Q:

The Best Fire Starters: Light My Fire Swedish FireKnife

What should I bring as an emergency fire starter on my next camping trip?

Swedish FireKnife.     Photo: Bob Parks

A:The latest version of the Swedish FireSteel is part of a new multi-purpose tool called the Swedish FireKnife from design company Light My Fire, based in Malmö, Sweden. It’s sold in the United States by Industrial Revolution. The 3.3-ounce knife, which has a 3.5-inch blade and magnesium fire-starting rod cleverly embedded in the handle, is the result of an incredible pool of Scandinavian talent. (To put it in context, it’s as if a Swedish supergroup consisting of Abba, Roxette, and Ace of Base suddenly put out a record.)

Light My Fire, which makes some of the most functional and attractive adventure gear around, provided the overall design, as well as the Swedish FireSteel device buried in the handle. The knife itself was designed by Mora, a highly-respected Swedish hunting and fishing cutlery maker for over 100 years. The blade’s stainless steel comes from Sandvik, a Swedish forger of designer steel. (A neat overview of the steelmaking process and awesome electron microscope images can be found here.)

It was raining hard, and the only dry kindling I could find was the dead branches under a large white pine. I cut the bark off to find dry wood underneath and made shavings to use as tinder. The knife blade is incredibly sharp out of the box, and it’s shaped to a nice point—perfect for gutting a small trout or digging out splinters. Despite an afternoon of whittling, the blade seemed as sharp as ever. The holster did feel cheap and plasticy, but it functioned well. I like that when you put this knife in your belt, it clicks home to let you know it’s secure.

I set up in the dry interior of a hollow tree trunk, sheltered from the wind, and occupied by a small rodent. Nevertheless, my attempt to ignite dry wood shavings failed. The back of the FireKnife’s blade is ground perfectly square in order to bite into the magnesium alloy rod. A few tentative strikes with the back of the blade resulted in dainty sparks that bounced off the shavings.

After about an hour, I decided to change tack. I found some dry birch bark, and, pulling it off, discovered tiny curls of very fine paper, the woody equivalent of pashmina under a Himalayan goat’s chin. It was these delicate curls that eventually caught fire inside the hollow tree.

The other thing I found was that you’ve really got to muscle the FireSteel if you want to start anything in the pouring rain. Small sparks are good enough to fire up your average MSR stove. To get big sparks, you have to put your strength into it, scraping enough magnesium to send a miniature roman candle into your shavings. At last, success!

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