Fire pistons, what's "the knack"?

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ONE

Full Member
Nov 21, 2019
57
16
51
N. Ireland
For nigh on twenty years now I've been trying (on & off!) to use a fire piston. I've had several, given (or thrown) all away.
Just got another as part of a kit, modern metal one, and after a morning of trying, again all I have is a sore wrist.
I've asked online and in person many times and the answer is always something along the lines of "you just need to develop the knack", but what is it? I've literally worn out bags of o-rings trying, watched others and followed them exactly, had others clean, lube and load the piston for me but I've never seen as much as a glimmer. When I first tried flint & steel, I found it terribly unreliable until someone said to me "Stiff fingers, loose wrist" and that was that... Fire's a go-go.

Anyone got any similar wisdom for the piston or do I just (as I had before this one appeared) file it, along with dancing, under things I just can't do.
 

ONE

Full Member
Nov 21, 2019
57
16
51
N. Ireland
I've just smacked my thumb on the worktop while trying again and I'll be surprised if I don't lose the nail, going by the colouration.

I've lived without them for 50 odd years, I think I might get by on the other firelighting methods I have at my disposal.
 

ONE

Full Member
Nov 21, 2019
57
16
51
N. Ireland
Yes, vaseline and every other thing the videos, the sales people and the instructors at meets tell you to do, and on occasion have done for me and just handed me the piston to whack... Nada, ever.

Really think it's time just to let them go, too many injuries!
 

Bazzworx

Full Member
Mar 5, 2009
378
69
35
South Glos
What is the technique you're using? I taught my 10 year old niece how to do it. She wasn't able to push down with enough force so what we ended up doing was to insert the plunger, lift the whole lot up together then bring it down with force nice and square and quickly pull the plunger out with a glowing ember at the tip. That was with a Bushcraft tools metal fire piston with good quality char cloth and it also works really well with Amadou tinder fungus.

If you don't have any Amadou I could send you a piece. It would only be small as I don't have a lot myself. PM me your address if you'd like some.
 

Danqrl

Member
Jan 14, 2021
40
19
41
Derbyshire
As a gift I received a bush tools fire piston in July so thanks for making me think about it again. I gave a little go in July following the instructions that came with it and had no joy but ill try some more this weekend.
You are not alone in the struggle ha ha
 
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MikeeMiracle

Full Member
Aug 2, 2019
253
115
44
Northampton
Bought one of these from bushcraft tools at the Bushcraft show and could not get it to work either, the sliding was bumpy. Took it back and it seemed the o-ring just needed adjusting until it formed a proper seal.
 
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Hammock_man

Full Member
May 15, 2008
1,323
359
kent
I have a fire piston that I love. It is a nice milled aluminum one, super fit great seal with the o ring and I make a point of using fresh bone dry char cloth take I have tested to take even the smallest spark.

In a hundred goes I might of had 5 glowing embers!!!!! You truly are not alone.
 

Tiley

Full Member
Oct 19, 2006
2,173
243
57
Gloucestershire
I have an aluminium fire piston, having tried a number of rather beautiful wooden versions, and find that it works well for me in creating an ember.

In terms of technique, I keep the piston in a pocket so that it benefits from body warmth. I don't know if that has a signal effect but it seems to ensure a consistent ember. The next phase relies on not so much force as speed: push the plunger down, with some force - powerful but not wrist-breaking - but then take it out as quickly as possible to ensure that the heat you have generated by the compression can be converted to an ember by the addition of oxygen/air.

There was some rule about the proportion of the width of the plunger to its length but I can't recall exactly what it is; I'm not even sure if it's entirely relevant either but then, what do I know?

I have to admit that, although it is not my primary means of creating an ember for a fire, I always carry the fire piston as I do like its simplicity and comparative reliability.
 
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Tony

White bear (Admin)
Admin
Apr 16, 2003
22,962
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Wales
www.bushcraftuk.com
As Tiley says, get it back out quickly! You can see if the fuel has heated up, if it obviously has heated up but extinguished before you've got it out then remove the piston quickly, I usually force it down hard and fast with my palm, grasp the top as I pull up swiftly with a slight twist.

Charcloth and Amadou are great for getting your ember.

Once you've got it nailed you'll enjoy using it, it's a great way of creating an ember that's really quite reliable.
 
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