Loc: California, USA
Does anyone have any experience using a fire piston? I saw them on an episode of survivorman and have been looking at them online, but I would like to get some input from someone who has had experience using them in the wilderness. I'm probably going to get one anyway just for fun and to mess around with, but is there a specific website I should order one from? Ive found a few websites, but since I have no experience in this product, I don't know how to guage the quality of the product. Any input would be helpful. Thanks in advance!
Loc: Central Texas
Fire pistons work about as well as any other fire starter that creates a coal in fine tinder. They do not usually produce a flame (although the longer ones can do so with just the right tinder). You usually have to make the flame by babying the coal in a separate wad of tinder that will burst into flame when heated enough by the coal. Folks who can get an actual flame in one step with the piton are lucky enough to have tinder that will flame rather than smolder. You might be able to find good tinder in the wild, but usually, you have to carry it in. And when you find the useful stuff (rubbed cedar bark is decent), you have to carry a quantity and keep it dry.
IOW, like other "primitive" fire starters, the piston is an interesting plaything of limited practicality. The tinder provided for sparking fire starters such as "Spark-Lite" (BPL) might be good for practice. I'll bet it will flame in the piston, but that is just a guess. Charred cotton cloth gives a good, quick coal (not a flame) with less effort than other media. A "bird's nest" of frayed jute or sisal twine make a good "secondary tinder."
Pistons vary graetly in the heat they can produce. It depends on the length and diameter of the cylinder. Long, narrow ones are more likely to produce flames in one step because they generate more heat. Short fat ones require a lot of pounding.
I've turned out several fire pistons from different materials on my lathe and conclude that they aren't reliable enough for 'survival'. Like Spock said, tender choice makes all the difference, and if you bring your own tender, you might as well bring matches. A match or lighter provides fire NOW, where fire pistons,bit and bow, fire plough,fire steels all require an extra tedious step to get actual flame. Try that when it's cold, wet and windy. Fire pistons are fun to play with though. You basically have a single stroke diesel with one.