Fire Log #5: Testing the Armageddon Option

The first ferro rod I ever bought was the GobSpark Armageddon with an attached magnesium rod. At the time I was just starting to think about the need to have something that I could start fires with beyond the lighters I had always used. My goal was to have a fire starting system that could…..

1. Be stored in rough conditions without any care to taken to avoid breaking it or to maintain it.
2. Be used to start fires by even an amateur who had little experience starting fires.
3. Be used to reliably start a fire even in awful conditions.

The fact that it was a Ferro rod with a hard plastic case is what I pinned my hopes of meeting the criteria number #1 on and I can say I have carried it many places without it taking the least damage. So that part worked at least.

But for goals number #2 and #3 I was relying on the attached magnesium rod to magically make everything work. I knew even when I bought this thing (this was before I had ever used a Ferro rod myself) that a Ferro rod can take some skill to use effectively and I knew that they had trouble if you did not have good tinder or were trying to use them in rough conditions. But I also knew that if you made shavings of magnesium and then ignited them, they burned really hot. It was this that I was relying on to make it useable even for those with little skill in bad conditions.

In theory this sounds good. But I never tested it. So for this fire starting test I decided to see how it would work.

Conditions: Temp was 42 degrees and sunny but everything was snow covered as the picture below shows. Underneath the snow the ground was very wet from previous rain and the melting snow.

Test: Start a fire with just the Gobspark Armageddon and the Leatherman Signal.

I have already described the reasoning behind why I have a Gobspark Armageddon. Mine is the same as the one in this two minute video except mine came with a magnesium rod on the orange paracord.

The Leatherman Signal I bought because a course I took had a multi-tool with an awl on the required packing list (I don’t know why since we did not use an awl for anything course related). Since my normal multi-tool does not have an awl, I bought the Signal for use on the course since it was in “made” for people doing outside stuff. Outside of being blue instead of black, mine is exactly the same as the two minute video below.

In my opinion they ruined the Signal by making half of the knife blade serrated. Somehow I missed that fact when I ordered it as I did not do any research (How can you go wrong with a Leatherman?). The main reason I used the Signal for this test is that I thought I might have to try to do some batoning with it to get a fire going given the conditions. As it is generally considered a bad idea to baton with anything less than a high quality fixed blade knife, I did not want to try this with a Leatherman that I actually liked. I thought I might get away with it as I saw Clay Hayes baton with his Leatherman but I did not want to risk my good Leatherman trying.

Narrative for the Test:

I started the clock as soon as I got to the site that I was going to build a fire at but a lot of time on the clock was spent fooling around with the Signal.

The main time consuming thing that I did with the Signal is cut down a standing dead tree I estimate was about 4” in diameter and it was too strong for me to break down using brute force. I did not really need to do this to start a fire as there were plenty of evergreens with dead branches around. But I wanted to see if the saw on the Signal was any good for getting dry fire wood big enough to actually sustain when everything was covered in snow. It did work, but it felt like a lot of effort and the stupid carbineer clip on the end of the Signal does not make for a good handle when you are doing sustained sawing work with it.

I also used it to cut a short stubby broken 4” branch off another tree. It was long dead and I figured it would be really dry and I thought it might have some fat wood at the base (the wood was reddish in color at the base but I don’t think there was enough it to count as fatwood). My thought was that I might baton it and create some fine shavings to start a fire with but I found trying to baton it with the Signal’s small little blade frustrating. Once I got the blade buried in the wood, there was not enough left sticking out to effectively hit. So I gave up on that idea.

Aside from fooling around with the Signal, I focused on trying to get a good tinder bundle going. My main options in the area were weeds sticking above the snow with little white seed balls (not sure what they were) and what I think was a paper birch (it was white and had natural peeling bark all over it). I knew the birch would work so I wanted to see if I could get a bundle of the weeds to light without taking the easy way out and using the birch.

To help that process on, I stuck a couple of handfuls of weed seed heads wadded up in my pocket so that they could be dried out by my body heat as I know from even my limited experience that grasses and weeds are never as dry as you think they should be. But from what I have been told you need a couple of hours for body heat to work and the total time this test took was about an hour so I don’t think that helped much.

After I got my tinder bundle of weeds ready, gathered a bunch of dead evergreen branches and my one small dead evergreen tree, I tried to start my fire. After a number of unsuccessful strikes on my weed tinder bundle, I gave up and went over to the birch tree and got a couple of handfuls of birch bark peels in my hat. Even with them, a couple of strikes did not light the fire like it was supposed to.

