A very popular tool of firecraft is the ferrocerium (ferro) rod. It comes in many sizes from 1/2 inch diameter to the smallest flints used in flintwheel lighters. The sparks that are produced are very hot and generally have a longer burn time than sparks produced by traditional flint and steel. These characteristics increase your chances of achieving a fire.
Despite the advantage that ferro rods provide, not everyone is successful or gets immediate results. Some obstacles to ignition are dampness or fineness of materials. When in the field it is wise to collect assorted tinder found along your path to help insure your “fire success” at the end of the day.
I have had the opportunity to provide demonstrations of bushcraft to various groups over the years. On one occasion during a class outing at a youth camp I had a request to demonstrate how to build a campfire using available materials. It had been raining and I only a little time to find suitable materials. It was a fail. For the next class I was determined to succeed in building a successful campfire so I brought some cattail fluff along with some flaky textured river birch bark. The birch bark provided the fine tinder to catch the flames that were produced by the ignited cattail fluff. Birch bark has the additional advantage that the oils in the bark, once lighted, will burn despite a wet and damp environment and will last long enough to get kindling on it’s way to a successful fire.
I selected a curly piece of bark that was flaky and placed a pinch of cattail fluff inside the curl. This helped to contain the cattail in place as any wind would try to break it apart. When I use a ferro rod, I hold the striker (in this case the square-edged back of my knife) next to the tinder and place the ferro rod underneath it. I pull the ferro rod up against the striker and out, thus keeping the sparks in place without disturbing the tinder. Striking down the ferro rod with a striker could potentially travel forward and strike your tinder setup as well and scatter it apart.
An alternative to river birch bark for tinder is dry leaves, whether deciduous or pine. Be sure to place some material above the cattail because it will have a very short duration flame that must be caught. Have small dry sticks handy to build upon the flames. For more pointers on building campfires, see me article “How I Build A Campfire“.
We’ve all heard about the prowess of a “one match fire”. Now you know the elements and method of a “one strike fire”. Take time to experiment with different materials so that you can achieve this goal for yourself, then teach it to others.
Cedar shavings work excellent!