It started off pretty good. You drove 3 hours north of the Abitibi Canyon in Ontario. You are on the Wetum Ice Road which is pretty soft because of the recent brief warm up. You find the turnoff an hour south of Moose Factory. You are going to meet a couple of MNR (Ministry of Natural Resources) workers to chat about a couple of packs of competing Timber Wolves. You park the Jeep, grab your day pack, clip into your skis and head out to the outpost, 4 miles from your Jeep. You arrive at the outpost to discover the MNR workers have left. You turn around just as the temperatures start dropping into a forecasted two week deep freeze. The sun is setting.
Where did those guys go? You wonder as you ski back to the parking area. Why aren’t they here? You curse because you left you sat phone at basecamp and can’t call to find out what happened. Oh well, it is only a few hours back to camp. You get back to your Jeep, stow the day pack and skis and hop in. You insert the key into the ignition, turn it – nothing. Try again . . . nothing. You raise the hood only to discover, your battery is gone.
Dang it! Over the next hour you half-heartedly explore for any sign and try to create solution as it turns dark. You can see the tracks of the thieves as they entered and exited the parking area. The jackasses took your battery, you curse. . . not cool. You’re an hour’s drive from the nearest house, no way to communicate and it is about to drop a few dozen degrees below zero.
Time for a fire. You pull out your matches. Just as you open the container you remember that they got soaked last time you used them. The matches have turned into naked wooden picks with red clumpy powder staining everything. They won’t work. No problem – you plan for this. So, you pull out plan B – a magnesium fire starter and set about carving some magnesium into your tinder. You’ll have a fire in no time.
What you don’t know, is that your magnesium fire starter was manufactured with the intent that you would never actually use it. The manufacturer produced (in reality) a “display model” and it won’t actually work. That is “if” you bought it like millions of other American’s do – at Walmart or other big box store. You opted for the cheap option and easy to find option. The military-issue model was more expensive and just hard to find.
The majority of these fire starters are manufactured in another country. That country has some pretty low manufacturing and supply standards. To put it simply, they don’t care if it works. They don’t test them, they most likely don’t know how to use them. They found a two-step process of bonding magnesium scrap into a block and gluing a cheap fire rod to it. Lots of profit for a cheap little $4 magnesium fire starter. Without getting into details, it seems the magnesium metal in a bar from China isn’t made through the same process as an American Made “Doan” bar. This apparently has consequences if, let’s say, you are trusting your life to the metals ability to actually start a fire.
In 1973, the co-founder of the Doan Machinery and Equipment Company, Sol Levenson noted in his metal shop that magnesium shavings readily ignited. Due to this characteristic, he always had to vacuum the savings up. He believed that a tool could be developed. By 1980 a patent was filed and the magnesium fire starter was soon used by the military due to its reliability, light weight, high burning temperature (5,400 degrees F), and ability to ignite in wet conditions.
Today, the Doan Machinery and Equipment Company still sells a large number of them. However, imitators have begun manufacturing blocks that look like the original, but do not meet the same patent standards of the original product.
The Magnesium fire starter is an excellent fire starting method with many advantages. But, be careful which one you buy.
To illustrate the point, take a look at this video produced by “Wilderness Innovations”.
We might recommend that you consider purchasing the product of the company that holds the patent, the Doan Machinery and Equipment Company of Ohio. They are only a couple of bucks more.
Back to you and your deteriorating situation in the wilderness.
Noting that the magnesium does not ignite, you return to your vehicle for other back ups stashed in various places. You grab a stick of gum and pull a AA battery to start your fire using the technique in the video below.