Review: Tortoise Gear Firefly, by The Novice
For decades, I carried a Victorinox MiniChamp in my left front pants pocket. There it shared space with a Maglite Solitaire LED and an ink pen. The ink pens came and went. They could not stand up to the wear and tear of pocket carry. The Solitaire and the MiniChamp endured, battered but unbroken.
Sometime during the course of those decades, I noticed a Victorinox Swiss Army Classic SD at a garage sale. It cost one dollar if I remember right. I bought it as a backup in case I should happen to lose the MiniChamp. I took it home, threw it in a drawer, and more or less forgot about it for many years.
Recently, I began pocket-testing a plasma lighter/flashlight combination. I am carrying it instead of the Solitaire. The plasma lighter is larger than the Solitaire. Since the Swiss Army Classic SD is smaller than the MiniChamp, I decided to start carrying the SD instead of the MiniChamp in order to help compensate for the larger size of the lighter. I am so pleased with the SD that I wonder why I did not start carrying it instead of the MiniChamp many years ago.
The four tools that I use almost exclusively on the MiniChamp are a blade, the scissors, the screwdriver, and the tweezers. The exact same versions of all four tools are present on the SD. But the SD is .35 inches thick, in contrast to the MiniChamp, which is .57 inches thick.
Now just to be clear, both the MiniChamp and the SD are extremely small knives. Closed, they are each just 2.3 inches long. If they were any smaller, their handles would be too small for practical use. They are so small that if you have a hole in your pocket, they just may fall through. But both knives punch way above their weight in daily use. I have used the blades to open boxes, cut kindling, cut rope and twine, and even cut away a jammed seat belt to free a victim trapped in a car after a traffic accident. I have used the screwdriver to turn both regular and Phillips head screws. When I sew on a button or mend a tear in my clothing, I am probably using the scissors on one of these two knives to trim the thread. I can’t count the number of slivers that I have removed with the tweezers over the years, including one from my wife’s finger while I was in the process of writing this article. I use the tiny tools on the MiniChamp and SD all the time. I use them because 1) I always have them with me and 2) they work well.
When I bought the SD at the garage sale, its blade was not as sharp as I could wish. After I ran it through the ceramic rods on my AccuSharp knife sharpener, it came out sharp enough to shave the hair off my left forearm. The blade is good quality steel that takes an edge well.
Victorinox knives have a lifetime warranty against defects in materials and workmanship. They are not warranted against damage caused by normal wear and tear, misuse, or abuse. One always wonders how a company interprets defects versus normal wear and tear. About 20 years ago, I found out. After about ten years of hard use, I had a problem with my MiniChamp. The blade started opening at a funny angle. Victorinox replaced it for free, no questions asked. Their knives are sturdy enough that I have not had the occasion to test their customer service again in the twenty or so years since.
In addition to the blade, screwdriver, scissors, and tweezers that I mentioned, the SD also normally comes with a nail file and a toothpick.
It has been my experience that the toothpick is the easiest part of a Swiss Army knife to lose. Over the course of time, I lost the toothpicks from both the SD and MiniChamp.
I finally decided it was time to find out how much it would cost to replace these missing parts. It was not so much that I wanted to use the toothpicks. I just wanted to fill up the ugly holes left by their absence.
I searched online for “swiss army knife toothpicks.” One item that popped up on my screen was something called the “Firefly.”
The Tortoise Gear Firefly Fire Starter
This “Firefly” is not the space western starring Nathan Fillion. Instead, the Firefly Fire Starter is basically a ferrocerrium rod sized to fit into the slot designed for a Swiss Army Knife toothpick.
As I mentioned above, I am not really a big fan of the toothpick on the Swiss Army Knife. So the idea of filling that slot with something that might actually be useful was appealing to me.
I contacted Tortoise Gear, and asked if they could provide me with a sample of the Firefly for testing and evaluation. They were kind enough to agree. About a week later I received a padded envelope from Tortoise Gear in the mail. The package in the envelope contained four Firefly units: two for smaller knives and two for larger knives. That gave me one each for my SD and MiniChamp, one for my Deluxe Tinker and one spare. This package is identified as the “Firefly Variety Four Pack” on the Tortoise Gear website. There, at the time of this writing, it cost $19.99. That would come to just under $5 per Firefly unit.
One thing that impressed me right away is that Firefly units are made in the USA. It is always nice to find a product that is not only designed but also manufactured in America.
