Swedish FireSteel

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

Somewhere in a soggy Scandinavian woods, a Swedish Department of Defense soldier is cold. He is scraping metal against metal, throwing sparks off a short firestarter stick onto tinder, producing smoke and fizzles but no real flame.

The Swedish FireSteel lighter was originally developed for the Swedish Department of Defense. It is now sold under the Light My Fire brand by Industrial Revolution (www.lightmyfireusa.com) of Redmond, Wash., for campers and outdoors types as a waterproof alternative to a match.

I tested the Scout model, which sells for $12.99. It is touted to throw 5,500-degree sparks and “make fire building easy in any weather.”

Swedish FireSteel.jpg

Swedish FireSteel, Army and Scout models

In contrast to the company’s copywriting, my efforts to ignite a range of dry and flammable materials with FireSteel patently failed. Making fat sparks fly off the stick was not an issue. Just scrape with the striker slowly along the FireSteel’s length and retina-burning balls leap like a shower of stars.

But getting those 5,500-degree sparks to initiate a flame? Not much luck at all. I tried shredded newspaper and shaved kindling. The company sent me a package of its special MayaDust tinder, which has an “80 percent resin content” and is said to be “easy to light, even when wet.”

Not in my test. MayaDust in my fire pit cradled big sparks and smoked. But it never took flame.

I next tried a chemical solution, smashing a highly-flammable hexamethylenetetramine tablet made by Esbit, a stove company. The chemical dust whooshed to flame with a match. But FireSteel’s sparks were still impotent.

On YouTube, you can see the Swedish FireSteel in action. In short video clips, survivalists and lay campers alike scrape the rod to produce flame over fine grass kindling and fire-starting gel.

Swedish FireSteel Demonstration.jpg

Swedish FireSteel in action; online demo

With the right technique, I know this product works. But in my tests — which used at-hand kindling as well as the after-market products from Esbit and Industrial Revolution — FireSteel failed to impress. Indeed, after some coaching from a company representative and then hundreds of scrapes, I was unable to produce a single useable flame.

Finally, after much effort, using a fine dry grass cradled on a sheet of paper, I flicked a spark that initiated some smoke. I blew a whisper onto the burgeoning ball of fire, and — poof! — a small flame erupted.

In the end, my main point is not that the Swedish stick doesn’t work. My main point is that it is a product that is difficult to work with, even for experienced outdoors types. The company markets the sticks like they will ignite anything they touch. I found that to be hugely false.

I pray the Swedish Department of Defense is giving its soldiers better training. And maybe a backup Bic lighter just in case.

—Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.

Posted by Rick Marchand - 07/16/2009 01:43 PM

I enjoy reading your articles but I feel the one written on the Sweedish Firesteel was questionable. There is more to fire lighting than getting a tool to spark. You need to have someone who has good technique SHOW you the proper way. You can’t pick up an Arc Welder, read the instructions and expect to do well without guidance. There is a learning curve in using tools. The fact that you have a first aid kit in your pack doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use it effectively when the need arises… bandages, ointments, splints and sutures all seem self explanatory but I have seen some pretty outrageous “self treated” injuries while on the trail. Same idea with this product.

Take a peek at my cheesy firesteel tip video on youtube…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKgnwXSF_mY

Posted by Brock Foreman - 07/16/2009 01:54 PM

Huh-huh. Fire! Fire! Fire! —Beavis

Posted by jpea - 07/16/2009 02:21 PM

I think as far as a “review” of the tool goes, it’s a fair take on the product. It sparked like none other from the sound of it. If it was more of a how-to, then yeah, it’s probably lacking and someone in need of a how-to should be looking elsewhere for instructions (and ideally someone to SHOW them how!), but I don’t think that’s his take on what he writes.

Posted by Joe - 07/17/2009 08:31 AM

Well I don’t know about any weather, but my 11 year old son had dryer lint burning within 5 minutes. The only reason it took that long is he had a hard time getting sparks at first. I had the lint burning on the first or second strike.

Posted by H.J. Simpson - 07/17/2009 09:28 AM

The Swedish firesteel works great. Been using it for years and so have people I know. You need help with your technique.

Posted by Yeti - 07/17/2009 09:38 AM

Interesting! I have used these numerous times and although it took a while to figure out the stroke speed to actually get enough spark I am now fairly adept at it. This is actually my go to for lighting my alcohol can stove. In fact in the survival classes I teach this is one of the key pieces I utilize (as a back up to the common sense Bic of course!) Keep them coming!

