Compression Fire Starter- (AKA “Piston Fire Starter”)
What Is It, and Why Should I Care?
The Compression Fire Starter, also known as a piston firestarter, slam rod fire starter, fire piston, and fire syringe, is a primitive fire-starting tool that is recognized by a hollow tube. One end of this tube is sealed and another end is hollow. In ancient times they were made from animal horns, wood, bamboo, antlers, and other natural substances. Nowadays, they are made with metal. The compression firestarter is a challenge to master. (Manufacturers even mention this) However, as they are compact, they are an easy addition for your outdoor survival kit.
Interesting Fact: The technology used to make the piston rod is the same principles that are used for building the diesel engine.
How Does It Work?
A fire piston is a simple tool that uses compressed air to lite a small piece of tinder. After it is lit, the ember is then used to lite a larger fuel source, and then a campfire is gradually started by adding additional fuel sources. (I.e. Wood, Kindling, etc.) For more information on questions considering the mechanics of the fire piston, history, etc., please go below to the appendix. If you just want to get to the reviews, start reading below.
Budget Compression FireStarter Reviews
You can get decent, no-thrills, fire starter, for well under $20. So, even though you might be able to find a sub $10 one on the market. I would not buy one unless they are on sale or close out. The following are the most highly rated and vented fire syringes that are sold on Amazon.
- Included – 1-fire piston, Metal Tin Carrying Case, Paracord, Char cloth (Pre-Assembled), 1 DIY Char Cloth, Spare O Rings, and lubricant for the o ring.
- Product Dimensions – 9.6 oz.
- Warranty– 30 Day Money Back Guarantee
- Sturdy-Fire piston is a well made durable product made of steel.
- All You Need – This fire starting kit has everything you need to start a fire: Char Cloth, Spare O Rings, and even lubricant for the O Rings.
- Customer Service-Customer service is praised even by those who gave it a negative review. For example, one reviewer stated that he had no problem returning the product.
- Works Well-Using the American Heritage Fire Piston, and pretty much any fire piston, can be hard. American Heritage even admits that it can be tricky to learn how to use his fire-starting technology. So, they included a how-to video using their fire piston, which, according to many users, makes it easier to use.
- Attention to Detail– Numerous indicators show that American Heritage paid attention to small details. For example, an o ring and extra cloth are included. Also, I like that a metal, waterproof, tin container is included.
- Video-The instructional video for this product was said to be quite helpful.
- 30-Day Warranty-A 30-day warranty is quite weak for a product that, if used for emergencies, will likely not be used until after the 30-days have long passed.
- Learning Curve-Even, the manufacturer admits that it takes time to learn how to use this gear. As a result, they included an instructional video. However, even with a video, many users claimed it didn’t work for them. However, it is unknown whether or not they also looked at the video.
- False Advertising– This is a minor complaint and has nothing to do with politics or its quality. I feel that it is quite deceptive that they name their company American Heritage when these fire pistons are made in China.
Based on reviews, this is an excellent product that is well made and gets the job done. Also, as it has everything you’ll need, this is an excellent buy for beginners. This product is rated highly with multiple ratings. As a result, it is not a brash assumption, that any complaints concerning it not working, are not because of the product; but, users who didn’t see the video or they just somehow aren’t capable of using any fire piston.
PSKOOK Metal Compression Fire Piston
- 1-Piston Paracord
- O Ring Lube Char Cloth, Jute or Burlap (Tinder) Instruction Manual
- 5″ x .68″ and 5.2 Oz.
- No Warranty (Listing only tells them if something is wrong and gives them a chance to fix it)
PROS AND CONS
- Ratings-Overall positive reviews with nearly 100 total reviews
- Works As Designed:-Works well for those who are either experienced at using fire pistons or those who have an aptitude in using one. Also, reviewers state that it will light a fire up well as long as you use an excellent tinder.
- Instructions-The operating instructions are unambiguous and easy to use.
- Construction– Some reviewers state that the PKOOK, fire piston, is too short to get enough compression and oxygen to reach the spark needed to start a fire. Additionally, reviewers that the sealing is sub-standard.
- Reviews– It does have a majority of positive ratings. However, it does have nearly 20% of either one or two-star reviews.
- Inconsistent Performance– Reviewers states that even when it does work, it works inconsistently.
- Tight Learning Curve– The biggest complaint among the poor reviews was that it simply does not work well or even works at all.
- All In One-Everything is included in this fire-starting kit that you need for operation.
- No Video-Unlike, the American Heritage model, PSKOOK does not have an instructional video for their product.
As stated, with nearly 100 reviews, the PSKOOK is highly rated. So, if you purchase this fire piston, you should be reasonably confident that (with practice) it will get the job done. However, most of the one and two-star reviews mentioned that it either never worked or worked sparingly. As a result, you need to be sure to practice using it if you are going to use it for emergency/survival purposes.
Hickory CampFire Piston
- O Ring(s)
- Char Cloth Bag,
- Instructions on how to use it and also how to make char cloth
- 4-1/2″ x 7/8″ at 2 Oz.
- 30 Day Return Policy (Unworn or Unused and receipt required)
PROS and CONS
- Customer Service-One reviewer even did a second 5-star review; so, he could rave about his customer service experience.
