Submissions     Contact     Advertise     Donate     BlogRoll     Subscribe                         

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How to Use A Fire Steel

Firesteel and Scraper
A Fire Steel and scraper

Before we get down to actually using a Fire Steel, we need to understand one of the most important survival rules of all:

Survival Gear is only as good as the ability of the person who uses it.

As an example consider a very simple tool, the axe. In my area there are men who were just about born with an axe in their hands. Give them a well sharpened axe and with three or four deft blows they can slice right through a six-inch thick hardwood tree as though it were made of butter.

Hand the same axe to someone else and after 30 or 40 hacks into the tree they may throw the axe down in disgust and declare the tool is poorly made and does not cut worth a damn. After all they declare, they were in the Boy Scouts or in the army and used axes and cutting implements a number of times.

To be fair, they probably are familiar with the axe, compass, or some other survival related gear that is the subject of problems. But that does not mean they are using it optimally or correctly and it certainly does not mean they are an expert at its usage.

Firesteel and Scraper Scraper Teeth

These teeth and ridges, located on the backside of the scraper, are the key to generating sparks on a Fire Steel.

Having started some campfires in Boy Scouts does not an expert fire maker make. As with every human endeavor, there is a scale of abilities that range from neophyte to expert. Getting to the expert level can take a great deal of experience in all conditions mother nature can dish out and is certainly not based on a scrap of paper given at the end of a seminar or class.

Another problem arises. Human nature being what it is, once someone takes the stance that the gear is at fault it can be very difficult to get them to believe it could be the user instead. That is why people will sometimes disbelieve the reading from compass when they are lost. After all, they have used a compass a number of times and they never got lost before! Fire Steels

Now that we understand the vital importance of the User of survival gear, we can learn how to optimally create sparks using a Fire Steel.

First of all, try to remove all prior notions you may already have about using Fire Steels and follow my instructions to the word. Even if you are already a proficient user of Fire Steels, you may discover a tweak or two that can improve your abilities. Secondly, read the following carefully – because I cannot know your particular knowledge and abilities I will have to start with the very basics and work from there.

To make sparks with a Fire Steel requires two components.

  1. The Fire Steel itself
  2. The scraper
Firesteel and Scraper Scraper Nock

Fit the Fire Steel snugly into the nock formed by the wide and the narrow portion of the scraper

Because the Fire Steel “is what it is” there is little we can do to tweak it. However the scraper bears further investigation.

Fire Steel Scrapers

Although I have been able to scrape sparks from Fire Steels using a shard of ordinary glass, some objects work better than others. Good scrapers for making sparks include:

  • Blades of knives - including survival and bushcraft knives.

  • Backs of knives

  • Hacksaw blades – both the toothed edge and the opposite side.

  • Various other thin metal pieces.

  • specially made scrapers.

Important attributes of a good Fire Steel scraper are hardness, strength against deformity as it is scraped against the metal of the Fire Steel, and its size and shape allowing your fingers a good grip.

It is important to note that not all materials when used as a scraper for Fire Steels will perform in the same way. For example, some knives when scraped along a Fire Steel will produce more sparks than others. In general high carbon steel blades are harder and more spark producing. The bottom line is you will have to experiment some to find what works best for you.

Firesteel and Scraper

The Angle is Important

For optimum sparking, the angle you hold your scraper is important

In this photo you can see the proper way to hold the scraper.

Make sure the word "UP" is facing toward the hand and fingers holding the fire steel. Hold the scraper at about a 45-degree angle to the fire steel. Scrape the fire steel in the direction away from you.

Tests I have performed show that with prolonged usage as Fire Steel scrapers some blades, including hacksaw blades, will degrade. This may be due to mechanically rubbing the metal of the blade against the metal Fire Steel rod and the 5,500 degree temperature of the sparks.

Because the edges of some scrapers degrade with use, you may have to occasionally obtain a fresh scraper in order to optimally create sparks from your Fire Steel.

Using Scrapers

An important quality of scrapers is that they are not prone to degradation during repeated use with Fire Steels as are many knives and blades.

In talking with many users of scrapers, I am surprised to find that some are using the scrapers upside down or even scraping the Fire Steels with the wrong end. Using the scraper incorrectly will of course lead to sub-par performance.

Once again, survival gear is only as good as the ability of the person who uses it.

If you take a close look at your scraper you will note there is

  • A front side, where the word “UP” and the “” logo is engraved into the metal.

  • A back side where there are no words.

  • A right-side up (with the word “UP” in normal readable position).

  • An upside down (with the word “UP” being upside down).

  • A left side (the narrow portion where the word “UP” is printed).

  • A right side (where the “ logo is printed”)

Take a look at the back side of your scraper (the side that has no wordage). If you closely observe the narrow portion of the scraper you will see and feel a set of “teeth” with raised ridges. In the picture a pencil is being used to point directly at them.

These teeth are the working portion of the scraper. You want them bite into the Fire Steel as you move the scraper along it in a quick and fluid motion.

To optimally use the scraper:

  1. Grasp the right side of the scraper firmly in your right hand so that your thumb covers the “ logo. You want a good solid grip.

  2. Grasp one end of the Fire Steel firmly in the fingers of your left hand.

  3. Place the Fire Steel in the “nock” of the scraper (where the narrow part meets the wider part), being sure that the word “UP” on the scraper is readable and facing the fingers holding the fire steel.

  4. Tilt the scraper so that it makes an angle of about 45 degrees with the Fire Steel. This will allow the teeth on the scraper to dig into the Fire Steel.

  5. Press the scraper down hard onto the fire steel.

  6. In one fluid motion, while continuing to press the scraper down hard, scrape along the entire length of the rod in the direction away from you. The key is to scrape hard and scrape fast.

  7. Sparks will fly.

Troubleshooting Your FireSteel

Sometimes with use the surface of a Fire Steel will become very smooth, so that a scraper is merely running over its surface and not biting in at all. This problem can be remedied by roughing up the surface of the fire steel. The teeth on the scrapers can be used for this purpose.

So there you have it, the basic how to use a fire steel instruction. In our next Survival Topics we will make sparks with Fire Steels and use them to start fires in actual outdoor conditions.

Original at:


  1. Unless your experienced, getting results can still be a problem. So the answer is cheat. Use an ordinary face tissue as your tinder. Fold the tissue so that it overlaps the steel and striker, or knife or whatever. Use a slow heavy technique and you should have a blazing tissue within thirty seconds. Tissues weigh almost nothing.

  2. I love my Swedish Firesteel. It throws off an awesome smart. I just have to be sure to have very dry and fine tinder. I have used it to light my camp stove on several occasions.