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February 2, 2009 Comments (0) News

Aurora Firestarter Review

Since the dawn of modern man, it is my opinion that there is one thing that has contributed to the continued existence of the species more than any other–fire.  In our neo-tech world, it’s easy to take fire for granted.  We find it in all parts of our lives that are more on the periphery than as an actual focal point for our survival.  Whether it’s the spark in the internal combusion engine, coal-burning plants down the highway, or just the flame from a bic lighter to fire up a cigarette or cigar, we tend to take for granted the contribution that fire made to our long-term evolution and in our every day lives.  Most archaeologists agree that human control of fire took place around 800,000 years ago, though there are some that might suggest that it actually occurred up to a million years before then.  But, either way, fire played a pivotal role in the daily lives of the average human being.  It helped with providing heat against the cold, kept animals at bay, allowed for the cooking of food that helped stave off illness and provided for more nutrients to be available.  Fire also became a weapon of war by being used to burn down cities or to attack advancing troops.  Fire also became a catalyst for commerce by allowing for the production of weapons, tools, machinery, and other end-use items.  Even today, one of the highest recommended ways of treating water for bacteria and viruses is to boil it, and you can’t do that with out fire of some kind or another.

Even though mankind has developed a plethora of ways to start a fire from a bow drill to flint and steel, even to the Bic lighter I mentioned earlier, we continue to try and find new ways to improve our tools.  Those of us that spend time in the outdoors enjoy finding new ways of making fire and also finding new tools to help us with the task, which brings us to Solo Scientific’s Aurora Firestarter that I have been using for the past week.  The Aurora is is a self-contained firestarter that has everything you need to get a nice blaze going.  It has the best properties of most modern firestarters (i.e. ferro rod, magnesium), but it tweaks the design a bit by offering a nice bonus to the mix.  First, the Aurora is a two-piece clyndrical design.  The housing is made of knurled, anodized aluminum which gives the user a nice purchase on the body during use.  The cap of the cylindrical housing unscrews, and that allows you to extract the 1/4" thick ferro-magnesium rod (which is attached to the cap) from within the hollow body.  Supplemented with a substantial O-ring, when the two pieces are screwed together, it makes for a nice, wateproof seal to protect the rod from corrosion.

A lot of firestarters have a magnesium block attached to a ferro rod.  The concept is that you shave off magnesium into a pile, and then you strike the ferro rod to create sparks to ignite the magnesium.  Magnesium burns very hot, so it burns well enough to catch the tinder on fire when sparks alone might not do the job.  You’ll typically find that kind of scenario when it’s raining or snowing and your available materials are wet.  But, to make these fire starters work, you’ll need a knife to shave the magnesium off into a small pile.  That’s not the kind of task you want your favorite blade to perform, so it’s always good to have a beater knife around to do this job for you with these kinds of firestarters.  An advantage that the Aurora firstarter has is that the main rod that you strike for the sparks has a ferro-magnesium mix.  So, as you’re making your sparks, you’re also shaving off magnesium strips at the same time.  It’s now one smooth effort instead of two separate activities.  You no longer have to make a pile of magnesium shavings first.  You’re getting the shavings as you strike the rod, and the shavings are catching on fire during the striking process.  That cuts down on at least one step in the process, and gets you to the protection of warmth a little bit quicker. 

Now, remember the bonus I mentioned above?  The Aurora has another component added to the equation to help make your life easier and to guarantee you’ve got what you need to start a fire.  The issue with most firestarters is that you also have to have something to strike the ferro rod with to generate the sparks.  That will either be a dedicated striker which is attached to the firestarter with a lanyard, or something else like a piece of a hacksaw blade or the spine of a knife.  However you do it, that striker is needed to make it happen, and some implementions are a little clumsy and bulky with the addition of a lanyard and/or a striker.  And, there might be a time when you just don’t have a knife or a striker available.  That’s where the Aurora shines.  On the bottom of the Aurora is a built-in blade that is used to strike the ferro-magnesium rod.  It is affixed with a hex screw, so it appears to be user-replaceable.  In fact, when I checked into it, I found out that not only are the blades replaceable, but Solo Scientific will be changing out the hex screws to either a Phillips-head version or a slotted-head version.  That will make it easier to replace the blades since almost everyone has one of those types of screwdrivers as opposed to a hex-head screwdriver.  Solo Scientific also states on their web page that the blade can be sharpened if needed, but they also have an optional super-alloy blade available for the Aurora which they developed for soliders and very discriminating outdoors people. 

