The Magnesium Fire Starter

Demonstration Kit


Create a spark using this reliable magnesium fire starter.


  • Oxidation of magnesium metal
  • Laws of thermodynamics


Flame-resistant board
Magnesium fire starter*
*Materials included in kit.

Safety Precautions

Wear safety goggles or glasses. Keep the magnesium block away from active burning fires. Perform demonstrations on a flame-resistant board. Please review current Safety Data Sheets for additional safety, handling and disposal information.


Please consult your current Flinn Scientific Catalog/Reference Manual for general guidelines and specific procedures, and review all federal, state and local regulations that may apply, before proceeding. Magnesium oxide produced in this experiment can be disposed of in the trash according to Flinn Suggested Disposal Method #26a.


  1. Place the magnesium over a flame-resistant board.
  2. Using the knife, shave pieces off the narrow side of the magnesium block.
  3. Gather the magnesium shavings into a small pile.
  4. Turn the magnesium block so that the flint rod insert is within 2.5 cm of the pile of magnesium shavings.
  5. Scrape the knife blade down the flint rod producing sparks that will ignite the magnesium shavings.

Correlation to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Science & Engineering Practices

Obtaining, evaluation, and communicating information
Planning and carrying out investigations
Asking questions and defining problems

Disciplinary Core Ideas

MS-PS1.B: Chemical Reactions
HS-PS1.B: Chemical Reactions

Crosscutting Concepts

Cause and effect
Energy and matter

Performance Expectations

MS-PS1-1. Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.
MS-PS1-2. Analyze and interpret data on the properties of substances before and after the substances interact to determine if a chemical reaction has occurred.
HS-PS1-4. Develop a model to illustrate that the release or absorption of energy from a chemical reaction system depends upon the changes in total bond energy.
HS-PS1-2. Construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, trends in the periodic table, and knowledge of the patterns of chemical properties.
HS-PS1-1. Use the periodic table as a model to predict the relative properties of elements based on the patterns of electrons in the outermost energy level of atoms.
MS-PS1-6. Undertake a design project to construct, test, and modify a device that either releases or absorbs thermal energy by chemical processes.


The magnesium fire starter, available in camping supply stores, is a novel application of a chemical element for camping or wilderness survival. The device consists of a block of magnesium measuring 7.5 cm x 2.5 cm x 0.9 cm with a circular rod of flint embedded in one side. In camping applications, a knife is used to scrape magnesium shavings from the block. The shavings are collected into a pile next to, or on top of some paper, dry leaves, small twigs, or other flammable material. The magnesium fire starter is turned with the flint sparking insert facing the pile of magnesium shavings and the knife is rapidly scraped down the flint rod. The sparks produced, as the steel from the knife strikes the flint rod, will ignite the magnesium shavings which burn with a bright white flame, which, in turn, will ignite the materials placed near it.

The equation for burning magnesium is:

2Mg + O2 → 2MgO

The heat of combustion of magnesium is 24.7 kJ/g.


Special thanks to David A. Katz, retired, Wilmington, DE, for providing us with this activity.

Conkling, J. A., Chemistry of Pyrotechnics; Dekker, New York, 1985, p 68.

Next Generation Science Standards and NGSS are registered trademarks of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.