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How to use a PyroFlint™
(Ferrocerium or Pyrophoric Alloy)
by Mark Hordon

The Shark-Tinderbox 'PyroFlint™

  • Will Produce Super White-Hot Sparks at 3,100°Celsius (5,600°F).
  • Will Readily Ignite Almost all Types of Natural and Manmade Tinder.
  • Will Produce Tens of Thousands of Fires.
  • Are Compact, Lightweight and Weatherproof.
  • Are the Reliable, Easy to Carry, Fire Lighting Tool.
  • Are Made From a Superior Sparking Pyrophoric Alloy.

Spark to Make Fire

Spark based fire lighting has been around ever since man discovered how to make tool from flint, and accidentally discovered that striking two pieced of certain types of rock against each other sometimes produced a spark that would ignite a combustible material. Tens of thousands of years later, a remarkable new material was discovered that produced, by comparison, a substantial number of very hot sparks that would more readily ignite tinder, this new substance was given the name “Steel”. Several thousand years after the invention of steel a new discovery was made that made the Flint & Steel based fire lighting method almost redundant, this new pyrophoric sparking material given the name Ferrocerium.

Along Came Ferrocerium

Ferrocerium is a relatively stable pyrophoric alloy that is quite soft, it is fairly easily brought up to combustion point, with a striker of some kind, through comparatively low frictional forces, yet it burns in air at very high temperatures. Due to these remarkable properties, ferrocerium is an incredibly useful metal mix that allows us to create a large shower of super white hot sparks, which will ignite a large number of natural and manmade types of tinder with minimal effort and speed. that can potentially produce thousands upon thousands of fires.

Shark-Tinderbox - PyroFlint™

Shark-Tinderbox PyroFlint™ are specially made from superior quality ferrocerium mischmetal that easily produces a shower of super white-hot sparks when scraped with a hardened steel striker. Our full range of PyroFlint™ are made from the very highest quality ‘Rare Earth’ metals that are blended with some iron and magnesium, to form a unique mix of extraordinarily active pyrophoric metals. These incredibly hot sparks can be used to ignite everything from a camping gas or petrol stove to the hardest to light natural or manmade tinder. The sparks from any of our range of PyroFlint™ are incredibly bright and can even be used as a short-range emergency signal flare.

From a novice to professional you can be sure that our PyroFlint™ will produce sparks with a temperature of around 3,100°Celsius (5,600° Fahrenheit) that will readily ignite almost all types of natural and manmade tinder with amazing ease, even in the most extreme of environments.

How to use 'PyroFlint™

Shark-Tinderbox ‘ PyroFlint™ can be use in many different ways; I have selected the four major methods of using a PyroFlint™ for this article, however, there are a significant number of variations on each of these techniques. I have place each of the techniques in order of personal preference and give a short list of reasons why I prefer one method to another.

Since each technique does have a number of variables in their methodology, it is fairly hard to give specific and comprehensive instructions about them. With this in mind, I will try to explain the basic principles for each technique and leave it up to the reader to tailor each methodology to suit the individual preferences and circumstances that may be needed at the time. The reader will need to experiment with the exact way the PyroFlint™ and Striker should be held, as well as the positioning of each in relation to the tinder/tinder bundle, in any particular circumstance.

Method One: - ‘PyroFlint™ on Striker’

('Two Finger Strike')

Use any one of our range of PyroFlints™ against a stationary ‘Super Alloy Striker,’ knife or even a piece flint or glass will do in an emergency.

This technique is an incredibly efficient and judicious way of using your PyroFlint™ that will extend the life span by a massively percentage. Its minimal use of ferrocerium and ease of control make it my favourite technique and is one that I highly recommend as long as you have a tinder such as Amadou of char cloth.

PyroFlint™ on Steel’ is a very controllable technique allowing you to hold the tinder and Striker steady in one hand, whilst creating the sparks by moving the PyroFlint™ downwards towards the striker with the other. Because you are holding the tinder against the Striker and striking the PyroFlint™ against it, you can more accurately designate where you want the super white-hot sparks to land. Since the tinder is so close to the Strikers cutting edge, you need fewer and smaller sparks do the same job as a lot of bigger and hotter sparks. Fewer and smaller sparks simply equates to less force, which further simply equates to a substantially longer PyroFlint™ lifespan.

