Aside from being a handy tool and important part of your survival supplies, or perhaps because of that, the Swedish style firesteels have become an integral part of Bushcrafting and are often paired up with outdoors knives these days. The common models from Light My Fire and a few other sources typically have plastic handles of various colors and they’re completely functional tools for the woods. While they work just fine, and they’re great when paired up with you plastic handled Mora Clipper, or your beat up bush blade, when you slide one into the firesteel loop on the quality leather sheath or your high end custom bushcrafter they start to look a little out of place. When folks either take the time to build, or spend the money to buy a nice custom with some beautiful wood on it they often want to finish off that package with something nicer. Enter folks like Jeff Barnes of Vancouver WA.
Jeff has been a guitarist playing Blues in the Portland, Oregon area for years and he worked as a Draftsman for the Army Corps of Engineers prior to that. He’s also done an intricate craftsmanship over the years as well building such diverse things as electric guitars, speaker cabinets, custom pipes, and done silver and gold jewelry. More recently, Jeff has turned that skill towards another area of interest for him, knives and the outdoors. Seeing the niche for available for custom firesteels, and having the skill and background to apply to it, Jeff has started making custom firesteels for the guys that either want to match up their steels to their knives, or who just want a steel with a lot more character than your basic plastic handled models.
Jeff will either work with a customer-supplied rod or use one that he will provide at cost. He prefers the misch metal rods to straight ferrocerium as he feels that it tends to come off in fiery globs when struck with steel, and helps ignite tinder faster. Jeff does all the handles one at a time, by hand. While he has standard styles he uses, each one will end up being unique. He can also do different styles or shapes of handles at the customer’s request. For materials, the sky is pretty much the limit. Jeff’s prices are $30 for a standard sized handle complete with a brass lined lanyard hole, and $40 for an extra large handle like on a ½ inch diameter rod, in most any type of show-grade wood. Such as Amboyna Burl, Myrtle Burl, Ironwood Burl, Fiddleback Maple or something of that sort. He can also do Micarta, G-10 or the like if need needed. More exotic materials, such as Ivory, are possible although at an additional cost. Drop him a line if there’s something really unique you’re looking for. Those costs are for the handle material and labor on a customer-supplied rod. Jeff said it takes about 3 hours of handwork to do a handle from start to finish.
I received a 3/16 inch rod with a Fiddleback Maple handle to go with my Blind Horse Knives Bushcrafter and Patch Knife. Mine was done on a rod I provided that I got from GoingGear.com. GoingGear is also where Jeff gets his rods from as they provide the mish metal composition that he likes best. Fit and finish on the steel was very good and it makes a nice accompaniment to my bush knives. For best match up with your knives, make sure to provide Jeff with some good photos of your blades so he has an idea what your wood grain, color and stain look like when he sits down to make your handles.
If firesteels aren’t your thing, or you just want another option on how to start your fires, Jeff also is offering the Sparker.
The Sparker is a sturdy, but very compact, wheel striker similar in some ways to A Sparklite or the wheel off of a Zippo lighter. It uses the same principal as both of those items. The big advantage to these is that you don’t need a separate striker, and you can use them even if you only have use of one hand at the moment. The Sparker doesn’t take up much room in your pocket or in a kit and features standard replaceable lighter flints. While the Sparker doesn’t kick out the shower of sparks that a misch metal rod does, it still provides plenty of spark to ignite a cotton ball, either soaked in petroleum jelly or otherwise, pocket lint, or other suitable tinder.
Whether you are looking for a nice custom steel to match your favorite custom blade, or want a special handle on that huge ½ diameter flamethrower that you’ve been hankering for, Jeff Barnes can more than likely help you out. He’s got an extremely fast turn around time on his work as well. While I know some folks relish doing the hand work themselves, many of us don’t have the skills to make them look good, or the time to sit down and do it (ask Jeff sometime about me and my free time!). If you fall into one of those categories then drop Jeff a line and see what he can hook you up with.