This year, I wanted to make something for the kids, something they could use and remember for many years to come. I settled on a project using a lesser-known metal called ferrocerium.
By Wikipedia’s definition “Ferrocerium is a man-made metallic material that gives off hot sparks at temperatures of 1,650 °C (3,000 °F) when scraped against a rough surface (pyrophoricity), such as ridged steel.”
You may be asking yourself what a flammable metal has to do with a children’s gift. Let me rewind to last Christmas. To gauge their interest in outdoorsy, self-reliant skills, I gave them each a few items including a “flint & steel.” The kids were so thrilled, they insisted we venture into the woods to put them to use.
These little flints were designed for an emergency kit and (while effective) were short, small, and the kids had difficulty using them. They had demonstrated that they could ignite a fire, but would need more practice to sustain one. Practice that would be made much easier by a bigger, longer ferro rod.
I searched high and low for sources of rods, and settled on a 4-pack of 3/8” diameter rods for ~$20. At 4 inches long, these should last for years of use, and be far superior to what we’ve been using.
With my miter saw, I cut 4 handle pieces from an antler shed, leaving a section remaining for some other use. Following the online advice of others, I cut two opposing grooves in one end for the glue to ‘grab.’ I did this with a hack saw, very slowly so as not to shower sparks.
Next, I chose a drill bit, and applied tape at 1/2” from the tip, to act as a depth-gauge. I wrapped the antler in cardboard before putting it in the vise. This held it still without damaging the surface. I did a dry-fit test on each before moving on.
I then thoroughly sanded each antler piece so the cut edges were smooth and attractive. I chose to use Gorilla Glue, after hearing others’ success with that adhesive. Unfortunately, it cured best at 68 degrees or higher. (My living room was the only location I keep at that temperature.) I had to time the cure time for when my children were away, but I got all four done… or so I thought.
Here it was, Thanksgiving time, and I already had the time-intensive DIY presents done. I felt very relieved. However, I better make sure these will hold up to some use. Much to my dismay, I was able to twist/wiggle the rods free of their antler handle with little effort.
Lessons learned: First, I neglected to sand the protective coating off the tips, so that’s what the glue adhered to, not the rod itself. Secondly, Gorilla Glue bubbles and expands, this left air gaps and an oozy mess. I ended up re-gluing all four rods using a 24-hour, two-part epoxy, which had no troubles curing at the lower temperatures typical of my back porch.
In the end the kids were grateful, but not as excited as the year before. Can’t wait to field test them this spring!