Posted by Dingerjoe - 07/17/2009 09:40 AM

Definitely, just use a lighter. you can get a nice bic lighter for like $1.50. don’t get the ones with adjustable flame, they break a lot. I’ve gotten bics wet, dropped them in water, ran them through the washing machine, you just give it time to dry out and it works again…I would like to learn how to start a fire when it’s wet. I don’t think anything really works too well in those situations. you’d have to look real hard to find anything dry. enough to light AND keep going. meanwhile you are getting cold and freaking out. but the day will come again and rain eventually goes away. “Uncivilized” Animals live just fine without fire.

Posted by erichapman - 07/17/2009 09:41 AM

i’ve got this same firestarter at home and had a lot of fun messing around with it in the backyard.

but, like you, i had trouble with it at first.

i found that the method that best worked for me was striking multiple times in rapid succession. of course, like you said, dry grasses help a lot. but that’s just what happened to be around at the time of the experiment.

i’d like to hear a follow up to this one if you still have the firestarter. give it another shot!

Posted by kostya - 07/17/2009 09:42 AM

I had similar experience.

I managed to light gas and petrol stoves and bbq coal (after I poured some petrol on it), but had no success with less flammable materials like paper.

Posted by Sergey Kryuchkov - 07/17/2009 09:43 AM

My experience with firesteel 100% matches the Author’s. I’m sure you can eventually learn how to use it but unless you need to go and live on an inhabitable island for a year (3000 strikes:).

You won’t need this ancient tool. It is actually heavier than a Bic lighter and does not demonstrate any advantage.

I tried igniting almost everything I could lay my hands on but only successed in firing up petrol and gas.

Posted by Dug - 07/17/2009 11:27 AM

Operator error- clearly.. Nylon clad suburbanites typically have issues with these sorts of items.. Been using ferrocerium rods(fire steel) successfully since childhood. Bics are OK but not for long term use or storage.

Posted by Stephen Regenold - 07/17/2009 11:35 AM

Correction for Dug: I am more of a wool-clad urban dweller :) Thanks all for the (passionate) comments. Despite my technique, or lack thereof, to reiterate from my review above: The company markets the FireSteel sticks like they will ignite anything they touch. I found that to be hugely false.

Posted by Steve - 07/17/2009 12:51 PM

I have the scout version. I always carry a blaze orange bic lighter in pocket and at least one or two spares in all my packs. There is no reason not to have a bright orange, yellow or red bic lighter on you when you’re out in the sticks. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a tool that does a job that good for such a light hit against total pack weight and space taken up. That said, I have the Swedish Firesteel scout and I cut that little lanyard off and put it on a dogtag chain and I always wear it around my neck as a backup. At first I found it hard to use, but now that I got the hang of it it’s no problem. I’ll say this though, use a good quality steel striker. I tried using some cheap steak knife and it kind of worked but I get much better results with the serrated blade of my Leatherman Wave. I think the cheap steel is too soft to make good sparks. Also, scrape slow and get some of the firesteel dust collected on your tinder. That seems to sparkle and help get the flame going. I think it’s a fine tool, either as a primary firestarter or a backup to a bic lighter, which is my preference under normal conditions here in AZ where it’s usually very easy to start fire. However, monsoon is coming and we get a lot of rain up on the Mogollon Rim from that. And I cut my teeth in the soggy swamps and woods of Michigan so I know how to start a fire in the wet.

Posted by Tom - 07/17/2009 11:40 PM

Interesting. I’ve heard a lot of these sentiments before, especially on places like the REI website. I respect that the author is an experienced outdoorsman, but modern outdoor sports idolize high-tech tools. Tools like firesteels are regarded as “ancient”, and therefore useless. I disagree. Although bic lighters are fairly handy under normal circumstances, they suffer in the wind and are difficult to use with cold hands (or with gloves on). Combined with knowledge of firebuilding (Something lost to modern outdoorsmen now that fire has become taboo), I would rather have a firesteel to a bic any day. A firesteel has less moving/breakable parts (in fact, none), it works better in adverse conditions, and it lasts much longer. I’ll grant that Light My Fire’s advertizing is overly optimistic. For the average, modern outdoorsperson, starting a fire with firesteel will definitely NOT be easy. If you take the time to learn how to use it properly though, you’ll find the rewards greatly outweighs the learning curve. This is especially true if one should find themselves in a survival situation. It is, after all, designed as a wilderness survival tool.

P.S. Compared to a bow-drill, a firesteel is the easiest thing the world.

Posted by Jonas L - 07/18/2009 05:17 PM

Firesteel like this one are perfect to light your non-piezo gas stove. Starting fires with wood it, takes the same amount of know how, preperation and patience as any other spark generator.

