Todd’s Tips: Fire Striker
Everything is a compromise when it comes to creating outdoor gear. There are always space limitations driven by pack size or the sizes of various vehicles. Lighter things are often less durable, unless you use really expensive materials. Larger objects can sometimes function better, depending on the task. Smaller items can be easier to carry, but can lack that desired functionality.
When I started VSSL, I ran a poll on a several camping, bushcraft and outdoor forums about the fire-starting method we should include in our flagship Camp Supplies. The overwhelming majority of votes came in for matches, so that’s what we included. This is one of TWO product compromises I wasn’t happy with (I’ll tell you about the other one later). But I had never ran an outdoor company, so I decided to give the people what they wanted, despite the nagging feeling that they were wrong. Well, not necessarily wrong, but maybe just looking for the path of least resistance. What I knew was RIGHT was a ferro (ferrocerium) rod and a striker. So over the last few years, I’ve been working at creating the world’s best fire striker.
I fully realize that not everyone is familiar with starting a fire with a rod and striker (or fire steel for some people). So I wanted to make a kit that was both very functional and informative. We include not only highly desirable, easy to light tinder, but also some basic instructions to get you started. I’m confident that with only a bit of practice, that nearly anyone can get a fire going with our new Fire Striker.
But why a ferro rod / striker? Because once you know how to use them, they can literally light thousands of fires. Not only that, it doesn’t matter if the striker gets wet, it will still create sparks. It is also incredibly durable. Matches can easily break, or absorb moisture, lighters can crack or run out of fuel. Many other methods require more extensive training and practise. You will have a hard time finding any outdoor expert, survivalist or someone trained in bushcraft that wouldn’t recommend learning how to use a ferro rod and striker as part of your skill set.
Several years ago, I bought some ceramic blades. I thought that these might be an easier alternative to metal blades that can be difficult travelling through airport security. These are still the small (approved) blade size, but don’t set off metal detectors. While testing a bunch of ferro rods, I tried striking with one of these ceramic blades. The results were INCREDIBLE. Compared to steel, the ceramic produced far greater spark volume. Up until this time, I was struggling to get enough spark volume with the size limitations of a steel striker and a rod small enough to fit into one of our VSSL tins. It was one of those “eureka” moments.
That turned out to be the easy part! The reason it’s taken me a few years to go from “eureka” to a getting a product in your hands is because sourcing all the components, particularly a ceramic blade manufacturing partner wasn’t easy. We weren’t asking to buy something they already make, but, like nearly all our VSSL components, we were asking them to create a very unique blade/striker shape, completely custom for us. We then take this unique shaped ceramic blade and send it to our factory that encases it in metal zinc alloy cast housing, making it incredibly durable. And our ferro rods are also completely custom. They come from another factory. This factory attaches a rot resistant double braided polyester (Dacron) lanyard, that comes from yet another supplier. To get this tin in your hands requires 7 different and custom components and suppliers. And with the exception of the fire-starting tabs, all these parts are manufactured to our specifications, exclusively for us.
All these components then arrive at our warehouse in Abbotsford, BC where our assembly crew packs the units together with our instructions and fire-starting tabs into one of our tins.
I’m extremely proud to be bringing this “no compromise” solution to our loyal VSSL customers. I’ve learned a lot about manufacturing outdoor products over the last several years, and we now have a very well-defined set of “DESIGN PRINCIPLES” that will ensure we’re making the best products, even if I get hit by a truck, or eaten by a bear. Part of these design principles are about creating what we know is right, even if it isn’t easy.