A Magnesium Fire Starter Or Swedish Fire Steel


We all know (should know) that the ability and means to start a fire is paramount in a survival situation. Rather than depending on just matches or a lighter, a common (and highly recommended) fire starter is either the magnesium fire starter or the Swedish fire steel.

The thing is, one of them is much better than than the other for survival and/or your emergency kit. Here’s which one…


Magnesium Fire Starter

Magnesium Fuel Bar

Using a magnesium fire starter may be the best option to start a fire when everything else that you’ve tried has failed. This type of fire starter will give you a chance to get a fire started even when you’re in a damp or windy environment. This is because in addition to your own tinder and kindling that you should be using, the magnesium fire starter includes its own ‘tinder’ as part of the product itself — the magnesium.

The fire starter is made out of magnesium, which is a soft and flammable metal. It can be cut and shaved with a knife. It typically comes with a small steel hacksaw blade attached to facilitate scraping the magnesium as well as the striker-bar. A flint/striker-bar is embedded into one side of the magnesium block.

Using it is easy. You scrape off (shave off) some of the magnesium into a small pile of shavings with the hacksaw blade or with a knife, etc. Then you ignite the shavings by sparking the flint (using your knife, blade, etc.) towards and onto the pile. Don’t worry, the magnesium block won’t ignite – just the shavings.

Magnesium burns at a white-hot temperature of 5600 degrees Fahrenheit, is nearly impossible to extinguish, and should enable your tinder to burn even when everything is damp.


Swedish Fire Steel

Original Swedish FireSteel

The Swedish Fire Steel will create plenty of sparks, and is itself a great replacement for matches or lighters, and a great way to start gas stoves or grills. But the thing is… it doesn’t include any flammable tinder (the magnesium).

Because of this, if you are making a fire, you will NEED to have dry tinder to light in order to get your fire burning.

In short summary, a fire steel is Okay for its intended purpose, but perhaps not so great for an emergency survival kit and not the best for a survival situation. A magnesium fire starter clearly is the better choice for this… in my opinion.


  1. @All, I have a few things I would like to add, and to give my opinion. First, very humbly, I would like to say that I have always used to carry mag bar on my key chain, and it saved my life one cold wet night! They do get worn down as you need enough magnesium about the size of a quarter. Highly recommend them, but also gorilla glue the flint to the magnesium! I have bought literally dozens in my life as they are cheap, under 10 bucks and great gifts! Here in canada they can usually be found at any crappy tire or walmart. That being said, I disagree and believe in the Swedish fire starter, ( glue the flint to the plastic base).crappy tire and walmart and other stores seem to sell the Swedish and less likely the mag, the mag is heavy. The Swedish can be used as a self defense tool between fingers. And the make I have is by kershaw, is only about 2″, shorter than coghlans 3″ approximate. You can find tinder and kindleing anywhere I come from bc’ s west( wet) coast, and now reside in the bc north. I own both, and both need a metal striker such as which is on my Swiss army knife or leatherman. Bothh are good tools. Some swede starters are said to give you hundreds of fires. ( the more expensive ones). I may be wrong bu t a mAg cannot.

    1. Brearbear, thanks for your comment and input. I was hoping to get some pros and cons either way… it’s good for discussion. Certainly both tools are lifesavers, and with reasonable fire-making skills someone should be able to start a fire with tinder and kindling procured from a damp environment — which would theoretically negate the need for magnesium. It’s also easy to carry your own tinder, which comes in many forms…

      That’s a good suggestion regarding the mag bar on your keychain (always with you). I’m glad you made it through your ordeal!

    2. Magnesium fire starters are $2.99 at Harbor Freight. They include the saw blade.

  2. Sorry about the bad writing fingers to big for the little buttons! Miss my laptop! Si Vis Pacem Parabellum! Be Prepared! Cheers! Brearbear.

  3. Something to keep in mind, not all magnesium blocks are created equal. You get what you pay for, and the cheaper ones generally will not ignite with sparks, if at all. I use Coleman magnesium, and I’ve always had good results. I also buy them at the sportsman shows if they demonstrate that it will work.

