The Firepiston

Discussion in 'Vintage Topic Archive (Sept - 2009)' started by muerte, Dec 7, 2007.

  1. SharpsShtr

    SharpsShtr Member

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    I read about these in the Backwoodsman Magazine, which is a great magazine with all kinds of articles on primitive living and old-fashiony stuff. So I ordered one and it works well. My only advice is to NOT order it from an outfit called Wilderness Solutions. It took me six months of emailing to get it shipped with replies of "we're a little behind and it'll ship next week" each time.

    Matt
     

  2. I also read about the Firepiston in Backwoodsman, and on a few survival forums, but never got around to getting one yet.
     
  3. survivor man used one in one of his episodes. it worked prety well.
     
  4. 69burbon

    69burbon Well-Known Member

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    I was wondering when someone was going to post this info. I seem to recall there was a post on the old forum that showed how to build one. I'll have to try and find it. I had planned on building a couple this winter.
     
  5. I got most of the supplies I need to make one of these this weekend. Just have to get downstairs and start JB welding some stuff together.
    I will let yall know how it turns out.
     
  6. Kelotravolski

    Kelotravolski Member

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    It is a neat idea but I would personally prefer to use flint and steal.
     
  7. 69burbon

    69burbon Well-Known Member

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    I like the idea of this because it is often easier to make one of these in field if needed. It is also much simpler to operate than a flint and steel. I have both because I know how to use them but the flint and steel is almost a lost art form that will simply wear you out until you get good at it.
     
  8. Kelotravolski

    Kelotravolski Member

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    you are right... I am not good at it. It takes forever to get a fire going. It just seems that the heat that you could build with that much pressure would not be very much.
     
  9. SharpsShtr

    SharpsShtr Member

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    There's just enough to get the ember burning, but that's all you really need.



    Matt
     
  10. 69burbon

    69burbon Well-Known Member

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    The one thing I really like about the fire piston is now easy it is to control getting that one small ember going.

    The flint and steel kit I have is my dads old Boy Scout kit (circa 1950). It has sure seen a lot of campfires. I keep it mostly for the memories. Strange how something like that can, pardon the pun in this case, "spark" such fond memories.
     
  11. Kelotravolski

    Kelotravolski Member

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    Ah boyscouts... those were the days....
     
  12. Jag

    Jag Member

    Fire Piston Information:

    Greetings! I am new to the Hi-Point Forum and I have not posted a lot on any of the boards yet, but I just thought that with my background (to read about it, see the thread "Greetings to all forum members!" on the Welcome board) I might be able to provide some insightful information into the world of fire pistons.

    Back in the spring of '07, I had to take a Search, Survival, and Rescue class for my aviation degree (you can find out more about it in the "Greetings" thread, so I won't belabor it here) as part of my required repertoire of classes. Needless to say, it was a fun class (where else do you get to learn how to make improvised implements and how to start a fire twenty different ways? :mrgreen: ). Anyhow, during the course of the class (pun intended), amongst other things, I attempted to construct a fire piston as a neat little tool to include in my survival kits for going out camping and hunting in addition to my "Burt Gummer emergency stores" :) . Without revealing the outcome to my experiments right off, allow me to describe a little bit of my analysis of the fire piston from a "survivalist" point-of-view. In general, equipment and technology that a survivalist would want on hand in the event of a complete cut-off from society (whether because of a societal breakdown, a.k.a. a SHTF scenario, or an isolated incident of a plane crash, vehicle breakdown, etc. is irrelevant) should meet several strict guidelines to be considered an optimum candidate for a survivalist's list of stashed equipment. These guidelines are as follows (yeah, they are of my creation, but I figure that they would quickly be arrived at by anybody analyzing the subject of survival in depth; bear in mind here that the word "tool" is meant to include any conceivable item you might take or need in a survival situation):

    1) The tool should be as lightweight and portable as possible, taking into consideration all factors of manufacture and durability, including the construction materials (i.e., metal, wood, plastic, etc.), needed dimensions (does the tool have to be big or small in width, length, and depth?), and frequency and "harshness" of use (is this tool something that you will be using on a daily basis, or will it be stored safe and sound in a warm shelter in your backpack somewhere?).

