Starting fire with magnesium

Posted by: chaz

Starting fire with magnesium - 09/03/08 07:46 AM

A neighbor friend of mine came over last night and gave me a big bag of magnesium shavings after machining a VW block. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" /> I know the stuff will burn but haven't experimented with it yet. I don't know yet if you can start fire with it or if it needs a little help first. He did tell me that if you build a fire and toss the whole engine block into the fire it will burn extreamly hot. So hot you can't get within several feet of it. I plan to take a small amount to experiment with it today. Anybody have experience or know about using magnesium? I do have a mag fire striker that I carry as a backup to a bic lighter and use wax and pulp to make fire starters but thought this might be good for wet or damp wood? <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/confused.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Dryer

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 09/03/08 08:21 AM

Starting fires with things like sparker rods and/or magnesium is only slightly more productive than a bow/bit.....especially if you need a fire NOW. Compared to the lowly match or lighter, the stuff just can't compete. It is, however, fun to play with. You will need something hotter than a match to light magnesium, and thats were you'll want something like a Swedish Fire Steel...(which i only use to light camp stoves, if car camping.)
A kitchen match or butane lighter, and a wax 'fire bunny' (my term <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />) will burn for 5+ minutes and light just about anything, wet or dry. Magnesium goes up like a flash of slow gunpowder...and blows away in the wind.
Posted by: Jimshaw

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 09/03/08 12:48 PM

if its fine enough it can be lit with a single spark. Just use tiny bits to experiment. The secret to starting a camp fire with magnesium is to contain the magnesium flakes in something, like a dried leaf, such that you can set your fire striker on the leaf and then strike your knife down against it throwing sparks on the Magnesium. It burns at a very high temp, but it gives off a limited amount on heat so you must use a tinder so fine that it catches immediately from the magnesium fire. Consider the Mg to be like a match head. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />
Jim <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: chaz

Re: Starting fire with magnesium update.. - 09/03/08 03:06 PM

I took a small pinch and put it on the garage floor and lit with a small stick match.
The shavings lit instantly and burned white hot. Although it burned fairly fast it did not flash like gunpowder. These are similar to shavings like you would get when drilling metal. I think a small amount under tinder with larger sticks over that would start a decent fire in damp conditions. It's raining here now so that will be my next experiment. I may make some wax firestarters with paper and mag shavings and test for results. I do have a fire steel for backup but haven't used it in the woods for starting fire. Until the Bic dies it stays in my first aid kit. BTW has anyone ever lit a ping pong ball? They go up like gasoline.
Posted by: phat

Re: Starting fire with magnesium update.. - 09/03/08 03:18 PM

I would think of it more as an igniter, like a match, than a firestarter. I've used the magnesium block with the shaver and sparker to light a fire, but always by shaving the magnesium into a tinder
like tissue paper or some kind of tinder to catch the burning magnesium and hold the fire. Of course
I ended up doing it with cattails and dryer lint, and then realized I didn't really need the magnesium - so I don't bother with such things <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: Folkalist

Re: Starting fire with magnesium update.. - 09/03/08 03:32 PM

The magnesium is pretty cool. My sister (dear God, this girl loves fire) knows a dozen or more ways to start a fire. I dutifully learned several methods and then made some cottonball and vaseline firestarters. Hey, it's my favorite method.
Posted by: chaz

Re: Starting fire with magnesium update.. - 09/03/08 03:34 PM

Makes sense. It still may be useful stuff to have. Maybe save having to shave the mag since it's allready shaved but bulky. Looks like I have a little to much time on my hands. So I guess I could practice making fire in the wet.
Posted by: Dryer

Re: Starting fire with magnesium update.. - 09/03/08 03:39 PM

dryer lint

He said 'dryer'. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: phat

Re: Starting fire with magnesium update.. - 09/03/08 03:52 PM

Prompting bizzare thoughts about a firesteel sparked into a belly button... Dryer lint... ok. let's just not go there at all <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: chaz

Re: Starting fire with magnesium update.. - 09/03/08 03:52 PM

You can pick that stuff out of your belly button. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: chaz

Re: Starting fire with magnesium update.. - 09/03/08 03:54 PM

To late...
Posted by: ajherman

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 09/03/08 08:58 PM

this is what several hundred lbs of mg looks like when its on fire. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
we lit it off with several hundred lbs of thermite and a garden gnome. <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/cool.gif" alt="" />

there is a pic of the set up and some more of the light emitted by the reaction.
Posted by: chaz

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 09/04/08 07:07 AM

Looks like your about 200 ft from the fire. I'll bet you can still feel the heat from where your standing in the photo. Once the stuff gets going it generates plenty of heat. If one is carefull and doesn't use a large quantity, I think it will help dry wet wood? <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: longhair29

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - Facts - 09/06/08 09:25 PM

Some facts about Magnesium

Magnesium burns at 5,400 degree F. It'll burn clear down to your bones.

Magnesium is still used in weapons manufacturing such as HEAT rounds. High Explosive Anti Tank shells upon detonation the core of the shell burns through the armor plate spewing melted magnesium inside the vehicle. Nasty way to die.