Solo Scientific claims the super-alloy blade will never dull or need sharpened.  If that’s truly the case, then you’ve really got a tool for a lifetime with the Aurora.  The blade’s shape and size is designed to allow for proper striking of the rod to get a good mix of sparks and magnesium, but it keeps the user from taking too much off from the rod and causing unnecessary wear.  But, the main beauty of this built-in blade is that it is very small and is part of the firestarter body, which makes for easier packing.  You don’t have to worry about the extra bulk of a separate striker or lanayard.  Additionally, you don’t have to worry about having a knife on you either.  You don’t have to shave the magnesium and you’re not required to use your knife to strike the rod.  It’s completely unnecessary.  You’ve got everything you need to start a fire in a compact form-factor that’s built Hell-for-stout.  You can’t get much better than that.

First, let me say that I am not advocating being in the outdoors without a knife.  In multiple articles, I have contended that man’s ability to survives outdoors is contingent on his ability to cut things and make fire.  So, I am always going to recommend having at least one knife, if not a couple for redundancy.  I am merely pointing out that a knife is not only not necessary to make the Auroro work, but having the Aurora will keep you from having to use your knife for the magnesium-shaving and striking chores.  To, me that’s a good thing.  Knives should be used for what they were intended, and that’s cutting stuff.

Using the Aurora is a very simple process. 

  1. You gather your tinder into a pile (as normal). 
  2. You unscrew the cap from the body and take out the ferro-magnesium rod. 
  3. You turn the larger part of the housing upside down to expose the blade to view.
  4. You aim the rod at your pile of tinder.
  5. You strike the rod by scraping the blade down the length of the rod.
  6. Repeat as needed.

 

Unlike hair dryers that provide instructions and warnings not to use them while showering, I don’t think a person needs instructions for using the Aurora firestarter.  Even a novice would be able to figure out the process and make quick work of the fire-starting task.  I will say that it might take the user a few tries to figure out the optimum angle for using the blade on the bottom of the housing to strike the rod.  You can’t get sloppy with technique.  If you do, you won’t get the optimum amount of sparks to get your fire going.  That said, it’s still a lot easier to learn the quirks of this system than mastering the bow/drill firestarting method.  I still haven’t figured that one out, and in all honestly, don’t much care if I do.  I’m a gear person, not an aborigine.  I admire and respect any can that can start a fire that way, but, to me, that’s why God invented Bic lighters and the Aurora Firestarter–with a little help from Andy Putrello.

Andy is the inventor of the Aurora firestarter, and I had a chance to interview him recently to get some background on the Aurora and his reasoning for putting it together.  His main motivation in creating the Aurora was that he wanted something that had a small form-factor that he could keep in his pocket, and he wanted to somehow build in a striker so there wouldn’t be a separate sharp piece of metal in his pocket cutting into his legs.  He felt that he had the background to make that better mousetrap, and, with some pride, he stated there were several patents pending for the Aurora.  One of those patents is related to the ferro-magnesium ratio in the rod which he stated has his own proprietary mix, though Andy was quick to point out that he’s always researching and making changes to improve his products.  His company, Solo Scientific, manufactures everything in-house for the Aurora except for some select, super-alloy strikers.  He made mention that his intent was to always build the Aurora in the United States because he enjoys creating jobs here and having that "Made in the U.S.A." mentality.  Apparently, his company has enjoyed great success with the Aurora after having introduced it just over a year ago, and he says that he’s always paying attention to customer feedback to make sure he’s got the best product possible.  Just from talking to him, I could note his enthusiasm and I got the impression that he would never be truly satisfied in letting something lay untouched for too long.  He came across as very genuine about always trying to make his products better.  In fact, he hinted at something else that he was doing that would work in conjunction with the Aurora to make it an even better, must-have product, but that story’s for another day…

