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HomeSurvivalFireFire Pistons

Model "T" Fire Piston

Article and photographs by Rob Bicevskis

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*** WARNING ***

This page contains instructions on how to make a fire piston using "common" materials.  The pressures generated in a fire piston are very high and may be beyond the design limits of some of the component materials.  If you try building a fire piston according to these directions, you do so at your own risk.  I have not had any catastrophic failures with this design, but that doesn't mean it won't or can't happen.  Please take appropriate safety precautions.


The Wildwood Survival website contains a few articles and references to Fire Pistons.  A number of people have emailed me about making or buying Fire Pistons.  In some cases, the first emails were about help in building a Fire Piston, and subsequent emails have been about where to buy one.  This is indicative of the success rate that people have been having in the construction phase! 

(By the way, I don't sell Fire Pistons.  If you want a ready-made unit, there are people such as Jeff Wagner and Steve Leung who have been making Fire Pistons for a while and would be happy to sell you one.  I have one of Jeff's fire pistons.  He makes a beautiful quality product.  I met Steve Leung a number of years ago and have seen his fire pistons in action.  Check out the web-sites that belong to either of these guys.)

A friend, Ron White, and I have been building various types of fire pistons over the last number of years.  I have experimented with styles that more or less required a lathe in the construction process.  Ron has played more with what can be done with "common household materials."  The result of much of this experience is encapsulated in this web page.

About a hundred years ago, Henry Ford said about the Model T Ford: "I will build a motor car for the great multitude."

Well, the Model T Fire Piston is a design for the abo masses. 
(There must be at least a hundred of us or so, no???)

The idea of the Model T Fire Piston is that for 5 bucks and an afternoon of effort, you can build their own fire piston.  No special tools or skill are required.  Clearly this PVC based design isn't as elegant as other wood/plastic/bamboo/horn/bone models, but it is a great intro to Fire Pistons and is a great platform for experimenting.


Ok, you've read this far, and I know you're asking: "whadda I get for 5 bucks and a few hours of my time?"

Well, I'm glad you asked.

Click on the video to the left and you will see the Model T Fire Piston in action.

Wasn't the video neat?  I hear you saying: "yes, yes, I want to build one!"

Building the Model T Fire Piston

Parts List


O-Ring Plunger Parts List

Amount Needed
3/4" CPVC End Cap 2
3/4"-1/2"-3/4" T Fitting 1
1.4" of 3/4" CPVC Pipe 2
1.5" of 1/2" CPVC Pipe 1
#6 Wood Screw 1/2" Long 1
11" of 1/2" Hardwood Dowel 1
Wine Bottle Cork 1
5/16"x7/16" O-Ring 1

Cylinder Parts List

Amount Needed
1/2" CPVC 9"
1/2" CPVC End Cap 1
O-Ring Grove Jig Amount Needed
1.5" of 1/2" CPVC Pipe 2
1" of 1/2" CPVC Pipe 1
1" of 1/2" Hardwood Dowel 1
1/2" CPVC End Cap 1
1/2"-1/2"-1/2" T Fitting 1


Amount Needed
Glue for CPVC Dab
Epoxy Glue for O-Ring Groove Dab
Vaseline Dab
Tinder Some
Here is the parts list for the Model T Fire Piston.

All of these items can be bought at your local hardware store.

See below for details and some construction options.

If you opt for the syringe-style gasket, then you can substitute any 7/16" dowel for the 1/2" dowel in the parts list.  Also, you won't need the O-ring Grove Jig parts.


Building the cylinder

While boring an acceptable hole in a piece of wood or plastic isn't always easy, making the cylinder from CPVC is a trivial exercise.

Cut a 9" piece of 1/2" ID CPVC.

When buying your "end caps," check to see whether the ones at your local store have a "nipple" inside.    If the nipple is there, it will press against the plunger, or against the tinder in the end of the plunger.  So, either buy end caps such as the one on the left that don't have the nipple, or if you end up with a cap such as the one on the right, it is better to carve it out.

If you have CPVC cement, use it to seal one end cap to the end of the cylinder.  If you don't have CPVC cement, you can also use epoxy glue. You will need epoxy glue later in this project, so if you need to buy adhesives, buy the epoxy.  It is a waste to buy a whole can of CPVC cement  since so little is required.

Using sandpaper, or a knife, smooth out the inside edge of the opening of the cylinder.  This will allow the plunger to be inserted more easily.

There, the cylinder is done!

Building the Plunger - The Handle

This is what the plunger looks like when it is finished.


The "T" handle is an ergonomic way of holding the plunger.


It also provides storage.


Removing one end-cap from the handle reveals the storage area for tinder.


Removing the other end-cap show where Vaseline is stored.  The Vaseline is used to lubricate the plunger O-ring.  It can also applied to cotton balls, or other organic material and makes a great fire-starter.


Here is an exploded view of the top portion of the plunger.

Refer to the parts list for the lengths of the CPVC pieces.


The first construction step is to cut the cork in half and press-fit it into the 3/4"-1/2"-3/4" T Fitting.


The purpose of the cork is to separate the tinder and lubricant compartments in an air-tight and water-tight fashion.  If you don't want to bother with storage in the handle portion, you can skip this step.


This is what things should look like with the cork inserted.

You can now cement (CPVC glue or epoxy) the two 1.4" of 3/4" CPVC Pipe pieces to the T fitting.

Also, cement the 1.5" of 1/2" CPVC Pipe to the remaining opening on the T fitting. 



This is what things should look like at this point.


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