The Fire Piston

my animation of a fire piston

The fire piston was developed in Southeast Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines. A fire piston consists of a hollowed tube (originally this would have been made out of wood, horn or bone) that is sealed at one end and lubricated inside (pig or dog fat was popular with early fire piston developers). The second component is a plunger device, typically with a small compartment to hold dry tinder. The plunger should not allow air to escape when it is placed into the bore of the piston, so the device had to be engineered with some precision. Upon depression of the plunger the air in the piston is compressed and, as result of the work done, the air in the piston could reach temperatures exceeding 400 ºC. A metal fire piston was independently developed during the early 1800's and patented in England in 1807. In 1865 European explorers found the use of the fire piston to be widespread in Indonesia. 

The development of the fire piston is linked to manufacture of the blowpipe and it is believed that the fire-piston effect was first observed during the preparation of a blowpipe bore.Operation of the fire piston required some skill, and its use was superseded in Europe as a result of the development of the match.

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