One of those things he did was a good move on his part, and that was teaming up with Paul Scheiter of Hedgehog Leatherworks to create a leather sheath for the Aurora.  The Aurora Sheath was designed for those folks that wanted an alternative to pocket carry.  We’ve reviewed Hedgehog’s products before, and yet again, we find the same superb quality of craftsmanship in this sheath as we have in all the others.  Paul’s team uses the finest vegetable-tanned American leather to make all of their products.  If you take the time to turn this little sheath over in your hand, you’ll be impressed with the immaculate stitchwork that’s done and the way the entire package is brought together.  Every time I see one of Paul’s sheaths, I imagine him off somewhere in the backwoods of a 15th century locale tooling his leather by candlelight.  All of his products exude quality, care, and dedication to perfection.  You’ll find those same traits reside with the man himself if you’re lucky enough to sit down and have a chat with him some day.  While talking to Paul, you’ll get a sense of his pure enjoyment of the outdoors and his devotion to helping bring that enjoyment to others through the production of quality gear that can be used for a lifetime.  Paul and I both believe he may have been born a century too late.  It isn’t often that you find someone these days that still believes in the value of handmade items linking you to times and places forever in your heart and mind–especially not at Paul’s young age.

Hedgehog Leatherworks’ sheath opens easily for quick extraction of the Aurora.

Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that Hedgehog Leatherworks’ products aren’t the cheapest sheaths on the market.  Of course, I don’t think you’ll die from sticker-shock either.  But, much like the Aurora, Hedgehog’s products are for the afficionado of outdoors gear.  There are some people who appreciate fine art, excellent cigars, high-end audio equipment, and yes, even NPR.  The folks that will be interested in Hedgehog Leatherworks’ products are in that same league of citizens.  They appreciate the outdoors, top-drawer gear, and they love true craftsmanship.  Could a person get by with a lesser sheath or no sheath at all?  Of course they could, but what fun would that be?  The same can be said of the Aurora Firestarter.

Is the Aurora the only way you’re going to be able to make a fire on your wilderness expeditions?  No, it’s not.  In fact, the mechanism by which the individual creates fire with the Aurora isn’t really all that innovative.  The individual strikes a rod; sparks ignite magenesium; magnesium (with the assistance of fuel and oxygen) helps start the fire.  This concept has been around for a good while, and consumers can find cheaper alternatives that are a little more complicated to use, have more pieces to keep track of and require more time and effort to employ.  Cheaper products always have those kinds of benefit trade-offs.  However, what Solo Scientific has done with the Aurora is bring every element of the equation together into a quite sophisticated solution.  Essentially, the user has a two-piece knurled, anodized aluminum housing that encapsulates the striking rod to prevent corrosion and also provides a lanyard opening for various modes of carry.  At the bottom of this housing is a pre-sized groove leading to a built-in striker–all of this in an incredibly compact and attractive body.  Now, that’s style, efficiency, and elegance all in one!

If you find yourself in the market for a new firestarter, you might want to take a close look at the Aurora by Solo Scientific–especially if you’re the type of person who likes the highest-quality products and/or likes to buy things made in the U.S.A.  If you are just such a person, I think you’ll find that the Aurora will suit your needs quite nicely by giving you the tool you require to get your task done, and by making you look good doing it.  I heartily recommend this fantastic piece of gear!

Visit:  www.soloscientific.com

         www.hedgehogleatherworks.com 

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