Adventist Youth Honors Answer Book/Camping/Fire/Compressed air

In the Pacific Islands near the Philippines, there is a fire building technique that uses compressed air to ignite a small piece of tinder. The technology to do this is similar to a diesel engine and is called a sulpak by the islanders or fire piston by the rest of the world.

The sulpak is usually made out of a water buffalo horn or very dense wood. There are two parts to the device, a piston with a pad on the end, and a cylinder. The piston has a small divot in the end of it that holds a piece of tinder (char cloth works well) Also there is a small groove near the end of the piston that is wrapped with thread to create o-ring. The piston is normally lubricated with pig fat, but Crisco, and Vaseline work well.

The piston is smeared with the lubricant, and a small amount of lubricant is placed in the divot at the end of the piston. The char cloth is then pressed into the grease in the divot.

Push the end of the piston into the cylinder about a half inch. Then hold the cylinder in one hand and hit the pad of the piston with the other. Then pull the piston back out quickly and blow on the tinder. If it doesn't glow immediately you will need to try the process again, or check to make sure that the "o-ring" is tight enough.

There is not enough tinder to catch much on fire, so the best thing to do is light a larger chunk of char cloth and then use this to light the other tinder that will be part of the fire.

It is very difficult to manufacturer the sulpak in the wilderness, so this technique is not good for an emergency unless you just happen to have a sulpak with you. Many outdoor wilderness adventurers will carry their sulpak with them when they go camping and hiking.

Outdoors has a good article with pictures of how to make and use a fire starting piston.