I stopped for a moment to figure out what was wrong and then I realized that I was using very bad technique in using my ferro rod. Both my strike hand and my hand that was holding the ferro rod were just free floating in the air. I get away with doing this all the time when using the ferro road on things like cotton balls but it is not ideal. After I switch to bracing the striker on the side of my leg and pulling the ferro rod like I was taught it only took two strikes to light it. See picture below for the fire as it was working through a bunch of kindling.

Total Time For The First Fire: 62 minutes

Second Fire With Out Birch bark But Same Tools Otherwise:

Since I got the birch to light so quickly as soon as I went to proper technique, I started to wonder if I could have got my weed buddle to light without birch bark if I had used proper form. Now I did not start the timer for this second fire and I did not get a lot of wood. I mostly focused on getting some more tinder so I could try another weed bundle.

As I had grabbed all the easy stuff locally to make the first bundle, I had to go up trail to find more. There I found one loan milkweed plat with some mostly empty seed pods (one of the pods had few seeds left in it). I could not resist grabbing them add to my buddle as I knew they would make it go a lot easier.

Even with the milkweed seed pods (if they had seeds still in them it would have been a lot easier) and better technique I still had more trouble lighting this buddle then I did with the birch bark. I got one of the milkweed pods to light up but I stupidly blew it out trying to encourage it. It was a rookie mistake and I am pretty sure if I had let it go on its own it would have been fine but I blew too hard for it to handle.

After that failure, I started to use the magnesium rod but I quickly discovered that was not going work well unless I found rock to collect the shavings. Trying to produce them free hand over a tinder bundle just caused them to fly everywhere and not collect in a useful amount. But as I was feeling lazy and did not want to go looking for a way to collect the magnesium shavings, I decided to give the bundle one more shot at lighting.

I had one unburned milkweed pod left in my bundle. A couple of strikes on that and the bundle lit up. This time I let it take its time and soon as the bulk of the tinder bundle caught, I started putting kindling on and I had a fire that could sustain as you can see below.

That was two fires with natural tinder although both of them felt a little like cheating since I used very easy to use source of natural tinder like birch bark and milkweed pods. But if I think back, there was a time when I did not know that milkweed pods and birch bark are so easy they are like “cheating” to start a fire even in less than ideal conditions. So I guess I have learned something along the way.

A big contributor to what little knowledge I have of making fires in bad conditions comes from Lonnie from Far North Bushcraft and Survival. He is the real deal if you want to learn from a guy who does not have a lot of money and who just does this stuff as part of living and not a career. Below is a lecture from him that helped me look at Ferro Rods in a more realistic light long before I tired them out in bad conditions myself (it is sad that he stopped making new videos but all his previous work is still up).

Lessons Learned:

1. The Leatherman Signal can work. There are even videos out there of people starting a one stick fire in wet conditions with just a Signal. But when I used the Signal, I found myself wishing I had a “real” Leatherman and not one that had the stupid clip and half and half blade. If I was going to do it all over again and needed a Leatherman with an awl, I would have got a PS 4 like what Clay Hayes used even though that would have cost more money than a Signal.
2. The Gobspark Armageddon worked but it did not seem like it threw any better sparks then my little Wazoo ferro rod did. I also found that I preferred to use the back of my saw blade rather than the striker that came with it. This is kind of disappointing for what is supposed to be a premium large striker. I am going to have to compare the two side by side to see if this is just faulty memory on my part or if Wazoo ferro rod really does just as well.
3. Birch and Milkweed pods (even when empty of seeds) really are good fire starters just like everyone says. Not sure if it is possible to use weeds that I was trying to use with a ferro road. Some time I will have to dry them out for a couple of hours just to see if they will ever work. I also still need to give magnesium a good try.
4. Hopefully, if I ever really need to start a fire with a ferro rod I will have good tinder already with me. But one thing this test drove home is that practicing with artificial tinder builds up bad habits. You can get away with doing it sloppy because they take a spark so readily.

Below is what I was taught as good technique.

One thought on “Fire Log #5: Testing the Armageddon Option

  1. I should note for posterity’s sake that I slandered the Gobspark in point number 2 of lessons learned.

    The above post is recounting last weeks test. Yesterday I tried both the Gobspark and the Wazoo fire steel side by side and the difference is obvious (as is the ease of starting fires with them). Gobspark is clearly better as it should be for its cost and size.

    I will explain more if and when I get around to writing up yesterday’s test.

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