Methodology: -

The simplest way of using this technique is to tear off a piece of Amadou or char cloth about 1 Inch by 1 Inch (20 to 30mm2). Fold the Amadou or char cloth in half and place it about 1 or 2mm away from what will be the top surface of the Striker, with the fluffy torn edges facing the Strikers cutting edge. Hold Amadou or char cloth in place on top of the Striker by pinching them together between your thumb (on top of the tinder) and index finger (bent double and under the Striker) of your left-hand (if you are right-handed).

Whilst hold the PyroFlint™ in your right hand, position the actual part of your PyroFlint™ striking surface that you want to come into contact with the Strikers cutting edge against the Strikers cutting edge. Holding the PyroFlint™ with the thumb and forefinger of your right hand (if you are right-handed), add any extra support to the PyroFlint™ with the middle and ring fingers, if it is necessary. Carefully check to see that all fingers, nails or any bits of flesh you want to keep are positioned as far away from the Strikers cutting edge as you can manage, especially if you are using a sharp knife.

Once you are happy that you have set up the PyroFlint™ to take the perfect the strike, raise the PyroFlint™ slightly away from the Striker and make a few slow calculated practice strikes towards the Striker. It is at this point that you need to be looking to see if you might accidentally cut yourself and make any minute adjustments as may be necessary to create the perfect strike.

Once you are happy that all is well raise the PyroFlint™ and strike it down against the Strikers cutting edge. If you have done this properly, you will see a shower of small sparks as the PyroFlint™ glances off and down past it the Striker. These sparks should fly towards the folded tinder that is on top of the Striker. If you are well practiced, or just plain lucky, your tinder will have caught at least one of these sparks, which will has created an embryonic ember.

If you can’t see an ember keep striking the PyroFlint™ against the Striker and checking for an ember after each strike. You may need to play around with tinder thickness and the distance the tinder is from the cutting edge, but that is half the fun.

Tips & Advice

  • A common tip is to place the Amadou or char cloth actually over the cutting edge of the Striker and allowing the striking action of the PyroFlint™ to cut through the tinder, any sparks generated should be created directly next to the freshly cut edge. This, at least in theory, will aid in the creating of the ember since the sparks are at their hottest at the point of strike.
  • It is important that you are careful with this technique since your fingers are moving rapidly past a potentially sharp cutting object, such as a knife or shard of razor sharp flint. If you do not judge the strike properly, you could easily end up with a large piece of fingernail and skin being sliced off, instead of a shower of sparks.

Method Two: - ‘Striker on PyroFlint™’

(The ‘Thumb Pressure Strike – Anchored’)

This method requires that you strike the Striker against a stationary PyroFlint™. The best choice of Striker to use is a Shark-Tinderbox ‘Super Alloy Striker’, which is specially made to maximise spark output from any of our range of top quality PyroFlint™, although a knife, piece flint or glass will do in an emergency.

Whilst this technique is not nearly as economical as method one – the ‘Two Finger Strike’, it allows you to throw out a large amount of very large sparks that will ignite tinder that would normally only ignite with a direct flame, such as finely scraped birch bark or a good feather stick.

As techniques go, it has a few advantages over the ones that are described later:

  • You wear the PyroFlint™ away from the end upwards, rather than from the middle, which allows maximum operational usage of the PyroFlint™ before it needs to be replaced.
  • Both hands are anchored to the ground so you should not get a follow through, with one hand or the other, which will often as not cause the tinder/tinder bundle to fly off into a thousand different directions.
  • The ‘Thumb Pressure Strike – Anchored’ is very controllable providing both hands are securely anchored to the ground just above the tinder or tinder bundle.

This technique works well when using the ‘Standard’ iron content ferrocerium rods; see ‘A Warning about Corrosion’ at the end of this article about the difference between a ‘Standard’ and a ‘Durable’. The higher iron content ferrocerium rods, or ‘Durables,’ do not spark as readily, meaning they are more likely to produce a small pile of ferrocerium rod shavings before a spark is created, which will ignite the whole pile. This characteristic is not necessarily a bad thing, it is a feature that we can definitely use it to our advantage, see ‘Further Tips and Suggestions’ near the end of this article to see how this can be done.

Methodology: -

Hold the PyroFlint™ in your left hand, if you are right-handed, with the thumb placed about 10mm (1/2 inch) from the end of the PyroFlint™ and held straight. Anchor your left hand to the ground so that the end of the PyroFlint™ is positioned just to the side of the area of the tinder that you want the sparks to land on. You will find that the position of anchorage will vary from little finger knuckle to having all four knuckles on the ground depending on the height of the tinder or tinder bundle.