Posted by the suburban bushwacker - 07/22/2009 06:44 PM

I think I speak for everyone when i say you’ve gone down in my estimation here old chap, lighting fires is so much more than slinging sparks. You should know that.
Disgustedly
SBW

Posted by Scott - 07/22/2009 10:25 PM

There’s no instant karma with one of these — you’re literally back to flint-and-steel firemaking (or mischmetal and steel at least). Practice, practice, practice… Having any sort of volatile flammables aboard (the little first-aid alcohol swab packets work well) provides some gratification for the newbie. Finally, an excuse to carry 151 rum in your pack!

The payoff is twofold: (1.) Your non-desperation firemaking gets better. (2.) These devices (or even the flint wheel in a depleted lighter) will provide ignition under truly appalling conditions.

Posted by Dug - 07/24/2009 07:40 AM

Here’s the website listing for the item.. Where does it state (or even imply) it (the fire steel) will light anything it touches? Who realistically pays attention to advertsing claims anyway? I learn about products from first hand observation by other users or my own training.

“Originally developed for the Swedish Department of Defense, Swedish FireSteel is a flash of genius. Its 3,000°C spark makes fire building easy in any weather, at any altitude. Used by a number of armies around the world, Swedish FireSteel’s dependability has already made it a favorite of survival experts, hunters, fishermen and campers. It has also found its way into cabins and backyards as a fool-proof way to light stoves and gas-barbecues."

Posted by Stephen Regenold - 07/26/2009 08:51 PM

The main line I was referring to as being overly optimistic was the part where it says it “sparks at 3,000°C, making fire building easy in any weather, at any altitude.” The whole “making fire building easy” thing. This is from the promotional materials for the stick.

Posted by Erik Shifflett - 07/27/2009 05:35 PM

I use a firesteel and would not part with it. Bic lighters are absolutely unreliable. Wind, wet and most importantly, COLD will render a butane lighter all but useless. Also, flicking a wet Bic with a wet thumb long enough to dry out the flint pretty much means no more skin on said thumb by the time your done.

To make lighting a fire with a steel easier I recommend Vaseline soaked cotton balls. Rub the vaseline into the cotton balls and store them in a small plastic tube or baggie. They never go bad, don’t absorb water if exposed, light easily and burn hot – and long enough to light twigs and other kindling materials.

Posted by Abi - 07/30/2009 11:49 AM

I’ll echo Tom on this one: “P.S. Compared to a bow-drill, a firesteel is the easiest thing the world.”

Now, I haven’t use the product in question, but I have spent a consistent two days bow-drilling and using flint in an attempt to create fire. And it is hard. It’s definitely not a commonly known technique (anymore), both the actual bow-drilling part and the collection and preservation of good fire starting supplies.

I don’t know Stephen’s experience with such matters, but being as this is, after all, Gear Junkie, I think we would all (author in included) cringe at any outdoors man who picked up a piece of equipment like this and set off into the woods to use it under the assumption that the marketing for the product was true, especially with out spending time learning how to use it first. Who would do that with their GPS (or map, for that matter)? Or camp stove?

To Stephen, I encourage you to give it more time and practice. To commentators, I encourage you to give him a little more grace.

Posted by FireSteel.com - 08/09/2009 06:14 AM

The beauty of these is that they work even when wet and give thousands of lights. Don’t need a handle though – my feeling is thats a waste of bulk and weight. Just get a blank one and hold one end while scraping. It’s that easy.

Posted by HikingStick - 01/04/2010 10:09 AM

I’ve been wanting one of these for years, and just got one for Christmas. I, too, was hoping for long-lasting miracle sparks, but I’ve accepted reality and am still pleased.

The first thing to note is that most of them come painted. You need to scrape the paint off before you expect to use them. After doing that, it was throwing great sparks, but my tinder was not fine enough. I went outside, during a snowstorm, and tried to get a fire going in the back yard. I had the wind and precipitation against me. I was able to coax the sparks into flame after a time, but I didn’t have enough other tinder ready so it burned out (a real survival no-no). What finally allowed it to catch for me was a handfull of dead grasses and pine needles that I had held in my hand since I first got ourside—at least 10 minutes or more. That helped to dry them out, and then I rubbed them in my palms until they became a frizzy mess. Then, I struck repeatedly with long, hard strokes (more pressure seemed to throw off longer-lasting sparks). As I noted, I got fire, but I was not ready to use it.

On the primitive fire-starting kick, I went back in and tried a hand-drill method with a dowel. I cut a hole in the edge of a board with my knife, and then notched out the ember gate. I put a cup over the top of the dowel so I could use my chin to put downward pressure on it, and then just rubbed the dowel between my hands. After about five minutes, I was able to get smoke and charred dust. Additional time might have proved successful, but I could already feel my left hand starting to blister.

