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Fire Piston

A fire piston is a simple device that uses compressed air to ignite a small piece of tinder.  

Once the small tinder is lit, you can then transfer the ember to a larger tinder bundle where you can build the fire by adding larger pieces of wood.

Also known as a fire syringe or a slam rod fire starter, the device has been used for hundreds of years in South East Asia and the Pacific Islands.

The fire syringe (as they were referred to then) were popular household tools in England and France during the early 19th century.  

However, it eventually lost its popularity when the safety match was invented in 1884.

Now the device is primarily used as a survival fire starter.

How Do They Work?

The concept is pretty simple, a hollow cylinder is sealed at one end and left open on the other.  A piston with an airtight seal is fitted into the hollow cylinder.

The piston should have an O-ring (or other similar device) on one end to create the air tight seal.  The other end of the piston should have a knob or handle used when compressing the piston into the cylinder.

Scout Fire Piston

A hole or crevas in the end of the piston holds a small amount of tinder which is usually char cloth because it's easily combustable.

To use one, load the end of the piston with tinder, lubricate the O-ring with petroleum jelly (if necessary to create an airtight seal) rest the cylinder on a solid sturdy surface and quickly slam or compress the piston into the cylinder.

The compressed air will create a temperature hot enough to light the tinder in the piston.

Once lit, quickly remove the burning tinder from the cylinder before it reduces the available oxygen and goes out.

Next, transfer the tinder to a larger tinder bundle or similar component to build the fire.

Building A Homemade Fire Piston

You can build your own homemade device by using supplies commonly found around your home or garage.

For example, copper tubing capped at one end will make an excellent cylinder.  Next, find a dowel rod that fits tightly into the copper cylinder to be used as the piston.  The dowel rod can be sanded if necessary to achieve a tight fit.

Score a line in the end of the dowel rod to hold an O-ring, drill a hole in the end to hold the tinder and place a knob on the other end for a handle.

Lubricate the O-ring with petroleum jelly and that's it.......a homemade piston to start a fire!


Modern technology has now made these devices more reliable than ever. Pressure relief mechanisms, O-ring reliability, resistance to moisture and state of the art design concepts allow tinder to be lit with a single compression.

If you're looking for a simple device that's reliable and not affected by moisture, a fire piston is a great choice.

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