Survival tech: The fire piston

A fire piston, developed by the indigenous peoples of the south pacific, operates like a diesel piston. Staff photo/Lee Williams

A fire piston, developed by the indigenous peoples of the South Pacific, operates like a diesel piston. Staff photo/Lee Williams

If you’re a hunter, a hiker or a survivalist and spend time in the wilderness, few skills are more important than the ability to make fire.

Fire keeps you warm, cooks your food, can serve as an emergency beacon and generally improves your morale.

I’ve always been interested in low-tech, traditional methods of fire making, since they never run out of lighter fluid and, unlike matches, can still operate when wet.

Some methods definitely work better than others. My record with a fire bow is very poor, and not for public consumption.

One primitive fire-making tool that always travels with me in my bug-out bag is a Fire Piston, which was developed by the indigenous people of the South Pacific and Southeast Asia.

The Fire Piston operates on the same principal as a diesel piston – compression creates heat.

Operation is simple. Simply withdraw the piston and insert some flammable material in the small recession at the tip, char cloth works best, and then slam the piston closed, hard.

The sudden compression of oxygen creates heat. When you withdraw the piston, the char cloth should be smoldering, and ready to go onto your tinder bundle.

Like any primitive skill, it takes some time to master, but that’s part of the allure.

Mine is a traditional model made out of Cocobolo wood, but there are metal and plastic pistons available. Prices range from $20 to $100.

It’s a great survival tool, which always operates, wet or dry, without batteries or regular  maintenance.

Piston 004

Staff Photo/ Lee Williams



About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. Zengunfighter on

    Fire pistons are cool, but I prefer a ferroceium rod. More durable and easier to use, and doesn’t require pre-charred material. And a heck of a lot cheaper and easier to find.

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