Taking the Striker in your right hand, if you are right-handed, place the Strikers cutting edge so that it is touching the PyroFlint™ about 10 to 15mm (1/2 to 3/4 inch) from its end. You will need to lift the left thumb to do this. Place the left thumb on the flat of the Striker, then anchor the right hand on the ground.

Apply firm pressure to the Striker with the right hand, forcing the Striker to bite into the PyroFlint™. Then using the left thumb only, push the Striker towards the end of the PyroFlint™, with controlled, slow and steady pressure. Your thumb is very strong when used to push something away in this manner, so this action will cause a shower of very large super white-hot sparks to rain down onto the centre of the tinder or tinder bundle. Depending on the tinder being used, the immense size and heat of the sparks can easily cause certain types of tinder to instantly ignite directly into a flame.

Using the ‘Thumb Pressure Strike – Anchored’ method almost completely eliminates accidental collisions between moving hands and stationary tinder, since both of the hands are anchored against the ground and only the thumb is causing the striking action to occur. If a collision between hand and tinder does take place, it is not always as destructive as in the techniques yet to be discussed.

A variation on the ‘Thumb Pressure Strike’ is the ‘Anchored Flint Strike’

Essentially the ‘Thumb Pressure Strike – Anchored’ is the same method as the ‘Anchored Flint Strike’. The setup is the same, with the only major variation being where the power emanates from. Instead of using the left thumb, if you are right-handed, to power the Striker forwards, you power the strike with the right wrist instead.

Since you are not using a fast downwards scraping action to build up the energy to create sparks you will need to apply more pressure into the Ferrocerium rod than you would normally need, this can very easily cause the Ferrocerium rod to snap if you are not careful.

The whole action is a lot faster than the ‘Thumb Pressure Strike’, as a consequence it should produce sparks more readily, however, with increased speed comes the increased risk of an accidental follow through, which could destroy your tinder/tinder bundle. To reduce the risk of accidental follow through, you should make sure that both of the hands are pressing firmly against the ground, or surface that you are resting on.

Method Three: - ‘ PyroFlint™ on Striker’

(The ‘Pullback Strike’ – Anchored’)

This method requires that you anchor the hand that is holding the Striker to the ground and pull away the PyroFlint™ from the Striker from the underside of the Striker. If done properly this technique will almost completely eliminate the destructive power of the accidental hand follow through.

This technique provides the tinder/tinder bundle with an excellent shower of super white-hot sparks that are almost guaranteed to ignite most natural and manmade forms of tinder. Although the ‘Pullback Strike’ – Anchored’ technique can cause a direct flame with certain types of tinder, the sparks are less easily directed and are usually created further away from the tinder or tinder bundle, which will reduce the chances of success.

Methodology: -

Hold the Striker in your right hand, if you are right-handed, with the right thumb securing the Striker to the forefinger in a firm grip. Place the right hand and about 2 or 3 inches away from the tinder/tinder bundle, and then using the fingernails and lower knuckles as the anchor; press the right hand into the ground.

The cutting edge of the Striker should be about an inch or so from the ground tinder and a couple of inches away from the tinder/tinder bundle.

Taking the PyroFlint™ in your left hand, if you rare right-handed, and place it so that the striking surface is touching the underside of the Striker (i.e. the PyroFlint™ is between the Striker and the ground). Adjust the PyroFlint™ so that the whole length of the PyroFlint™ is on the other side of the Striker, and is pointing to where you would like the sparks to go.

Whilst making sure that your right hand is securely pressing into the ground, thus ensuring that it will not move. With careful deliberation, you should quickly pull the entire length of the PyroFlint™ backwards and towards your body, make sure that you apply as much upward pressure, between the PyroFlint™ and Striker, as is necessary to produce the largest amount of sparks as possible. This action is designed to produce sparks through speed of movement rather than from slow but high pressure, since it is quite hard to apply sufficient upward pressure to the Striker and still maintain a large amount of sparks. The shower of super white-hot sparks should go in the direction that the PyroFlint™ was pointing as it was pulled back away from the Striker, so make sure that you are guiding the pullback with care and consideration.

