How to Use a Fire Piston

fire-piston-by-PodKnoxA fire piston or fire syringe is made up of two parts: a piston with a hollow tip or shaft and a containing chamber. Place a fire starter, such as tinder or char cloth, into the hollow tip, sealing the chamber of air. Quickly slam the piston into the sealed chamber. This causes the air inside to compress, create heat, and ignite the tinder.

This kind of tool has been used in Southeast Asia since prehistoric times, and was independently developed in Europe in the 18th century. Check out the science of the fire piston with the Naked Scientists and then come down to Uncle Sam’s and pick one up for yourself.

Follow this step by step guide to use a fire piston:

  1. Gather your fire materials together (tinder, kindling, fuelwood, water for putting the fire out)
  2. Make a nest of tinder, or a small ball of easily material like grass
  3. Place some char cloth inside of the nest
  4. Assemble your fire space and the style of fire you’d like to have (tipi, A-frame, etc.)
  5. Take a pea sized piece of char cloth and put it in the hollowed area of the piston
  6. Insert the piston into the chamber just so the o-ring makes a seal
  7. Quickly slam the piston into the chamber with your hand
  8. Remove the piston and use the lit pea of char cloth to light the char cloth in the nest of tinder
  9. Blow on the nest until it’s well lit and place inside of your fire area
  10. Enjoy!

It takes some practice but char cloth is very easily lit and simple to make yourself at home. You can use any 100% cotton fabric and a container that’s able to be go into direct flame with one small hole in the top. Mint tins work well for this. Simply place cut up pieces of cotton cloth into your container and put it over a flame, like a grill or gel flame. After some time it will start to smoke out of the small hole in the top but once the smoke is gone, your char cloth is done cooking. Allow the container to cool with the hole covered by aluminum foil to prevent it from turning to ashes. Once cool, your char cloth is ready to go.

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