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All testing at -15C to give an indication of rod, glue and plastic fragility.
In this particular firestarter the ferrocerium rod separated from the magnesium on the first drop from waist height. The conditions were cold and the glue separated. As such it never entered the main test. While no actual breakage occurred, it does point out that a sharp blow to the firestarter may result in loss of the ferrocerium rod, since it is the magnesium section that is attached to the chain. Unless the firestarter is reglued or carried in a pouch the construction must be considered a liability.
This one really broke - but NOT in the two metre test. It was dropped from ten metres under very cold conditions. It is tempting to think of the rods as unbreakable but they appear to be compressed powder and as such if dropped on an imperfection.... Both sections were useable after breakage. This is NOT an indication of the likely results of a two metre drop test - it took several drops from 10 metres on to concrete to cause the damage and at -15C. At lower temperatures it may take less to break the rod. The important point here is that a rod may be deliberately snapped into two pieces if necessary for sharing between an injured person and a person going for help. The rod will not shatter, etc.
As will be seen the amount of damage is very minor and of only a cosmetic nature. You will have to look closely even to see marks. This can be considered a very robust firestarter.
One end showing very minor cosmetic damage.
The other end showing very minor cosmetic damage.
Mid section showing minor cosmetic damage.
Opposite mid section showing minor cosmetic damage
This suffered only minor damage to the casing, with the cap that holds the rod in place being cracked. Unfortunately the striker also fell out. While the firestarter is still quite useable with an alternate striker such as a knife, the design flaw is apparent. Due to the centre of gravity of the firestarter it always falls on the cap. What seems to have caused the breakage is the ferrocerium rod hitting the cap and rebounding. The photographs should point out the poor attachment of the striker to the assembly - it is glued or press fitted into the small rectangular notch.
The cap end showing the breakage.
The striker assembly and striker which fell out.
This broke because of size and mass. Once broken the pieces will no longer break on a repeat of the tests. Both parts were useable to start a fire.
Pictures and details of robustness will be added soon. Lots of people have asked about this one, so I asked users for some input which I can detail here. It appears that the Spark-Lite does NOT suffer from the problems of disposable lighters when it gets wet. LOTS of users did the soaking in water test and reported that with a shake it was ready to use. Bagheera even did a second test where he soaked it in salt water for a while! It passed that too. Reports of robustness seem good too. Note that the amount of spark is quite sufficient for man-made tinders but may be tough for natural tinders.
This was a very small scale test using a small sample - only one of each model was tested. Some possibilities can be suggested by the test though:
The general conclusion from all of this is that a ferrocerium rod is the way to go. If you like a magnesium addition then just make sure that you check and reglue. You may also want to check the dump for old water heaters and remove the anode which is magnesium - and make your own magnesium sticks to complement your firestarter of choice.
The BlastMatch is a great firestarter for people who don't get to practise a lot. It's simple to use and very effective. Just remember the durability problem!
The Strike Force is great! It is very effective because of the thick rod, and very durable. If you work in cold climates, the fact that it is easy to hold and the plastic insulates you from the metal is a consideration.
The Camper's Village ferrocerium stick is fine to use and cheap. The great pity is that they no longer carry the thicker version. The thin version is tougher to get damp tinder started with without a LOT of practise - just be aware of that.
The Spark-Lite is easy to use with the provided tinder and may be the most choice for teaching younger people firestarting since it doesn't require a sharp striker.
The ANEW firestarter is in my opinion the best for my area. While it broke, it did so because of size and mass. There is the point that it is the most compact firestarter which has enough thickness to give a spark which will ignite natural tinders quickly without the use of magnesium or other non-natural tinders. Thinner rods just don't compare when damp natural tinders are used. While the BM and SF give even more of a spark, their bulk and weight almost ensure (in my case) that they won't be on my person when I need them. What I found (because of the breakage) is that I actually prefer a shorter rod. If the 4" rod is scored with a pipe cutter and broken into two 2" pieces - there will be no further breakage concerns. A handle can then be fashioned from a piece of lightweight pipe - if a longer holder is prefered. The result will be a light thin firestarter.
Cedar bark was used as tinder. When dry this is easy to use with all ferrocerium rods - when used under damp windy conditions, a thicker rod will be appreciated. Normally bark was stripped from a living tree, pounded between rocks, and shredded in the hands for a total of two minutes preparation. To compare firestarters, you'll have to prepare a whole bunch of tinder and sort for thickness of bark threads/amount of powder. Obviously the thinner threads with more powder are easier to ignite. Pounded and scraped/shredded birch bark is easy to start with a good spark from a thicker rod - but it takes a lot of work to get it fine enough to use with thin rods.
Tinder for use with a disposable lighter is tough to prepare. In poor weather conditions almost impossible. If you depend on lighters, best carry some prepared tinder or even a strip of lamp wick.
Cedar - note bark and scale like needles.
Fir - note bark and blunt needles.
Hemlock - note bark and spacing of blunt needles. Top of these trees almost always curve over.
Birch - note tree outline.
Birch close up showing bark.