I was also pleased to find that the package included a very clear and helpful set of instructions. I would like to highlight one of the most practical tips from those instructions.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Tortoise Gear recommends practicing with the Firefly before you find yourself in an emergency situation. That is an outstanding piece of advice. If you have never used a ferrocerium rod before, I recommend that in addition to the Firefly, you buy the largest and cheapest ferrocerium rod you can find.
I recommend selecting one that is pre-drilled for a lanyard at one end. Then take a worn-out hacksaw blade, and break it off about three inches from one end of the blade. Next, take a one-foot-length of paracord with both ends melted to prevent fraying. Thread the paracord through the holes in the ferrocerium rod and the end of the three-inch segment of hacksaw blade. Then tie off the ends of the paracord to create a lanyard holding both the rod and the blade segment. Now you are ready to start a fire.
Starting a Fire with a Ferrocerium Rod
∙ Take a cotton ball, and pull it apart/fluff it up so that there is plenty of air space between the fibers.
∙ Add a pea-sized dab of petroleum jelly to the cotton ball.
∙ Put the petroleum-jelly-dabbed cotton ball in the place where you would like to start your fire with the petroleum-jelly-side up.
∙ Collect a large amount of very small kindling, a moderate amount of medium-sized kindling, and a small amount of larger kindling.
∙ Place the end of the ferrocerium rod so that the sparks produced by scraping the rod will land on the cotton ball. Scrap the ferrocerium rod with the back of the hacksaw fragment. Be careful not to get petroleum jelly on the rod or hacksaw fragment (Doing so will reduce the effectiveness of the scraping). It may take several scrapes to remove the coating that protects the rod during shipment. Then the rod should spark, and ignite the cotton, which will in turn ignite the petroleum jelly. The cotton and petroleum jelly should then burn for several minutes.
∙ Add small kindling and then gradually larger kindling to your fire until it reaches the desired size.
Starting a Fire with the Firefly
Once you have mastered the art of starting a fire with the large ferrocerium rod, you are ready to repeat the process with the Firefly. The Firefly is much smaller and more delicate than the larger rod, but can still be used with great effectiveness to start a fire.
∙ You should prepare your cotton/petroleum jelly tinder in the same manner that you did for the larger rod.
∙ Grip the Firefly between the thumb and middle finger of your non-dominant hand, with the index finger of that hand supporting the back of the rod.
∙ Strike along the thin side of the Firefly rather than the broad side. This both reduces the risk of breaking the Firefly, and allows it to continue to fit snugly into the toothpick slot of your Swiss Army knife even after some of the ferrocerium has been scraped off of the side.
∙ Depending on the implement that you intend to use to strike the sparks, you may want to use a grinder or sharpening stone to remove any curves from the striking side of said implement. This will give you a more acute edge, which will scrape more effectively. On my SD, I polished the edge of the nail file with a sharpening stone to give it a better edge. This gave me excellent results. Do not use the edge of a knife blade for striking, as this will dull the knife.
The toothpick slots of Swiss Army knives vary somewhat in size. If the Firefly fits too loosely in the slot on your knife, you can add some super glue near the thumb grip and allow it to dry fully before inserting the Firefly into the slot. This will make the area near the thumb grip thicker, so that it fits more snugly into the slot. I did not need to do this. The Firefly fit quite snugly into the slot in my knife without any alteration.
Glow in the Dark
One feature of the Firefly that I did not find to be practical is the glow-in-the-dark top. Since I keep the SD in my pocket, the luminescent paint at the top of the Firefly never has the opportunity to absorb enough radiant energy to glow effectively.
I expected the Firefly to be somewhat frail, and good for lighting only a half-dozen or so fires. I was wrong. It is much more durable and longer-lasting than I expected. I found it extremely easy to ignite cotton balls using the Firefly, with minimal loss of material from each attempt. I was very pleased.
Because of its small size, I would not recommend the Firefly as your primary fire starting method. I would even think twice about recommending it as your secondary or tertiary fire starting method. For those roles I would choose between a larger ferrocerium rod, waterproof matches, a permanent metal match, or (with certain reservations in cold climates) a butane lighter or plasma lighter. But if you usually carry a Swiss Army knife, the Firefly is an extremely convenient fire-starting tool to have in reserve. It is light, reliable, and always there. I highly recommend it.
Tortoise Gear provided me with a Firefly Variety Four Pack for testing and evaluation. I tried not to allow their kindness to influence my evaluation, and believe that my results are objective. I did not receive any other inducement financially or in-kind to mention any vendor, product, or service in this article.