First, a question, do you scrape your magnesium bar to get fine particles or do you shave it to get curls.
High quality magnesium shavings will burn at approximately 5600° F/3093° C. The magnesium content in the bars available at camping stores and other retail outlets can vary. The percentage of magnesium would not be 100 percent. Other metal alloys are mixed in, and the more alloys contained in the stick the lower the burning temperature.
While magnesium sticks or bars are ideal for fire starting there are some things to consider before heading out to the backcountry with one.
Magnesium is impervious to water and temperature and when in mass form it is very stable, but when in particle form it is highly flammable and can be ignited from a single spark.
Magnesium shavings are light, so if you are trying to scrape enough together when it is breezy out you can find it very difficult to get the shavings and tinder paired up. You can shave the stick with a knife blade to create curls, which can be handled for better placement in a tinder bundle.
Tip: Cut a hacksaw blade down to sizes that can be paired up with your magnesium sticks. Attach to the sticks using “Ranger Bands“, so you always have a piece of metal available. Use the blade pieces for shaving the sticks and for creating a spark with the Ferro rod that is usually imbedded in the stick.
To get curls in the field you would likely have to use a knife blade. Handle the blade carefully. Use just a small section of blade near the Quillon for better control of the blade, and so you do not dull more of the cutting edge than necessary.
Prepare Ahead Of Time
Magnesium sticks can be drilled at home to create curls of magnesium that are easy to handle and store. Store them in an old pill bottle along with cotton balls or other dry tinder. Go slow and let the bit slowly create curls as it works its way through the stick. The curl size will depend on the drill bit size.
Another method that can be done ahead of time involves duct tape and cotton balls. Optional items would be dryer lint and paraffin to create fireballs that can burn for several minutes, up to ten minutes in some cases, which would allow you to start fires in damp/wet conditions.
Lay out a six inch strip of duct tape adhesive side up and then shave your magnesium bar over the tape. Make sure the shavings are adhered well and sprinkled along the entire strip of tape. Next, shave the magnesium bar over some cotton balls making sure the shavings become imbedded in the cotton fibers. You can now simply roll the cotton balls up in the tape. Tape off one end, and then either tape off the other end, or drip some melted wax in the end to create a plug to keep any loose magnesium shavings inside the fireball.
Make as many fireballs as you think you might need and store so they remain dry. Old pill bottles are ideal storage containers.
The wax plug can melt under some conditions, or it may simply fall out. You have to decide what would work best for you. When ready to use, remove the tape/plug and fluff some of the cotton ball that is visible and ignite the fireball with a spark.
Variations of this would include dipping the cotton balls in petroleum jelly, or dip them in wax and then roll up in the tape. If dipping in wax keep in mind wax cannot be ignited by a spark, it would require a flame.
You can experiment with wax and magnesium shavings, but again, you would probably still need a flame to ignite. A fireball created from wax and magnesium however, would likely burn long enough to ignite larger pieces of combustibles.
You do not want to make fire starting complicated. It is easy enough to experiment in your backyard, but you do not want to experiment out in the field. You want methods that are known to work under virtually any conditions.
Dryer lint can be used instead of cotton balls. However, unless you only dry cotton material or other organic materials in your dryer, the synthetic fibers contained in much of the clothing today are not as flammable, and certain clothing/bedding especially for children is treated with a fire retardant.
Do not pull the lint out of the lint tray, especially right after drying a load of clothes, and pack away, it must dry thoroughly first. Spread it out and let dry before packing in pill bottles or wrapping in duct tape.
You can also use char cloth to create an ember in the fireball. The objective is to create a fire that can be sustained long enough to ignite larger pieces of combustibles in a field environment under wet and windy conditions.