What Is The Piston Fire Starter?

The piston fire starter, also known as a slam rod fire starter, fire piston, or fire syringe (all of these terms will be used throughout this review), is a gadget of the ancient origin used to start fires.  Animal horns, wood, bamboo, and antlers were initially used to make the first piston fire starters.

Now they are most commonly made of metal.   Slam rod fire starters are designed on the principle of heating gas (air in this case) by adiabatic and rapid compression to light, and tinder, which is used for setting fire to kindling.

Where Can You Buy A Fire Syringe?

A fire piston is not an everyday item.   So, Amazon is a great place to begin your search.  The piston firestarter has excellent reviews, an O-ring, and even starter tinder.  Click the image below for more information.

What Exactly is a Piston Fire Starter?

The Fire Piston

19th Century Fire Piston

The fire syringe is composed of a hollow cylinder with length ranging from roughly 7.5 cm-15 cm.  It also has a bore of around 7 mm in a diameter that is opened at one end and sealed at the other.  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 tinder is placed.

Swiftly ramming the piston into the cylinder causes the air to compress and make the temperature in the inner part of the cylinder to rise to 500 degrees Fahrenheit rapidly. 500 degrees is high enough for the tinder in or on the face 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 The piston is withdrawn quickly before the tinder, which is now burning, can deplete the oxygen in the cylinder.

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 upon vigorously. Various stages of the larger kindling are then added until such a time that a proper fire is built.

How To Use A Piston Fire Starter

The following video will help you best learn how to properly use the piston fire starter:

Also, when using the slam rod fire starter keep the following tips in mind.

  • Prepare First: Before you use the fire piston, make sure that you have your tinder bundle at the ready. You must be able to transfer the ember immediately to more tinder.
  • Lubrication: Occasionally lubricate or grease the string gasket using 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 piston Fire Starter 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.
  • Is it Humid?: Humidity makes ignition to be more difficult. This is because each attempt at compression will heat and dry the tinder, and several attempts may be required to spark an ember.
  • Tinder: Make use of good tinder, like char cloth. This is even more important when you are learning how to use the fire piston.


The piston fire starter is an important device for outdoor survival.  Learning how to operate a piston fire starter will help you easily make a fire when you are either camping for fun or are stranded in the wilderness.  And properly knowing how to operate this tool could literally mean the difference between life and death.