    2) The tool should be as simple in its construction as possible (i.e., no extravagant features or needless functions should become a part of the tool's uses or design) to facilitate maximum dependability in a field situation (this is why surplus military equipment is often the best choice for someone looking to obtain a piece of equipment to use for a harsh, long-term situation in a field condition out in the wilderness).

    3) The tool should require as little or no maintenance as possible to facilitate its maximum amount of dependable use in the field (that is, it should not need a lot of fancy chemical cleaners, spare parts, or disposable pieces [like a bullet for a gun] to maintain its intended use UNLESS there is no other alternative to its continued functionality, like being faced with having to supply cartridges for a gun or not having one at all in a remote area where it would be used for harvesting game and protecting oneself from predators).

    4) The tool should, if possible, be able to perform multiple functions in a field situation so as to maximize the amount of space available for an individual to store needed goods (I don't know about you, but I can only effectively carry around forty to fifty pounds in a backpack for an extended period of time while still remaining reasonably mobile and energetic, if the goal of the given scenario is to have to survive a survival situation in a remote area away from the support of fixed shelters and storage facilities).

    5) The tool should ideally glean its energy for use from a readily renewable source, if possible, to enable it to be easily and continually used without interruption (for example, the fire piston uses a readily available substance (air) combined with the mechanical energy of a human arm and a tiny piece of a disposable component (a small piece of tinder) to start a fire, while, by comparison, a match is great for an instant, single moment of ready-to-use fire-starting potential, but it uses a virtually non-renewable chemical energy source (a blend of red and white phosphorus) to obtain its energy; from a survival standpoint, the match is not very good as a source for long-term fire production, while the fire piston is virtually the ultimate implement for long-term production of fire since all components for its use are readily obtainable [air, calories from food so that a human can use the pump, and a piece of tinder]).

    6)The tool should, if possible, be designed in such a way that it could be easily repaired, if necessary, in a situation with limited, easily-obtained resources (rocks, wood, vegetation, and animal parts would be examples of easily-obtained natural resources that would not require a lot of further refinement to be put to basic uses; for example, an axe or hatchet handle can easily be replaced with a length of properly whittled wood, provided you don't lose the axe-head).

    7) The tool should be, if possible, the best choice amongst a given variety of tools for the survival situation based on all the other factors of judging criteria for a tool choice in a survival situation, if such a variety of choices of tools actually exists (for example, there are many forms of tools to start a fire, so do you take a box of matches, a cigarette lighter, or a flint-and-steel striker set?).

    8) The tool should not be considered, if possible, for a survival situation if it does not perform a vital or needed function; this is an extension of the "multiple functions" criteria (for example, do you really need a gold-plated, artistically inscribed, titanium-framed, electronically-dependent accessory-loaded AR-15 as a survival weapon, or would a run-of-the-mill, simple, reliable, durable, rugged, utilitarian bolt-action military surplus rifle be a better choice? Of course, if you simply COULDN'T live without your AR, it would be better than taking no gun at all in a survival scenario, but it might not be the most practical; the choice would rest with you; in addition, that heavy, oak-framed 1' X 2' picture of your family WOULD be an example of a useless "tool" that would serve no vital function in a survival situation other than firewood or a sentimental reminder of a life that you might not make it back to; if you absolutely need such a sentimental reminder for your own "mental health", take a small 1" X 3" photo in your wallet instead).

    9) The tool should, if possible, be able to be stored easily and compactly when it is not in use (this is an extension of "lightweight and portable" criteria).

    10) The tool should, if possible, not be something that would require an extensive expenditure of valuable time, resources, and energy for its use in a survival situation (this is an extension of the "should not be considered unless it performs a vital function" rule; an example would be the choice of a mechanically-complex semi-automatic firearm versus a mechanically simple break-action, bolt-action, or pump-action firearm for a survival weapon; I did not include lever-actions in this example since, in my opinion and understanding, a lever-action has a few weak points, namely the amount of pivots and the thin metal connection points in its action, that could easily break with repeated use).

