At the start of this year (2003), I was contacted by Steve Brazier, who is the sales manager for the Doan Machinery and Equipment Company about the firestarter review that I had written. I hadn't reviewed a Doan firestarter, but I had written that the Coglin's magnesium firestarter tended to lose the ferrocerium rod from the magnesium. Since this could lead to a dangerous situation, if someone were relying on the tool, I tended to discourage people from using magnesium firestarters. I was highly specific in saying that I had seen many cases of Coglins magnesium firestarters losing the ferrocerium rods, but I had never tried other types.
I was invited to investigate just what would cause the loss of a ferrocerium rod from a Doan firestarter, and I was sent four to try. These varied by packaging and surface corrosion, so it was clear that I was sent regular tools, not some that had been specially chosen. I wanted to be sure that I tried about anything that the tool could be exposed to in real life - so a chisel and hammer weren't used - but we tried about everything else. Seriously! My good friend Adrien helped me with the testing as it involved lots of work.
Here's the Doan Magnesium Firestarter:
You'll notice that it looks like any other magnesium block firestarter, but it is labeled with the Doan name and part number. This is very important - because as you'll see, this firestarter does not lose its rod!
The whole issue is centered around the fact that if a person loses the ferrocerium rod (Darker metal at the top of the tool picture), then there is no way of starting a fire. We tried everything that people on the Outdoor Survival Forum at Knifeforums, could think of - and a few more tests too.
This is often all that is needed to separate the ferrocerium rod from the magnesium in cheaper tools. Often they fall apart in the package, or separate when the magnesium block is tapped gently. A few of us tapped the samples on four sides and corners, hundreds of times. This was repeated each time other tests. We didn't try throwing , in case the ferrocerium rod was broken, but we did try hammering. The Doan tool passed all these tests.
People who venture into the outdoors use some pretty nasty chemicals. DEET mosquito repellent has wrecked many knife handles and other outdoor gear. Soaking in it had no effect with the Doan tool. We also use solvents for cleaning guns and the tool was soaked in these overnight - which is more soaking than would happen in normal life! Some other common household solvents were used too. None of these solvents were able to break down any glue (if glue is used) in the tools, and so the tools remained in one piece.
We're wondering if just glue is used, because in the temperature tests above, the tool was heated enough to melt or burn most glues! We haven't pried the tools apart to see, because tests are ongoing!
We compared the Doan magnesium firestarter to the Strike Force as shown in the picture:
A person might own both, using the lighter and smaller magnesium tool for pocket carry. Large ferrocerium rods will more easily light tinders found in the outdoors, and a large ferrocerium rod will last many years. These rods have a penalty with weight: it's unlikely that anyone could carry a 1/2"x3" rod too long before it wore through their pockets.
When we were attempting to start the waxed egg carton firestarters, we were unable to do so with a regular ferrocerium rod. By using the magnesium, the wax firestarters were easy to light.
A magnesium/ferrocerium firestarting tool is a great idea for people in the outdoors. Theese are often secured with the chain onto clothing or packs. The Doan tool is highly recommended, since we were unable to make the ferrocerium rod fall out by even extreme measures. We feel that it is never likely to fall out in normal use. In contrast, the cheaper tools are likely to lose their ferrocerium rods: many are separate even in the packaging. A fix (for cheap tools) was proposed in the firestarters section, which was to knock out the ferro rod and reglue it with superglue or epoxy. This works well for many people, but any of the glues used would not have allowed the firestarter to match the Doan. These glues are too succeptible to solvents and heat.
The Doan is a well made tool, and so won't let a person down in extreme circumstances. This is pretty essential because such a tool will most likely be used in extreme circumstances! We liked the fact that the tools came with instructions in fire starting: many people don't light fires regularly, and may need some basics. One thing to remember is that a sharp rock will serve to scrape the magnesium, and strike a spark - as will a piece of broken glass. So all is not lost if one doesn't have a knife! Most of us use sharp rocks anyway, just to preserve knife edges.
I'm very pleased to have had the opportunity to put the Doan tool through its paces, and to see that a reliable magnesium firestarter exists. There certainly was no pressure from the company, just a challenge to see if I found their tools to lose their ferrocerium rods. I'm pleased to say that I didn't - and testing was extreme!
While magnesium in the block form is extremely hard to ignite, I certainly wouldn't recommend that people heat them up as we did!
I had quite a few inquiries about where to get the firestarters, so here are some of the dealers and distributors that carry the Doan magnesium firestarter:
The company is in the process of putting together a website - Doan Machinery and Equipment
If you have questions, criticisms, or things to add - email me please.