If the sparks did not actually reach the tinder, or flew off in an obscure direction, you should move your right hand a little closer to the tinder, or adjust the angle to the tinder and try again.

This method effectively leaves behind a shower of sparks, next to the tinder, as the left-hand that is holding the PyroFlint™ is rapidly pulled away from the Striker, which will allow a much more controlled shower of sparks to be directed into the tinder.

Method Four: - ‘ PyroFlint™ on Striker’

(The 'Suspended Tinder Bundle Strike' or 'Shower Strike' or 'Drop Spark Strike')

This method of creating sparks for fire lighting, is most probably the technique that has become the most iconic, which is ironic because it is probably the most potentially destructive way of creating sparks, if the practitioner has not developed a reasonable degree of control and mastery over his, or her own bodily movements. It is not, in my opinion, the most efficient technique that I have ever used and it can certainly be the most frustrating if done incorrectly, but it is quick and requires minimal fuss.

The 'Tinder Bundle Strike' is the technique that has the most variable making it the hardest method to describe generically and accurately. I will give the basic principles of the technique and leave it up to the reader to adjust his, or her, hands as well as the tool positioning, as may be required by individual preferences and circumstances.

The 'Tinder Bundle Strike' is the technique that has the most variables. It can be implemented from just about every conceivable angle of spark direction to tinder/tinder bundle, ranging from a perpendicular position, where the hands are suspended in the air directly above the tinder/tinder bundle, to just a few degrees above the horizontal, where the hands are resting on the ground or other such object. More often than not, however, the direction of attack usually requires that the hands be suspended in the air at about 30 to 45 degrees towards the tinder/tinder bundle. Also using this method more often than not requires that the Striker be quickly struck down the whole length of the PyroFlint™, since the pressure that can be obtained and maintained between Striker and PyroFlint™ is not as great as when one or both hands are anchored to the ground. Less pressure needs to be compensated for by more speed if you want the same results.

Since more speed is being initiated, there is less control over the action, which if done incorrectly, i.e. with too much striker hand follow through action, will cause your tinder/tinder bundle to be scattered to the four winds as your hand smashes into it. As a consequence there is always the trade off between the following:

  • The skill of the operator to control the striking action and any unnecessary accidental disastrous follow through.
  • The speed of the action required to generate sufficient sparks to create an ember.
  • The force the operator applies to both the PyroFlint™ and the Striker that is required to produce the largest, and therefore the longest lived possible sparks.
  • The distance from PyroFlint™ to tinder/tinder bundle This distance will determine whether a spark will survive long enough to arrive at the tinder/tinder bundle and then have enough heat and time to create an ember.

If done correctly this technique should shower the tinder/tinder bundle with an excellent supply of lovely super white-hot sparks that will fall nicely into your tinder/tinder bundle from whatever direction they are created. This will almost guarantee that at least one ember will be formed, which can be blown into a flame.

Methodology: -

Hold the PyroFlint™ in your left hand, if you are right-handed, and point it in the direction that you want the sparks to go in, the angle of attack is left open to interpretation as is required by preference and circumstance. Either way you will most probably need to suspend the left hand in the air, whilst holding the PyroFlint™.

Take the Striker in your right hand, if you are right-handed, and place it at the top of the PyroFlint™ nearest to your left hand. With carefully controlled pressure into the PyroFlint™, quickly slide the Striker down the entire length of the PyroFlint™. This will cause a shower of super white-hot sparks to fly off toward the tinder/tinder bundle, and hopefully create an ember. A serious point of note must be made here; you should have a care that you stop the striking action when you have reached the end, or near the end, of the PyroFlint™. Do not allow the right hand to strike too much past the PyroFlint™ or this follow through will in all probability land heavily in the tinder/tinder bundle and destroy it. You have been warned my good reader; although I dare say that it probably won’t mean much to you until it actually happens!

Another disadvantage with this method is that if you use a very sharp strikers, such as a good sharp knife, sometimes the cutting edge will just bite into the Ferrocerium rod instantly stopping the forward movement of the striker and potentially causing damage to the cutting edge, by chipping it and making it blunt. To this end we would advise that you strike the PyroFlint™ with one of our ‘Super Alloy Scrapers,’ which have been specially made and precision engineered to produce the maximum number of super white-hot sparks.