    The aforementioned guidelines can be used to judge any tool for use in a survival situation, but in our case they apply here to the fire piston. Let's examine the fire piston to conclude on its usefulness for an ideal fire-starting tool:

    1) Considering its basic design, the fire piston fits rule number 1 to a ‘T’. It is small, lightweight, portable, dependable, and durable, especially if made out of modern synthetic materials (no, I haven’t seen many commercially-produced fire pistons that were made out of steel or plastic, but you can make one yourself using the info on the ‘Net, and there are a few small companies and individuals that make fire pistons out of steel, plastic, etc.).

    2) For rule # 2, I don’t think you COULD get much more dependable than a manually-operated pump for a fire-starting tool that is as simple or durable as it is. All you need is an intact bore, an intact piston, a few kilocalories from a decent meal, a good rubber O-ring as a gasket to seal the bore to generate the compression needed to heat the air, a small piece of tinder, and a lubricant for the bore to keep the pump (that’s basically what this thing is, a pump with one end sealed) operating smoothly (Vaseline, lip balm, or any form of animal fat from any animal could be used to grease the inside of the bore in moderation; if you put too much lubricant on, the pump will work TOO smoothly and there won’t be enough friction to generate enough compression to heat the tinder hot enough to combust). Rule 3 can be added here as well since it doesn’t need much maintenance to keep functioning for the long-term.

    3) The fire-piston doesn’t have more than one vital function (fire-starting), so it really doesn’t meet the criteria of rule 4 very well. Although, the bore could be used as a container for the storage of small items that needed to be kept dry (a small amount of dry tinder in there would be one possible use that would coincide with the primary function of the piston); any other use that you could think of for the piston would be fine so long as the piston itself would not be damaged by the alternative use (in other words, unless it was ABSOLUTELY necessary, don’t use the bore for a hammer, etc.; you don’t want to damage a valuable tool that would take extra effort to repair).

    4) I don’t know of an energy source that is more easily renewable than food in a human body (since it is a given in any real-world situation, for if you aren’t eating then you are probably dead or dying anyhow), so the fire piston passes rule 5 with flying colors.

    5) For rule 6, the fire piston passes with moderate success since wood could be used to replace the pump handle (although if you broke the pump shaft or cracked the bore it would be nearly impossible to readily replace these components without a major investment of time and energy). For rule 7, the fire piston is virtually the supreme answer in the world of fire-starting equipment based on the other reasons given here.

    6) For rule 8, 9, and 10, the fire piston passes with high marks based on the other reasons given here and because it is easily stored (for rule 9).

    Needless to say, based upon our examination, the fire piston is an incredible tool for any survivalist to own and use in the field. However, there are a few things that, despite all its attractiveness, give it a major detraction as an ideal implement for an IMPROVISED tool (you can make one yourself, but it is VERY difficult to get right). First off, back when I tried making one myself for my class, I never did get it right. I tried every combination of lubricant, O-ring, plumbing pipe size, and construction material possible (wood, plastic, and metal), but I was never able to get a piece of tinder hot enough to ignite due to seal problems between the bore and the piston (if you do more research on this, this seems to be the most important factor in constructing a piston). Although I did get several different types of tinder (tissue paper, charcloth [cotton cloth that has been smoldered in a near oxygen-free environment to produce a light black or dark brown layer of carbon that has nearly all the extra flammable fibers of cotton burned out of the cloth; you can make some yourself OUTSIDE OR IN A CONTROLLED, VENTALATED INDOOR AREA over a stove or fire by taking a layer of tin foil folded into a packet containing a few small strips or squares of cotton cloth or rags {ironically, gun cleaning patches are the perfect size for this and any firearms owner should have some of these lying around}; by poking a hole in the top of the packet about the size of a pencil, just enough air is allowed inside to allow for combustion while still slowing the chemical reaction enough to stop the COMPLETE burning of the cloth; you are finished when the yellow flame coming out of the top of the packet turns into a wisp of smoke; pull off the packet immediately when you see this for, if you don’t, your charcloth will become a pile of soot if it continues to burn to completion; remember, do this with proper ventilation to allow the smoke to dissipate and proper fire-extinguishing tools nearby, be it a bucket of water or a good fire extinguisher], or tinder fungus) to become hot to the touch, I was never able to get it to light. This leads us to the second failing of the fire piston, one that is not much advertised in the already limited number of resources out there about the piston: the piston is useless without the proper size of tinder. Since the piston uses convective heating instead of a direct flame to ignite its tinder (similar to the bow-and-drill’s method of lighting a fire by friction through the conductive [direct contact] method of transferring heat between two bodies), the tinder must be of a sufficiently small “fiber-size†to allow for proper combustion. For example, the proper tinder to use with a fire piston is a natural fungus known as (what else) tinder fungus, or Inonotus obliquus, that grows on birch trees. It looks like this:

