A Fire Starter That Will Last a Lifetime

by October 28, 2009 10/28/09

Survival Spark 01Inspired by a Vietnam era emergency sparking unit that TAD Gear’s CEO was shown, the Survival Spark fire starter features a unique twist on a classic design.

The first noticeable thing  about the Survival Spark is how TAD necked down the original rectangular design to create a void where a needle and thread can be stored.

While this makes it harder to hold, once the recommended heat shrink tubing (discussed below) is installed, the increased real estate creates a better grip.

We feel that this modification created by TAD has benefits over the original design, but it also has a few drawbacks which we’ll discuss later in the article.

Origination

Survival Spark 02We haven’t confirmed with TAD Gear where the original design for the Survival Spark came from, but we’ve drawn our own conclusions that it’s based on Oak Duke Norton, J.R.’s Spark-Lite Fire Starter.

Currently, the only available versions of the Spark-Lite are molded in plastic, but Norton’s original 1985 design was cast in brass.

The linked article above by John D. McCann provides an excellent background on the development of the Spark-Lite, and makes for a very interesting read.

While the design of the Spark-Lite seems to have possibly been influenced by Zippo and their spring/plunger design, it’s merely our observation.

Description

Survival Spark 03The TAD Gear Survival Spark is made from solid brass billet and features a hardened striker wheel and refillable flint accessed through a screw in the bottom of the body.

Once removed, an attached spring and plunger is revealed that provides tension for the flint to reach the striker wheel.

The screw is meant to be hand tightened, but features a screwdriver slot in case of over-tightening.

Any standard sized flint made for a Zippo can be used with the Survival Spark, and provide a lifetime of use.

Due to the cut grooves in the striker wheel, it must be spun a certain direction to create the friction needed to spark the flint.

An arrow is provided on the body to indicate the proper direction to spin the wheel, but common sense will hopefully prevail if there’s no spark.

Dimensions

Survival Spark 04We were surprised at how small the Survival Spark really is, it measures 0.43″ in diameter (at widest part of wheel) x 2.375″ in length.

It ships in a two-piece tool bit box with 4 Tinder-Quik Fire Tabs, which were also invented by Norton and are impressive in their own right.

Emergency Sewing Kit

From the photos on the TAD Web site, we were able to ascertain how to create the emergency sewing kit modification, and come up with some suggestions.

First you’ll need to gather the supplies needed:

  • Thread
  • Sewing Needle
  • Heat-Shrink Tubing – TAD recommends 1/2″ to 3/4″ tubing, but we found 3/8″ to be ideal
  • Power Drill – While not absolutely necessary, it makes the job of winding thread easier
  • Heat Gun – We used a hair dryer, which didn’t work so well
  • Scotch Tape – To hold the thread in place and start wrapping
  • X-Acto Knife – To trim off the excess Heat-Shrink tubing
  • Scissors – To cut the heat-shrink tubing to size
  • Ruler – To measure the 2.5″ length of heat-shrink tubing required

The sewing kit modification takes just a few minutes and is a nice addition to the Survival Spark, but it has it’s drawbacks.

To actually use the needle and thread wrapped on the Survival Spark, you have to cut the heat-shrink tubing. This has to be done very carefully with a knife to avoid slicing the thread contained underneath.

It’s definitely a PITA to carefully cut the tubing away, and unless you’re so tight on space that you can’t fit a needle and thread in your survival kit, it’s almost not worth it to bother counting on it.

Having the sewing kit attached definitely helps aid in gripping the Survival Spark, but if that’s its only purpose, why not just have the rectangular design extend the complete length of the Survival Spark.

We’re not discounting the product, as the solid brass design is wonderful, but we’d love to see a Survival Spark version offered without the necked down void.

Cass from Military Morons discovered that a needle can be stored in the spring of the shaft, so all that would need to be carried to supplement this version would be some thread.

We debated typing out instructions for the sewing kit project, but decided the YouTube review video embedded below provides a better visual step-by-step instruction guide.

Lessons Learned

  1. After we had already begun the process of applying heat to the heat-shrink tubing, we realized that a piece of scotch tape might have not been the best thing to secure the thread with.  Once heat is applied, the adhesive from the tape can melt all over the thread, creating problems in the situation where it would have to be used.
  2. A hair dryer is not a replacement for a heat gun, which is what should really be used for heat-shrink tubing

Notes

The TAD Gear Survival Spark is an excellent addition to survival kits and is a well made, solid fire-starter.

We’ve given our honest thoughts about the product and feel that despite the shortcomings of the design, it definitely has a place in our personal survival kits and we’ll be purchasing more of them.

When properly maintained, there’s no doubt that it will provide a lifetime of fire starting.


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TexasScout
TexasScout

Just use a small butane lighter to shrink the tubing, I have done this for years.

BGrubbs
BGrubbs

Would like to try that with a piece of surgical tubing instead of the shrink tubing, would be easier to get off in the field, and you could put it back on.

KECS
KECS

I run the end of the thread through the needle then wrap it around the spark. This way I do not have to try to thread the needle later.

TheMooKooJoe
TheMooKooJoe

I think I would put the heat shrink tubing on there, just for aesthetic effects as well as a little extra grip. Not bad to have another sewing kit either, but I've got one in the First Aid Kit.

Thanks again for the tips!

TheMooKooJoe
TheMooKooJoe

I think I would put the heat shrink tubing on there, just for aesthetic effects as well as a little extra grip. Not bad to have another sewing kit either, but I've got one in the First Aid Kit. Thanks again for the tips!

Juan
Juan

How would you suggest getting tubing off the fire starter without cutting the thread?

M. Atwood
M. Atwood

Nice review.

I think you're right on about the origins. I have one of the original brass Spark-Lites, and the TAD design appears to be an update of that. A pretty bomb-proof design, and hard to beat. I've been using a spark-lite as my primary emergency fire starter for awhile now - May have to get one of TAD's Survival Sparks as the ruggedness of the brass is appealing, but I'm keeping the original Spark-Lite put away.

M. Atwood
M. Atwood

Nice review. I think you're right on about the origins. I have one of the original brass Spark-Lites, and the TAD design appears to be an update of that. A pretty bomb-proof design, and hard to beat. I've been using a spark-lite as my primary emergency fire starter for awhile now - May have to get one of TAD's Survival Sparks as the ruggedness of the brass is appealing, but I'm keeping the original Spark-Lite put away.

Ken
Ken

To get the tubing off, I carry a #11 scalpel blade in my TAD Capsule with my Spark-Lite. A number 11 is a really small, very pointy, blade. If you fold the packaging the blade (and you) are protected and it is still sterile.

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