Magnesium burns SUPER fast, i.e., it is not long lasting compared to a high quality match.

I worked at a sweltering plant in Central California at that time it was just one of a handful of plants in America that produced Magesium and Aluminum Powder. The Magnesium powder was stored in 55-gallon barrels, of which there were thousands in a warehouse over a football field long, and the Aluminum powder is used in rocket fuel. We were told that if our plant ever blew up it would level one forth of my home city which at that time had a population of 100,000+.

A by-product of the process in manufacturing Magnesium powder was called Draco powder which was incrediably votatile = just blowing on this stuff it would explode. The company did not have a secure plan to dispose of it properly nor safely. There was a mowed down, open field on company grounds where 10-Lb plastic bags of this Draco powder would be just left in the open. Myself and another employee carried a bag of this *^#*& out to that field when the rest of the plant was on temporary shutdown and everyone was pulled back to the farthest point of the property. We set this bag down on the ground and while walking back we got about 15-feet away, hearing a sound of POOF!

The bag somehow tore open, my production Foreman yelled to us at the top of his lungs RUN, RUN, RUN, RUN, we booked running literally for our lives, hardhats flying, we got about 80-yards away when the ground shook violently like we were experiencing a serious earthquake and then we saw a mushroom cloud go a few hundred feet in the air. It was unbelieveable just how close I had come to being blown up and killed.

Did I mention I made $4.75 an hour?

FYI - The best Fire Starters I've used are home made.

Get a dry ex. cardboard egg carton, cutting it into twelve individual sockets. Over your kitchen stove on low heat take a 16-ounce empty metal can (ex Vegetable can or whatever) and slowly melt wax in it until the wax is totally liqued. Then using metal tongs dip each egg carton socket into the wax, making sure each one gets totally submerged in the wax.

Carefully place each socket away from the stove on say some sheets of paper towels to let dry. When they are cool and dry toss 4 to 6 each in a one liter Ziplock bag with a mini Bic lighter. Each Fire Starter socket will burn at least 5-minutes straight by itself when lit. The reason you submerge them in melted wax is it makes each totally waterproof and burnable.

For an eXtra boost of Fire you can dip a cotton ball in Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline) and insert one of these into each of your egg carton sockets. I have some of both, the latter each socket with Vaseline will burn over 15-minutes straight even in a snowbank!

In the bottom of each of my Packs, I have a Ziplock Fire Starter kit for just in case.
Posted by: Folkalist

Cotton Balls and Vaseline - 09/07/08 05:24 AM

I like to use the cottonballs saturated in petroleum jelly without anything else. They are super lightweight, take up very little pack space, and the bit of vaseline that gets on my hands when I use them makes up for the dry skin I get from alcohol santizers. And boy do they burn! <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/shocked.gif" alt="" />
I don't like eggs, so I seldom have egg cartons to 'donate to the cause.'
Posted by: chaz

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - Facts - 09/07/08 06:18 AM

Is the Draco powder only magnesium? Should I save the mag shavings for the 4th of july? The friend that gave me the stuff usually sweeps it up and tosses it in the dumpster. What about putting some shaving (a very small amount) in the cotton ball then putting it in the waxed egg carton? Since it burns so hot it may help dry wood. But would it burn up to fast?
Posted by: whitneegoode

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 10/06/10 04:37 PM

Hi! I take sagebrush timber and make a nest-like thing. I shave the magnesium in the middle of my nest so I have a small pile. Throw some sparks on it and carefully give it some oxygen and turn it over. Fire.
Posted by: james__12345

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 10/06/10 06:58 PM

My grandmas nephew was severely burned and nearly died in an accident involving grinding under a VW and the mag from the engine burning him.

As far as the vasiline cotton ball with mag goes, thats exactly what I do. I keep the vasiline cotton balls in a film canister, and when ready to use them I shave some mag off my block, and spark it with the sparker on the other side of the block. One night we had got a HUGE rain the day before, the ground was even still a little damp. I still got a fire going no problem with that method. Took some small drier limbs from the underside of a cedar tree and that was all it took to get it going.
Posted by: finallyME

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 10/07/10 01:49 PM

Apparently not all mag blocks are created equal.

mag fire starter fraud
Posted by: Barefoot Friar

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 10/11/10 12:09 AM

Oh, so that explains it. I thought either something was wrong, or else I was just stupid, because I haven't been able to scrape anything off my bar, or get a decent spark, or get what few scrapings I did get to ignite.

That being said, I think I'll get out the cotton balls and petroleum jelly.
Posted by: Frankendude

Re: Cotton Balls and Vaseline - 10/11/10 11:28 AM

I've been told to make sure the cotton balls are really cotton and not a synthetic substitute.
Posted by: Spock

Re: Cotton Balls and Vaseline - 10/11/10 04:53 PM

Some tricks with cotton balls: Like Frankendude says, make sure they are cotton; don't oversaturate - just get coat palms and rub a few cotton balls vigorously; store in water tight container like a mini-ziploc - cotton can still absorb water; Vaselined cotton lights with insignificant sparks. Try lighting them with 'found' and available spark sources - the things you will really have when the chips are down: flashlight battery, dead butane or fluid lighter (and remember, the cotton fill from a dead Zippo will light from the lighter's sparks), rocks on back of pocket knife (only carbon steel works here), pyrite on any hard surface.

