Antique South East Asian fire piston

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Dec 13, 2004
Zaandam, the Netherlands
Last year I visited an Amsterdam antique shop that specializes in anthropological items. The owner had a collection of antique South East Asian fire pistons for sale.
Anthropological Fire pistons collection:

She had acquired the fire pistons from an English collector, sadly wihout any specific data for each piston.

She had bought the collection as a curiosity, and did not know much about the history of fire pistons or their use so I gave her a short introduction in 'fire pistonology', inc luding a firelighting demonstration with my own homemade fire piston. I also supplied her with some copies of articles on fire pistons (i.e. Balfour's anthropological assay from early 20th century)

After that she opened a drawer and I got to see -and hold!- all the various fire pistons she had. I felt like a kid in a candy store! ;)

In the end I bought the white fire piston, wondering if it was made from ivory or bone.
My new fire piston:

An internet search a few days later yielded an almost exact copy of my acquired fire piston.
Twin fire piston from the collection of Wereldmuseum Rotterdam:

I can therefore say with some certainty that my fire piston comes from Terengganu, mainland Malaysia ;)

The museum states that theirs is made from bone (probably Asian elephant or rhinoceros judging by the thickness required to make one) so I guess mine is too.



Note by the first picture:
The turned wooden & horn fire pistons that taper into a sharp point are probably all Malaysian. The flat-bottomed ones, the two rectangular ones & the pistol-shaped one look like they are Philipinean.
I could not find a match for the flask-shaped fire piston in online Dutch & international museum collections

Edit: I have replaced the Photobucket-pictures by photographs from Postimage
Last edited:


Anyone for sailing?
Mar 5, 2008
~Hemel Hempstead~
Unfortunately Photofu^*et don't allow you to share pictures unless you pay the ransom money for the privelage.

Best option is to use Postimage or another free photo hosting site to upload pictures.


Full Member
Jan 10, 2006
Oh, that is a find. and a good opportunity to increase the knowlege on something which is very obscure.

My pictures are very fuzzy.


Dec 13, 2004
Zaandam, the Netherlands
After buying the antique fire piston I wanted to try and make a bone fire piston myself and found a piece of cow metacarpal bone in the pet shop. The bone wall was not thick enough to make a piston out of but I made a bone rod to match a small brass piston. It took a lot of splitting, carving and sanding to end up with a straight and round rod.

The handle was made from a piece of cow horn.

It starts a fire but this size seems to border on what is manageable for using a fire piston: any smaller than this would be very hard to use.

This one uses a rubber o-ring, I am currently working on a rod that uses wound thread for making it air tight.


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