A Warning about Corrosion

Corrosion is a major problem with all ferrocerium rods, which is noticed when the ferrocerium rod begins to turn into a dirty grey powder. The problem of ferrocerium rod corrosion was considered sufficiently large that a new kind of ferrocerium rod was developed that contained a larger quantity of iron in it. This type of ferrocerium rod is called a ‘Durable,’ since it is considered more “durable” than the “standard” type of ferrocerium rod, which is known as a ‘Standard.’ The extra iron in the ‘Durable’ significantly reduces the effects of corrosion and also its brittleness, however, the price that is paid for this extra protection is a slight reduction in spark production. This is not necessarily a bad thing since it does allow us to scrape off shards of ferrocerium rod into a pile and then ignite it all in one go, which is next to impossible with the ‘Standard’ type of ferrocerium rod. Beside which the sparks that are produced seem to be hotter and have a longer life span than those produced by the ‘Standard’ type of ferrocerium rod and there is only a minute reduction in spark production.

Corrosion normally occurs when a ferrocerium rod is stowed in a humid environment, such as a damp or wet container of some kind for a long period of time. There is, however, one thing that is more corrosive to a ferrocerium rod than a humid environment and that is saltwater, such as seawater or sweat. If you leave a ferrocerium rod in salty water it will completely corrode it away to nothing and faster than you would possibly believe; I can’t give you a time since I have never wanted to waste one of my ferrocerium rod just to find out, but if you are willing, I would love to know!

Based upon this we would always advise that you look after your PyroFlint™ with the same careful manner that you should look after a knife. A PyroFlint™, or any ferrocerium rod for that matter, should never stored either wet or damp in a wet or damp container, especially a wet or damp leather container, since the tannins in the leather will only exacerbate the problem of corrosion. You should never allow your PyroFlint™ to come into contact with seawater, or in fact any water, for very long periods of time unless it unavoidable.

To help overcome the problem of corrosion we would advise that you coat your PyroFlint™ with either enamel paint, nail varnish or bees wax, especially if you think that it will be taken into a corrosive environment. Protecting your PyroFlint™ in such a way will not affect the performance of the PyroFlint™, however, it will need to be reapplied after use, if it is to remain protected, to this end we would highly recommend the use of our Shark-Tinderbox Pure Yellow Beeswax. Pure Yellow Beeswax is pliable and very slightly sticky when brought up to body temperature, which will readily stick to the surface of a ferrocerium rod, it is not easily rub off and can also be easily be rubbed or smeared onto an unprotected area after use without the need to apply more beeswax. This makes it an ideal medium to protect your PyroFlint™ or in fact any ferrocerium rod.

Further Tips and Suggestions

  • As a rule of thumb, the sparks from a PyroFlint™ will go in the direction that you point your PyroFlint™ in, so make sure that it is pointing towards your tinder/tinder bundle.
  • With the ‘Durable’ style of PyroFlint™ (i.e. the Shark-Tinderbox - PyroFlint™ with the higher quantity of Iron than the ‘Standard’), you are able to scrape off shards of the PyroFlint™ surface without igniting it, if you use less pressure and do it very slowly. Once you have built up a small pile of PyroFlint™ shavings, you can ignite them all in one easy go. Just increasing the speed and pressure a little to create a small shower of sparks that will ignite your little pile of PyroFlint™ shavings into one single high intensity super, super white-hot flash. This extra massive heat output will often as not, instantly ignite even the hardest to light, or even damp tinder in one single go.
  • Most types of ferrocerium rod are quite brittle - especially the ‘Standard’ type of ferrocerium rod - and this brittleness increases as the temperature drops, so when it is extremely cold outside be aware that if your ferrocerium rod is accidentally dropped onto a hard surface there is a significant chance that it will snap into two pieces. Also, be aware that ferrocerium rods can easily be snapped into two pieces if too much pressure is applied to the middle of a rod whilst in use, especially if it is getting a little bit older and thinner. Please remember that if you do snap a ferrocerium rod in half it can still be used to generate sparks, providing it is still large enough to be held in some way.
  • As with all things practice makes perfect, so we would suggest that you gain some experience with making fires, in a safe and controlled environment, before you try it in a location that could risk your life if you should fail to create a fire or could risk the lives of others or the environment.

Placing the char on the flint Placing the tinder about 1 to 2mm from the edge of the natural flint.
Striking the flint With the tinder in place the steel can be struck against the flint.

Striking the flint Photo shows a piece of Amadou tinder fungus that has caught a spark and is nicely glowing.

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