  4. I bought a mag block and flint bar some time ago after watching one in use on a survival program. While scraping flakes off the block with a knife was a real pain in the keester, when i did get a nice little pile I was able to light damp tinder with the unbelievable heat generated.

    I tried again later with a small steel file and the nearly dust sized particles caught easier and burned magnificently. For those of us old enough to remember when cameras took film, I have a number of those little plastic film canisters and so I filled one about a quarter way full with shavings so the next fire is quicker. I will say though, it took nearly forty minutes to file off that much magnesium. It only takes about a tenth of a teaspoon to start a fire, so I figure I have about a dozen or so starts already in the can. The wife thinks I am half crazy, but I think of it as something interesting to do and if it helps me be prepared for the unseen, then so be it.

    Also, the flakes will ignite even if wet! Just remember, once it starts to burn, it cannot be put out.

    1. That’s a great idea to scrape of magnesium flakes/powder ahead of time and keeping them stashed in a small container. If you ever really need it during an emergency situation when you’re cold and damp, fingers numb, etc, you will thank yourself for having already done this.

      Having the magnesium along with the flint/striker is the reason I believe it to be a better choice than simply (only) the Fire Steel. Having said that… a Fire Steel and some Vaseline soaked cotton balls will do pretty well too ;)

      1. Down below, Brearbear says cedar chips are good tinder and he’s right. We have used slivers cut from cedar shingles [“shakes”] with great success. They light and burn exceptionally well, especially if they are really dry. The volatiles in them catch immediately and as long as it is smoldering, a puff of air will spark it back up again.

  5. My son was in Boy Scouts in Alaska and the scout leader showed the boys a slick way to make tinder that they could carry with them.

    1. Balls of cotton with petroleum jelly in them. Store them in one of those plastic film cans. they fit in your pocket and they will burn great!

    2. Get two of those metal containers that hold mints (Altoids). Punch a few holes in the lid of one of them and put 1 inch squares of blue jean material in it. Put it on your BBQ and heat it up until it just starts to smoke. Transfer the charred pieces to the other container. It seals well and all you need is a few sparks on one of the patches and it will start to smolder and then burn.

    the blue jean patches are the second best fire starter to get tinder going and the cotton balls soaked with petroleum jelly are the number one. It is best to have several ways to start a fire and realize that things we use we may never be able to replace. i.e. bic lighters.

  6. Does anyone else remember the battery and steel wool trick for starting a fire? If you fluff a piece of 0000 steel wool then stick a nine volt battery in to it until the terminals are crossed it will spark and burn rather quickly. I imagine some Vaseline in the wool would help sustain the burn as well.

  7. I’ve used dryer lint for years without a problem. We just so happen to use mixed fabrics and have a dog, still never had an issue. I keep it packed in tight into a container that used to hold mini-M&M’s and just pull out a pinch, fluff it up, and apply a spark with a fire steel type product. I’ve probaly used this method over a dozen times without fail.

  8. I sort of took all that to heart since I just happened to have bought a coghlan’s mag-block to throw in my lunch box… ’cause you just never know. So since I’ve never actually started a fire with one, I decided it was time to give it a try. I always assumed it would be a slam dunk after watching friends in high school spark up pieces of magnesium from chem class. So I grabbed the mag-block and a mora knife out of my lunchbox, and a scrap of dryer lint and headed out back.

    It took me three tries, over about half a beer. Sitting at my back yard table, with a cement paver stone (wife would beat me if I burned her beautiful table), try #1: shave mag. onto stone… watch it blow away in a light breeze. Not so good. Try #2: grab empty cigarette box and remove foil to make a “bowl” for the shavings (yeah, yeah… everyone has their vices), shaved the mag-block for maybe 60 seconds, gave it a strike on the flint… hmmm about 2 seconds of flame. Again, not so good. Try #3: Shavings for 2-3 minutes (tried different knives, and found my daily partner, a folding Buck, that had a sliver broken off the blade near the handle that when re-edged has a concave shape… think kukri… worked best) into the cig-foil “bowl” then stiking the flint… PRESTO, flame. So I put the scrap of dryer lint over the small flame, and it lit up nicely… long enough for me to walk 20 feet or so and pick up some dropped cedar sprigs and make some real flame.