    [​IMG]

    Here is a nice big chunk of Tinder Fungus at the base of a live birch tree.


    [​IMG]

    This photo, taken through a microscope, shows a human hair overlaid on a piece of tinder fungus.

    From the photo it is pretty clear why tinder fungus works so well!
    Note: I got the above photos from the website “Wilderness Survival†at http://www.wildwoodsurvival.com/survival/fire/tinder/tinderfungus/true.html. Got to give credit were credit is due!

    Because the microscopic chains of the tinder fungus’s molecules form many tiny “hairsâ€, there is more surface area for the oxygen in the atmosphere to interact with the combustible molecules of the fungus, so it burns more readily than many other types of tinder. So, without the proper “microscopic surface areaâ€, the tinder used in a fire piston will not readily ignite, making the piston a virtually useless implement in its primary function. However, to address these two problems, it is fairly easy to alleviate both: firstly, if you can’t build a suitable piston, simply purchase a commercially-made piston that will work every time you use it, and secondly, obtain a sufficient supply of the proper tinder BEFORE you are put into a situation where you will need your fire piston.

    In summary here, the fire piston is an excellent choice overall as a survival implement for use in anyone’s kit. Just bear in mind that it takes practice to learn how to use it correctly, and remember to either buy one or make one of sufficient quality so that you KNOW you can trust that it will work when you need it. Aside from that, I’ll leave you guys with a few links to various resources about the fire piston. I hope I’ve helped, and I’ll be sure to post again soon! Later!

    http://www.grannysstore.com/Wilderness_Survival/fire_pistons.htm: this is the website I purchased my buffalo horn piston from; they seem to be the best price on the ‘Net, and I got it within four days!

    http://www.wildwoodsurvival.com/survival/index.html: a great outdoors website with info about the fire piston as well as many other topics of wilderness survival; I used the plans for the “Model T†fire piston when I tried to make my own (someday I’ll have to try again); this site seems to be the most comprehensive one out their for info on fire pistons!

    “Possible Fire Piston Dimensions:

    The dimensions are roughly as follows:

    Cylinder: 4†to 6†[10 to 15 cm] long; Outside diameter ¾†to 1†[18 to 25 mm]; Inside diameter about ½†[12 mm]

    Piston: 4†to 6†[10 to 15 cm] long, of which the shaft is 3†to 5†[7.5 to 12.5 cm]; Piston length ¾†to 1†[18 to 25 mm]; Diameter—to nicely fit the cylinder, with a recess at lower end of piston—about ¼†[6 mm] wide by ¼†to 5/16†[6 to 8 mm] deep

    Piston shaft end is smooth and about 1†to 1 ½†[25 to 38 mm] diameter for striking with the palm of the handâ€


    I pulled these instructions off of a combination of websites that I don’t remember anymore. They might be useful to you if you decide to make your own!

    Sincerely,

    Jag
     
  13. 69burbon

    69burbon Well-Known Member

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    :shock: Wow!

    Good info. I just had a flashback to my college science days.