I tried a little later with the help of one of my boys. We emulated a bow drill by using a bandana with one of us on each side. We were able to get smoke and ash in less than a minute. I plan on improving my technique with each method through the winter, before I take my wife into the Boundary Waters in the spring.

Posted by lza - 02/15/2010 11:26 AM

My friend and I tried out the FireSteel the other day in the field. We collected a tinder bundle; it was typical Seattle weather: damp, but not raining. Light My Fire claims that the FireSteel “makes fire building easy in any weather”. Both of us had used hand made flint strikers (old tool steel) to start a fire, but only with char cloth, so we were a little skeptical. The FireSteel gave large sparks, but it never really got the tinder bundle flaming. Finally we broke out a bow drill kit and got the same tinder bundle aflame in less than a minute. Obviously new fire making techniques take practice, but i would prefer having a small magnesium block to the FireSteel as a backup firestarter.

Posted by Scott Etienne - 03/05/2010 01:17 PM

I have used both Firesteel and magnesium fire-starters with no training and just by reading directions on my front-sidewalk in the winter on foil. Each time, after six or seven failed attempts I was successful in getting a burning flame using a cotton ball lightly-soaked in vaseline.

Posted by KAC - 07/18/2010 03:18 PM

I find it incredible that so many people here have found using this product to start a fire even remotely difficult. I have used the Light My Fire for years with great success and I have never been able to start a fire with real flint and steel and char cloth. The day I bought my first Fire Steel, I created a small tinder bundle from dry grass clippings and leaves from my yard and tried it out. After about three strokes, the tinder burst into flames. The first time I used it in the field, I had even better success. After a light rain, I gathered the driest grass, pine needled, and leaves I could find to make my tinder bundle. After careful preparation of the tinder by working some of it into very fine particles, it caught flame on the very first stroke. I have even started fires in the field without a metal scraper by scraping the fire steel with a sharp rock.
I would not be caught in the bush without one of these. It is easiest way to start a fire next to matches or a lighter and is far more reliable. Unless you lose it, it will work.

Posted by Aussiem8 - 11/27/2010 06:59 PM

I appreciate that many of you would be using a FireSteel as a backup for bics or matches etc. I don’t agree with those who call it pointless or ancient. There is no greater feeling of satisfaction than warming up next to a fire you truly earnt through practise and skill. I use my FireSteel before my matches any day.

Posted by Jim Gamble - 12/22/2010 11:38 AM

Gear Junkie,
I used the Sweedish FireSteel with vaseline and cotton balls and it lit the first time I struck the steel, and I do mean the first time. I haven’t tried it with anything else but, I can tell you that that method does work. So, no complaints here.

Posted by Stephan Woollcombe - 04/18/2012 04:28 PM

I agree a 100% with Stephen.

I have tried to use this type of Firesteel (the Swedish version) on several occasions and with different types of tinder:

- dry paper – birch bark – dry grass – a mix of the above

I did manage to produce huge sparks. But apart from a headache that I got once from watching the flashes generated by those sparks for more than 20 minutes, nothing happened and I could never actually start a fire.

Indeed, although all those sparks went straight into the various types of tinder, the Firesteel that I acquired has never worked. Not even once. I insist upon the fact that at least one millimetre of the ferrocerium stick has been scraped off in the process.

For a reason unknown to me, it seems that those Firesteel sticks are often considered as an elementary survival tool.

However, I wonder how someone would react in a survival situation if he had to rely on that product. Take for example someone that has just fallen into icy water and needs to build a fire within five minutes. I have tried to light a fire for more than twenty minutes using such a Firesteel stick, with no result whatsoever (apart from a slight headache).

Of course, I realise that I might not have acquired the necessary skills in order to use that Firesteel. But I did follow all the official instructions. All the same, I find it hard to believe that someone would need to go through a special training program before he could really master the use of that Firesteel.

This is not a user-friendly tool. My advice: always rely on a Bic lighter.
I will admit that it does the job if you use it for lighting a camping stove. However, be careful not to get some fuel on it unless you want your Firesteel to disolve itself… Yet another thing that the manufacturer will not tell you on his website.

Posted by Frige - 07/09/2012 07:56 AM

I too had difficulties with the Firesteel at first, but I’ve found a different technique that works better for me. Instead of striking the metal I hold it still, and I pull the Firesteel from underneath it. This way it’s easier to aim it at your tinder, and the sparks don’t go lost.
Works well if not better with a knife instead of that little piece of metal.

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