    End result is, I am fairly sure I can make fire from a $9 block of magnesium bought from the nearest Rite-Aid, with scavenged garbage around my house.

    I do admit, I was probably over confident about this situation before today. I think I’ll take a look at some other things I’ve “assumed” I could handle, without ever ACTUALLY trying, and sort of educate myself on skills I “think” I have.

  9. So dryer lint won’t work? Funny I wash all different cloths and have an inside dog and cat, I carry a bear grylls Swedish type fire starter with a hollow handle that can hold quite a lot of dryer lint. The first time I tried lighting the lint it was up and burning on the second strike. ( I actually hold down the striker and drag the bar upwards ) I have no idea what you have in your lint but I have shown many people how fast this lights and have never had a problem. Also I resent being called a liar for the record.

  10. It, in my humble opinion seems that WE prepper/survivalist minded people are so very few and far between. I have had very little luck my whole life, trying to find like minded people and have almost given up trying,(Thank God for the internet)! I am skilled/experienced in some things, but there is so much to learn! I have been ridiculed for my beliefs, like for wanting to cache/hide away a few years of supplies…well,i just wanted to say this, keep up the good fight!Cheers!

    1. @Bb, regarding your statement, “I have been ridiculed for my beliefs”, don’t let it get you down… it is only logical to have insurance policies in place for all sorts of things (which your doubters would mostly agree with), however most doubters have been programmed such that they do not even see the various systemic risks (or others) that we face. It’s not taught, it’s not pointed out in the main-stream, and because it’s never happened to them… it could never happen.

      We know better than that, and are ‘thinking’ people in this regard. IF any such risk should turn to disaster, WE will be better prepared. It’s as simple as that. People can ridicule all they want, but that does not affect me and what I do. Realize that people are ridiculing mostly out of THEIR OWN discomfort and their own fear or anxiety. Not mine (or yours)…

  11. I came across Firesteel (made by Light My Fire) recently and decided to try it out. I went camping last weekend with
    my son and his Boy Scout Troop and we tested it. The scout troop usually uses dryer lint as a fire starter.
    Firesteel lit it on the first strike. Next we tried a cotton ball, took 2 strikes to light it. Then we tried a variety of very dry forest tinder, grasses, leaves, dried reeds. I struck that rod over 50 times and never got any of the forest tinder to ignite. I continued testing it at home, tried a variety of dry vegetation and grasses. I struck Firesteel 300 to 400 times. I was able to get the tinder to ignite twice. The website claims it is good for up to 3000 strikes. I used about 500 and almost half the rod is worn away. The unit generates plenty of sparks and occasionally small flames, but nothing seems to ignite, a few times I got some smolder but nothing that would burn. I like to keep a variety of fire starters with my gear, after seeing this, I’m also adding a well fueled Zippo with spare flints.

  12. I have used both a Swedish Firesteel and a magnesium fire starter. I carry a firesteel in my EDC and a magnesium fire starter in my BOB. Both have advantages and disadvantages. I have started a roaring fire in a matter of seconds, in the pouring rain, using the magnesium firestarter, and likewise in freezing rain with the firesteel. Both require the use of good tinder, which I believe is the key. That and practice. You can not go wrong with dryer lint. I find it lights right up with one or two strikes on either tool.

  13. Dryer lint you can get in abundance since we all use dryers. I have taken a vacuum sealer and made my own tinder packs with lint….thin strips of tar paper and saw dust that has been soaked in lamp oil. Strike that in wet weather and see if you have issues! The pack keeps sealed and flat so it takes up very little room in your emergency kits or backpack or pockets.

  14. I tried using a mag bar once. I don’t remember the brand — a cheap one. It didn’t work at all. Finally I lit a fire using my lighter and threw the whole bar into the fire. It just glowed orange, so I’m guessing there wasn’t a lot of magnesium in the magnesium bar. I just go with the ferro rod. It’s more compact, and it works — but test it to make sure it works!

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