- US Made-Great for North American Customers
- Durable-Its hickory and aluminum construction not only looks great. But, more importantly, it also is well made and quite sturdy.
- Instructions-Excellent instructions included. Instruction includes not only how to use it; but also how to make char cloth.
- Ease of Use-An alleged slam rod user said that he could get it to start a fire with little effort.
- Not As Complete-It is missing lubricant, and also a paracord. However, what’s worse is that it doesn’t come with a container to hold the char cloth, spare o-rings, lubricant, etc.
- Storage-You can’t put the piston shaft back into the piston chamber once the rubber o ring is on the piston and it is ready for use.
- Physically Hard to work-Multiple reviewers stated that it takes a lot of physical effort to get it to work. In fact, a female reviewer said that she wasn’t physically able to exert the needed physical pressure to get it to spark.
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
The PSKOOK and American Heritage are essentially the same. They cost the same, look the same, and everything that you will need is included for both of these models. The Hickory only differs from the above in that it doesn’t include piston lube. ( Not a big deal as the lubricant is just petroleum jelly) As a result, you could likely not go wrong if you are wanting to purchase either of the three that I reviewed. However, if I had to choose one of these, it would be American Heritage. The reason that I would choose it over the PSKOOK is that it has overall better reviews, and is slightly more compact.
Should A Fire Piston Be In Your Survival Gear?
Learning to use this ancient survival tool can be quite fun and make you popular with your hunting/camping buddies. However, it is tough to master and you want it to be as easy as it can be when it comes to outdoor survival. It should never be your first option or your second option. However, because of it being lightweight and easy to carry, bring one along and give it a try when you are under normal, non-emergency, circumstances.
When Was The Fire Piston Invented?
Southeast Asian Origins
Other than what culture developed them, little is known about the ancient origins of this tool. What is known is that the first ones were invented by South East Asian primitive cultures. (Most likely Austronesian civilization around 100 to 500 AD)
Some of the countries where fire pistons were extensively used were the Philippines, Sumatra, Java, Madagascar, Thailand, Burma, Mainland Southeast Asia, Laos, and areas in Japan. The first ones were made from substances common in their environment, bamboo, bone, ivory, horn, antlers, etc. It has been theorized that it was likely developed from primitive blowgun or pipe weapons. And it eventually evolved into a fire piston.
For Europe, the first mentions of it were in 1745 in Italy by Abbot Agostino Ruffo. He wanted to make a blow gun for the Portuguese King. Per written documentation, Ruffo was testing the blowgun for air leaks, whereby he plugged holes in the gun with scraps of wood. Consequently, after using the blowgun that way, the wood was burnt. Ruffo attempted to follow up on this “accident,” but it didn’t become popular until it was patented in 1807. They remained semi-popular in areas of Europe until 1826 when the match was invented.
Other than practicing bushcraft skills, it is used now primarily as a secondary source for starting fires. The fire piston works well as a secondary source as they are compact, can work in most environmental conditions, and (unlike a mirror) even during the night.
How Does A Piston Fire Starter Work?
It is composed of a hollow cylinder with a length ranging from roughly three to six inches. It also has a bore of around 3 inches in diameter that is sealed at one end and opened at the other end. The cylinder is fitted with a piston having an airtight round seal, which contains a handle on its end to allow for applying a firm grip. Generally, the piston has a recess or a notch in or on its face, where the burning tinder is placed.
Swiftly ramming the piston into the cylinder causes the air to compress and makes the temperature in the inner part of the cylinder rise to 500 degrees Fahrenheit rapidly. 500 degrees is hot enough for the tinder in or on the end of the piston to light with a flash that is visible in a transparent or translucent cylinder. The piston is withdrawn quickly before the tinder, which is now burning, can deplete the oxygen.
At this point, it is safe to remove the smoldering tinder from the piston’s face. To create a flame, the ember is blown or fanned vigorously. Various stages of the larger kindling are then added until such a time that a proper fire is built.
How To Use The Piston?
It can a take bit of effort to learn how to properly use this tool. As a result, I’ve included the following video to help you learn how to best use this primitive technology.
When using the slam rod fire starter keep the following tips in mind.
- Prepare First– Before you use it, make sure that you have your tinder bundle at the ready. You must be able to transfer the ember immediately to more tinder.
- Lubrication-Lubricate or grease the string gasket using petroleum jelly (Vaseline) as the seal is likely to weaken after a few tries, and the Vaseline helps in recreating the seal. (Lubrication is not needed if your fire piston has an O ring gasket)
- Use Full Strokes-Begin with the plunger at the farthest end of the compression chamber. The gasket needs to be started just into the chamber. The purpose is to allow a larger air volume to be compressed. This results in greater temperatures and improved ignition.
- Compress Fast-The plunger should be hit forcefully and quickly to enable it to compress all the air inside the chamber into an extremely small area and in a short time.
- Humid Weather-Humidity makes it harder to light a fire because each attempt at compression heats and drys up the tinder. As a result, and several attempts may be required to spark an ember and start the fire.
- Tinder-Proper tinder material is especially important when you are learning how to use this tool. I.E. Char Cloth
You Might Also Want To Try
The fire-starting tools below are compact, cheap, and, to many, much easier to operate than the compression firestarter.