This small fire starter looks cool, but is difficult…
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $19.99
This small fire starter looks cool, but is difficult to use and control compared to modern ferrocerium rods. Each Strike-A-Light is made from high-carbon steel and designed to look attractive on the outside of a pack or as a necklace / lanyard. Use flint, quartz, marble, or other "chert" stones to generate a spark.
- Multiple shape options
- Easily converted into lanyard / necklace
- Can be used with local stones
- Looks cool
- Difficult to generate a spark
- Difficult to control spark direction
- Sparks are short-lived
I have to admit, I was really looking forward to getting my Emberlit Strike-A-Light flint and steel after watching the demonstration videos on Emberlit's site. In the past, I have always used magnesium or ferrocerium rods to start my fires. I'm an avid rockhound, so I have often generated sparks while chiseling away at some rock or another — I had simply never thought of using this technique to start fires. After all, why go to the trouble when I already have a ferrocerium rod, UCO matches, and a lighter?
It turns out that the answer is "because it's cool!" When I was a kid, my father would constantly tell my brother and I that we needed to know how to build a "two-match-fire" (a fire lit with two matches or less) in case we were ever stuck somewhere with limited fire starting supplies. Personally, I have always measured firestarting skills by the ability to start a fire WITHOUT lighter or matches — hence my fascination with ferrocerium rods, magnesium rods, and flint and steel. After all, what could be more outdoorsy than beating fire out of a stone?
When my Emberlit Strike-A-Light did arrive, I was very disappointed in its performance. I found that it was difficult to use with the $0.55 piece of flint that I had also ordered from Emberlit. Not to be deterred, I went digging in my own rock discard pile looking for a good piece of quartz. After finding a few decently sharp pieces of quartz and marble, I went about testing again. This time, I was able to get pretty good sparks, but still nothing like what I had hoped for.
So the design of this product is what initially drew me to it. The striker that I ordered is shaped like a small steel dragon. As if beating fire out of flint and steel wasn't cool enough, I get to beat fire out of a dragon using a crystal! This is every video game I ever played as a kid brought to life!
The firesteels produced by Emberlit are made of high carbon steel, which should make them great for throwing sparks. The thing to remember here is that you aren't actually getting the spark from the stone, but rather from the steel. Believe it or not, iron is pyrophoric (it spontaneously combusts). We normally don't notice this since it is coated with a very thin layer of oxidization. In order to get your iron to combust, you have to break off very small pieces of iron that have not yet touched the air — enter a sharp piece of flint, marble, quartz, etc.
Now since iron is also extremely malleable, it usually bends when hit with stones instead of flaking off small pieces of metal. By adding carbon to iron, we get steel - a metal that is stronger and more brittle. When a piece of high carbon steel is hit with a sharp stone (given the stone is of sufficient hardness), small shards of metal are scraped from the steel and spontaneously combust when they come into contact with the air.
EASE OF USE
I found the Emberlit flint striker to be surprisingly difficult to use. My first attempt was with the piece of flint I had ordered from Emberlit for $0.55. I found the sharpest edge of the steel and quickly struck the back of the dragon against it. No sparks. I did get a nice shower of sediment as the rock began to crumble in my hand. I tried a few more times with only minimal success.
Finally, I pulled a few pieces of marble and quartz from my rockhounding discard pile. I had much better luck with these in terms of sparks, but did still have a few issues. The quartz in my area is usually found in small veins of tightly packed, small crystals. Just like the first rock, this crumbled after a few dozen strikes. The marble held together, but did dull noticeably after a while.
This isn't really a plug and play item. Before you can start a fire, you'll need to find a good piece of stone. Even once you have a good piece, you'll need to find the right angle. You'll then need to hold your tinder bundle against the stone while you strike (since the Strike-A-Light doesn't include magnesium, aluminum, etc., its sparks are short-lived). Once you get a spark to catch, you'll need to tend to your ember until your tinder ignites, at which point you can add it to your kindling.
While this method isn't too different from using a ferrocerium rod or a magnesium fire starter, it does still add a few new steps. I have never before needed to go searching in the woods for a good piece of stone. Nor have I needed to worry about my sparks dying out before reaching my tinder bundle an inch or so away.
STONES TO USE
Fire steels will work with just about any hard rock found in nature, given it has a sharp edge and is harder than steel. The Mohs scale (a hardness scale used for minerals) will help you out here. Iron has a Mohs rating of 4, steel has a rating of 4-4.5, and quarts / flint has a rating of 7. You'll want to avoid anything sedimentary (sandstone, limestone, etc.) as these crumble too easily. Try to look for agate, quartz, marble, or other "chert" stones. These not only have the hardness that you need (A Mohs rating of ~7), but also tend to chip and leave sharp edges. You'll want to look for a manageable sized chip that has a sharp edge. If you are uncertain, the easiest way to find usable stones is to rinse them in water and look for anything that is distinctly white, yellow, black, red, or translucent. This is far from being an absolute test as it rules out a lot of usable stones and turns up a few stones that are unusable, but it will quickly help you identify possible candidates.
If you happen to live in New England like I do, you're in luck! The Appalchian Mountains were worn down to bedrock eons ago leaving us with lots of marble, granite, and quartz that can be used here.
One thing to keep in mind here is that you aren't likely to be able to use the same piece of stone for too long. While the stone will (hopefully) break pieces off of the steel, the steel will likewise break pieces off of most stones.
If you do train yourself to find good striking stones, you can transfer this skill for use with ferrocerium rods. While the Strike-a-Light needs to be struck against the stone to produce a spark, you can simply scrape the same stone along a ferrocerium rod to generate a shower of sparks.
Emberlit definitely wins in the "Cool" category for their Strike-A-Lights, but I just can't see them every replacing my BIC lighter as my primary (or even my ferrocerium rods as my backup) means of starting a fire.
Still, weighing in at a whopping 0.9 oz, I'll probably keep this little guy looped onto the outside of my pack somewhere just in case I need to take some aggression out on an innocent dragon.