How to use a Fire Starter (It’s Easier than You Think)

Learning how to start a fire is an essential life skill for anyone who spends time outdoors. In this step-by-step guide, we’ll show you how to use a fire starter to get your campfire going.

Whether you need a fire to cook food, boil water, keep warm, or just roast marshmallows, getting a fire started is key. You can’t always rely on matches (which can get wet) or handheld lighters that run out of fuel. But you can rely on a fire starter over and over again.

Fire starters come in a few different forms, but they all work in the same way by providing a source of heat that will ignite your kindling or tinder. So follow these simple steps, and you’ll be up and burning in no time.

We will also share some background about what a fire starter is and the available different types.

So, let’s get to it.

What Is a Fire Starter?

The fire starter discussed in this article is a flint and steel device designed to produce a spark to start fires. When you strike the flint against the steel, it creates a spark.

Fire starters come in different shapes and sizes, but they all work by providing heat to start a flame through a spark.

Different Types of Fire Starters

Flint and Steel, AKA Ferrocerium Rods (Ferro Rod for Short)

These are common mechanisms for fire starters. As described above, the friction between the flint and the ferrocerium rod creates a spark. The spark will ignite your tinder and create a fire.

Fire startersPin

The downside to Ferro rods is that you need some form of tinder to catch fire from the spark. You can use dry leaves or pine needles, or you can also purchase products that will ignite.

Sometimes you can easily find dry tinder. Sometimes you are not so lucky.

Magnesium Bar

Magnesium bars are popular because you shave off the magnesium into a small pile, which ignites from the spark. So the shavings are what catch fire when you create the spark from striking the rod with the flint.

With a magnesium bar, you have built-in flint and tinder. Once the magnesium catches fire, you build a fire from there. Magnesium burns at about 4,000°F, so getting a fire started this way is pretty straightforward.

How to Start a Fire Using a Fire Starter

Now what you have all been waiting for, using the fire starter.

Find a Good Location

Look for a good location away from trees, bushes, or other items that could easily catch on fire. Also, a spot protected from the wind is ideal, so the wind doesn’t blow out your flame or spread your fire.

Prep the Ground

To keep the fire from spreading, prepare the ground before starting. First, clear an area of any debris. Next, you can use rocks to create a border around your fire pit. This will help contain the fire and keep it from spreading.

You can also dig a hole in the ground and put your fire in the hole. This will help with the containment but is not necessary.

Gather Your Materials

Now that you have picked a good spot, it’s time to gather your materials. You need the right material to start a fire. Don’t just try lighting twigs or branches on fire. You need the right materials.

You’ll need tinder, kindling, and fuel for your fire. Tinder is anything that will easily ignite and start to burn. This can be dry leaves, grass, bark, paper, or cotton balls work well.

Kindling is anything a little bit bigger than tinder but still small enough to catch fire from the spark of your fire starter. Kindling can be sticks about the size of your thumb.

Fuel for your fire can be larger sticks and logs.

Get Ready

You need to be able to start and maintain the fire, and this can happen pretty fast. As soon as you create a spark that lights your tinder, you are off to the races.

Using a Fire Starter

If you are using a magnesium bar, take your time scraping the magnesium and make sure you have a good amount to get started. Usually, a pile about the size of a quarter is good.

You will also need tinder ready to add quickly once the shavings catch fire. You can also build up some tinder around the magnesium shavings so it all catches at about the same time.

Using a ferro rod to light a cotton ball on firePin

If you are using a regular flint and steel, cotton balls or lint work really well as tinder. Used with Vaseline (petroleum jelly), this is a great way to start a fire burning so you can add other materials, like leaves, pine needles, small twigs, etc., and grow the fire.

A cotton ball with Vaseline can burn for several minutes, giving you more time to build up the fire.

Keep the Fire Going

Once your tinder catches fire, it’s time to start feeding the fire larger material to grow the fire. You can add twigs, pine cones, small branches, etc. Work your way from smaller materials to larger pieces of wood.

Put Your Fire Out

When you are done with your fire, it’s time to put it out. It’s best to use water to soak the fire until it’s completely extinguished and cold.

You can use a camping shovel to stir up the coals, and make sure you keep adding water and stirring up the coals until the fire is completely out.

I can’t tell you how often I thought my fire was out, only to realize it was still hot underneath.

Beginner Tips

Mastering the art of igniting a campfire is essential for creating warmth, cooking meals, and enhancing the atmosphere of your outdoor adventures. While starting a fire may seem daunting to beginners, fear not!

Next, we will provide essential tips and tricks to help you become a fire-starting maestro using a fire starter.


If you have never used a fire starter, practice at home (outside) before you head out camping. Try using the fire starter on a cotton ball to get the hang of it. Or try gathering the lint from a lint filter on a dryer. That stuff lights easily.

Don’t get discouraged. Practice makes perfect. If you don’t start a fire on your first try, keep trying, and it will work out for you.

Get the Coating Off

Ferro rods have a black coating to keep the fire steel from rusting. You need to scrape this off first to get a spark. Many people just starting out give up too early and say it doesn’t work. Once you scrape off the coating, it will work much better.

Get One With a Good Handle

Buy a fire starter that has a good solid handle. This will give you a good grip and make it easier to use.

Final Tips

When using the flint and the rod, go slow, and press hard, not fast and quick. This will create more sparks in a controlled fashion.

Finally, aim the rod at whatever you are trying to light (tinder), not just straight in front of you. This will give the sparks more to work with and a better chance of lighting your fire starter material on fire.

Advantages of Using a Fire Starter

Fire starters have a distinct advantage: they work in wet conditions, whereas matches might get wet. This is because you can dry the fire steel off and use it when wet.


A fire starter is an excellent tool if you spend time camping or are an outdoor enthusiast. With some practice, you can start your fire easily and have a campfire’s warmth and comfort. 

With the tips in this article, you can build up an impressive campfire without ever striking a match. If you have any questions about the process of using a magnesium bar, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.