I am backed up with more posts than I can find time to make. I have new and exciting ways to start fire without matches. Some I have seen no where else. But I also have some lose ends regarding previously posted methods that I feel need to be tied up before I move on to these new methods. For one, I have been asked for greater details and videos showing how I do the hand drill methods. I have that in the works for the very near future. The other is more about fire pistons.
For a long time, I could not consistently get fire using my homemade fire pistons. It’s such an unlikely and ingenious method that I remained fascinated by it. But an earlier post made my initial frustrations evident. Then my oldest daughter sent me a commercially made model that changed everything. It also included good instructions regarding technique. This gave me a standard to compare my own designs and techniques to. Although I am still short of my original goal for success using only primitive materials, I can now make consistent fire from pistons made from easily available materials. I want to share some of this.
Technique is Critical
Much of the former problem was operator error. What was I doing wrong, that I have since been able to correct? While I knew that the piston had to be pushed or slammed firmly down and then quickly withdrawn to get an ember, I apparently didn’t quite understand how important the quick withdrawal is. Nor did I have a good technique for doing so. I couldn’t understand why I would only sometimes get an ember, when it seemed that I was doing the exact same maneuver each time. Once I got the commercial model, I assumed that it would work, and concentrated on trying different techniques until it did. I was quickly able to get an ember almost every time using the new fire piston.
Another problem that can kill the deal is improper handling of the tinder while loading it into the piston rod. Some kind of lubricant is usually used to ensure a good slide and seal in the cylinder against the O-ring. Vaseline if what I commonly use. Coconut oil is probably the best and will cause the least deterioration of the components. Whatever is used must not contaminate the tinder. Getting any lubricant on the tinder will keep it from igniting. As my new fire-making compadre Pierre says, wiping your fingers on your pants is not enough. Your fingers must be entirely free from oils when you handle the tinder. He suggests using one hand for lubricating the O-ring, and the other for handling the tinder. Great advice!
The tinder should not be wadded up tightly, regardless of what type of tinder you are using. Keep it fluffy. It is okay if it fluffs out beyond the tinder hole. In fact this may help. You need enough fluff to allow the tinder have sufficient air to breath. The heat may be there to ignite, but if the Oxygen is not, then it can’t burn. This also likely explains why it is so important to quickly get the rod back out into the air–so it can breath. This idea is furthered by the need to blow the ember even when it comes out burning. This is my take, anyway. And be careful not to contaminate the tinder with excess residual lubricant as you place the piston into the cylinder.
The next problem was the tinder that I was using. Initially, the char cloth that came with the fire piston didn’t work. I tried some of my own and it worked. Aha, I thought, they sent me lousy char cloth! That was not the case. I just happened to use a good technique when I used my own. So, we are back to good technique. Still, if you use poor technique, good tinder can only help so much. On the other hand, if you have extraordinary tinder, you can get an ember much more easily even if your fire piston design is less than ideal. I know this because once I discovered really good tinder, I went back and tried it with the dozen or more homemade pistons–and they worked much better! This may have been partly because I had learned better techniques, but not all.
Stone Tinder. Discovering the Discovery.
I said I discovered really good tinder. Actually, I merely discovered the discoverer of this magic tinder. The real discovery was made by my new friend who shares an interest in similar fire-making techniques. Pierre Coutu is a man after my own heart–an interesting fellow with a proud French-Canadian heritage who is a transplant to the Southern States, not that far from me. As Pierre tells it, a series of hap-stance events led to his discovery of what he now calls Stone Tinder; he further explains that Pierre means Stone in French. It’s a good name both ways and is fitting for his product.
Pierre alone is responsible for the discovery, development, and refinement of his proprietary material with just the right properties for use with fire pistons. He has a web site also bearing the name Stone Tinder and sells the magic stuff all over the place. He says it is made from all natural albeit uncommon materials using his own carefully guarded recipe. I got two varieties of Pierre’s Stone Tinder—Regular and Expert. They are both amazing. Unburned Stone Tinder is odorless to me–maybe just kind of refreshingly clean smelling. It has a pleasant odor when it burns. Pierre says it is completely nontoxic. Unlike char cloth which can get messy and leave a black residue on your fingers and piston, Stone Tinder is light colored, almost white.
I am not interested in stealing Pierre‘s secrets. I won’t even venture a guess as to what it is made from or how it is made, although I am guessing them to be both exotic and uncommon processed with precision.Pierre deserves full credit and any monetary rewards that come from it. It is inexpensive, and a little bit will last forever used with fire pistons. I have not yet tried it with other methods, but seeing how well it does with fire pistons, it will undoubtedly work well with others. I think Pierre is a genius, besides being a very kind and pleasant guy and I am glad to know him. I am very happy to know about Stone Tinder. It is helping me on my way to constructing a usable fire-piston completely from raw primitive materials.
[Note: Good Char Cloth works very well in Fire Pistons. However, it is sometimes difficult to get a good batch. It can cook too little or too long, which makes it usable, but not outstanding and hard to know which parts are good and which are not. Stone Tinder can help control this variable.]
Those who follow my blogs understand my noncommercial intent. I started them for my scattered grand-kids. This is as close as I have come to endorsing a product and I recommend Stone Tinder strictly for its outstanding merits. Given the information I have provided about it, you will have no problem finding it with a simple online search. There is only one Stone Tinder. And BTW, since I do not use tobacco, I never realized what cool little tins Camel Snus comes in. This is what Pierre compactly packages his Expert version of Stone Tinder in. The tin itself is worth it’s weight in . . . . well, at least in tin. It makes a great carry case and would would make a perfect char cloth tin as well. Thanks, Pierre.
Easy DIY Compact Fire Pistons from Readily Available & Inexpensive Hardware
Now I am going to share two simple fire piston designs that have been effective enough for me using both Stone Tinder and homemade char cloth that I think virtually anyone can construct quickly with minimal fuss. They are very similar. One is slightly more compact than the other, but both are small and easy to carry in a pocket. They are easy to use, too. The parts required are available from virtually any hardware store such as Ace or home building supply such as Lowes or Home Depot.
The main cylinder of either design is simply a 3″ or longer piece of brass pipe (called a nipple) with threads on at least one end and a threaded brass cap to screw onto it. I have tried pipe with both 3/8″ and 1/2″ diameters with equally successful results. I like the smaller one simply because it is smaller. Theoretically, the smaller diameter requires less speed and downward pressure–thus less effort to develop the necessary pressure and consequent heat to start an ember. I can’t tell any difference. If your brass cylinder is threaded on both ends or if it has been cut with a pipe cutter, it is a good idea to use a rat-tail file, sandpaper, or power tool to make the opening for the piston rod slightly bigger, but this is not critical. (Continued at the link below)
The remaining instructions for these DIY Fire Pistons can be found at my more detailed blog, One Hundred Ways to Make Fire without Matches at the following link.
It will likely take less time to construct one of these guys than it takes to read these instructions. It is just a guide for making a couple of models easily and quickly from inexpensive materials. The basic idea can be adapted to whatever you can find to improvise with. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the first fire piston I ever made was from a piece of aluminum arrow shaft, a pencil, and an O-ring. Amazingly it worked on the first try as I recall. Unfortunately, it never worked consistently. Oh, but wait! It probably would have with my new information and Pierre’s Stone tinder.