One cotton ball will burn for about 30 seconds plenty hot to start wet kindling.
Posted by: Spock

Re: Cotton Balls and Vaseline - 10/11/10 04:55 PM

Oh, yeah, about magnesium... Why?
It's a heavy lump of metal that may or may not work as advertised. Don't bet your life on it when other things are more reliable.
Posted by: Dryer

Re: Cotton Balls and Vaseline - 10/11/10 06:28 PM

Oh, yeah, about magnesium... Why?

Can't agree more, Spock. There are a zillion other things that are easier to use. In fact, "a match" is a great choice. A fire steel works great on cotton balls and stoves, but not much else. I did have a bic butane fail on me last year but a match came to the rescue.
My fire starter test...try scraping/lighting magnesium when its cold/windy/wet and see how much fun that is. grin
Posted by: RobJT

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 11/10/10 12:35 PM

Unless you have a bag of magnesium shavings handy, I just don't think it's all that practical except as a backup to your backup fire starting tools.

I just bought a Soto pocket torch...very cool! ...a little heavy looking at the big picture, but pretty amazing how much heat it puts out from a disposable lighter!
Posted by: brady

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 02/13/11 10:31 PM

One option for starting a fire is charring something like an old shirt or lint. Get a can, like an altoids can or pint size paint can, and put two small holes in it. Put what ever you are going to char inside, can be any organic material, seal it (so the holes are the only openings) and place it on a fire. Fumes will start to come out of the holes, the fumes will burn, once you can't see the fumes anymore plug the holes with small sticks and remove from the fire. The idea is you are "burning" the material without oxygen so the flammable material remains.
After doing this you can use flint and steel to light it very easily. it won't have a flame but will burn very hot and only get hotter with air flow, and is lighter than magnesium.

Also you can just use the igniter on a bic lighter to light the charred material. Yes you could just use the fuel from the lighter, but that eventually runs out. Charred cloth could be a backup.
Posted by: TomD

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 02/14/11 03:26 AM

Originally Posted By finallyME
Apparently not all mag blocks are created equal.

mag fire starter fraud

I saw this a while back-there are a lot of firestarter videos on YouTube. Based on one of them, I bought a "Sparkie Fire Starter" at REI. It is a smaller version of the Blastmatch. There are many others that probably work as well or better. Haven't used mine to start a fire, but tested it and it does throw a shower of sparks, just as advertised. I also have some Stormproof Matches from REI that are "strike anywhere" miniature sparklers that won't go out until the flammable coating on the match is fully consumed; even snow doesn't stop them from burning once they are lit. These are not your average waterproof match. They are not cheap, but I've used them winter camping and always carry a box with me in addition to a Bic lighter.
Posted by: Paulo

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 02/14/11 08:07 AM

While there are easier ways, it is always good to have a backup.

About the comments of "it might not work", why not try it out before you go?. Any gear that you plan on using should be tested. Who would go out into the woods planning on starting a fire without knowing the basics of how to make a fire? Who would go out on a road trip without having learned to drive a vehicle?

One problem with firesteels is for people who don't know how to use them, or are expecting the magnesium to do all the work.

cotton balls with vaseline are a good last minute method, but I would rather teach and learn primitive methods for emergency use for those "just in case" situations.

I've had a magnesium stick with flint for 20 years and I'm only now really exploring how to use it correctly. Is it possible to get a fake or poor quality one? Yes, just like it is possible to get fake or poor quality other gear (I'm thinking of the Petzl Gear thread). So just be careful. I rarely use the magnesium side of it. It often just isn't necessary. The magnesium is for wet weather where it is harder to find dry tinder that takes a spark.

Oh and don't throw out your old lighters, they still can be used when they run out of fuel. They have a ferrocerium rod in them.
Check out this video. It shows that starting a fire with simple cotton balls (can be done with other tinder) can be raelly easy.

Posted by: CamperMom

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 02/14/11 05:26 PM

Originally Posted By Paulo
About the comments of "it might not work", why not try it out before you go?

I totally agree with trying gear at or close to home. Even tossing your bear line. I thought that using my stake sack with a rock inside would be good for getting my line over a tree limb. Instead, it wrapped around a nearby small branch and got stuck. I have plenty of "lessons learned" this way. At least you are hearing it here, not from a news story following a catastrophe.

Posted by: Alex Frost

Re: Starting fire with magnesium - 03/06/11 06:06 PM

I went through my pyro phase like any other good boy, messing around with magnesium, thermite, and all the other goodies. But cotton balls with vaseline and a good ol' match or lighter work the best. If you have proper kindling you don't even need the cotton ball.