Some Magnesium Fire Starters don’t work

I have lit most of my fires over the last 28 years with a magnesium fire starter bar, the same one, never a problem. Hot, cold, damp, dry, calm or storm, always reliable. So naturally a couple years ago as I was outfitting my kids with survival kits, I put a magnesium bar in them. I didn’t give it too much thought, I did not see the same brand as I had been using, but figured no problem, magnesium shavings will catch fire with a spark, what could go wrong? Well I found out. As my kids started messing around with the kits and the Magnesium Fire Starters, I got calls about how they couldn’t get them to work very well. They knew how easily I had always started a fire with mine over the years, and felt maybe there was something they were doing wrong. So I “coached” them, still something was wrong. I was at my son’s place one day and tried with his Magnesium Fire Starter, I was having trouble, it was then that I discovered something was wrong. These Magnesium bars were not the same as I was used to. To say the least I was embarrassed to have given these to my kids for “survival” and they were practically worthless.

I did some testing and some researchdoan-frestarter-milpack

My Magnesium Fire Starter that I had used for over 28 years without any problem was made by Doan Manufacturing, made in USA, and was used for decades by the US military. The ones I sent my kids were some generic name, made in China. So I starting checking around, and have bought every brand I can find that is similar in design to the Doan. The Doan became my standard of reference, since I was so familiar with it and it worked so well.

The first thing I did was to use all of them and note the pros and cons of each. There are two issues that seem to be of concern, I mean all there is to this thing is a Magnesium Bar and glued on one edge of that, a Striker Rod, so not a lot of things to go wrong. Problem 1: It became obvious that all magnesium bars are not even made out of the same material. When you think Magnesium Bar you naturally think of a bar of Magnesium, logical right? I’m not sure at this time the content of the bars, as I have not secured someone to analyze them metallurgically, but I can and have analyzed them “real world” and can tell you what works and what doesn’t. Most of the no name and Chinese bars must have filler metals in them along with magnesium, so they can be called magnesium fire starters. Well maybe the the magnesium part, the fire starter part is not true on many of the imports. Problem 2: Many of the import mag bars loose their spark rods and also I saw some problems with the Coghlan’s in this way as well. In looking at them it appears there is not sufficient glue to hold it all together.

5400 degrees as a white flash from the magnesium shavings

5400 degrees as a white flash from the magnesium shavings

I made a jig a device to hold the mag bars and a scraper sled with a carbide blade, a large metal disk that rides on the back of the sled to assure the same pressure when scraping shavings from each mag bar. All of the name brand bars did pretty well in this test, while the generic Chinese bars produced hardly any shavings.

The next test was testing the ability to light up and flame. All the mag bars except the generic Chinese lit up pretty easily, the Doan Mfg bar seemed to glow brighter longer. The Chinese bars would not light at all, I even showered sparks for 15 to 20 seconds with no lighting of the shavings. On a final test I used a butane lighter to try to light the shavings and no luck with the Chinese, while the others lit right up within a second or two.

I tested quite a few Chinese mag bars, mostly generic, no real name, also Coleman, Coghlans, and Doan. If a person owned any but the generic Chinese, they would be safe. I say generic Chinese because Coleman has their mag bars made in China and they work fine. I like to stick to the Doan because that’s who they are, that’s what they make. Theirs have always been the same always worked and been reliable. Some of the name brands have changed manufacturers over the years, so even though a Coleman might be OK now, they may change down the road.

Lesson to learn

You should always test everything in your survival gear, to make sure it works the way you want it to. It would be tragic to get off somewhere in the winter and have to try to start a fire with a mag stick that doesn’t work. I have changed my kits many times over the years due to what I have learned from testing. I spent a lot of hours doing testing on magnesium fire starters and had to pare all of it down to a little over 8 minutes of video, you can watch it here: Magnesium Fire Starter Fraud video

Our FireStarter Kits that we sell on our website use the Doan magnesium bar exclusively.

Until next time Simplifying Survival with Perry Peacock

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One Response to Magnesium Fire Starters: Caution some don’t work

  1. Scott Shook says:


    Just a comment, the Doan Fire Starter is a magnesium extrusion we have been producing for them for over 30 years. Although we as a company name have changed we still produce the same extrusion for them on the same extrusion equipment here in North America.

    You are correct on the alloy and its composition. We have produced for other companies extruded magnesium in cheaper, softer alloys and they are not as good.

    Best regards,
    Scott Shook

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