of a nickel and, over time, use less and less until you are able to light tinder just from sparks.

male-hand-starts-fire-with-magnesium-fire-steel
Josef Kubes/shutterstock

Now it’s time to start the campfire. Hold the flint rod with the spark-making side facing up. Angle the rod down toward the tinder at an angle that will allow the sparks to fall onto the flint shavings. Take the knife and scrape down the flint rod, sparks should be produced. If no sparks are made, keep trying, it may take some practice to get the hang of it. Once a spark lands on the shavings, it should ignite quickly, along with the tinder. If fewer shavings are used, more of an ember than a flame will be produced. Blow gently on the ember to make it flame and catch the rest of the tinder.

Once the tinder has caught, begin adding more fuel to the fire. Additional tinder may be needed to get the flames big enough to be able to start adding kindling, then larger twigs, branches and eventually logs can be added.

dried-grass-lit-on-fire
David Manllinson/shutterstock

Now sit back and enjoy the perfect summer evening, knowing that surviving in nature just became a little easier.

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