|In the information below, you will find over a dozen tinders from a large range of climates and
environments that can be found and used in your fire piston around the world.
First, these types of tinder were used traditionally with the fire piston. In Europe, fire pistons were traditionally used with
three tinders: Charcloth, Amadou and 100% cotton rags soaked in Salt Peter. Amadou was also soaked in Salt Peter
to provide the owner a more reliable tinder. In South East Asia, fire pistons were used with Amadou, the fluff material
from the leaf base of the Tukas Palm, and the fine inner bark of the Caryota Mitus Palm.
Here are some tinders that are native in a variety of climates that have worked for us and others.
|Chaga: True Tinder Fungus
Chaga true tinder fungus is very reliable. There are three parts of Chaga:
the corky interior, a harder more compressed interior and darker
exterior. The corky interior works very well. The more compressed
interior and harder outer part do not work very well, unless it is ground
up into a powder, but that is difficult to use with the fire piston in that
form. This tinder can be found year around growing in irregular shapes
and varying sizes on live Birch trees where a branch broke off or there
was an injury. The trick here, your Chaga MUST be dry!
|Chaga varies in size and shape
from very small to massive
growing in an injury on Birch.
This is an above average find here
in central Minnesota.
|The orange spongy marshmallow like center
is the easiest to light part of Chaga once dry.
|Amadou; Shelf Fungus, Horse Fungus, False Tinder Fungus
Shelf fungus. Horse Hoof false tinder fungus. There are different species of shelf fungus that work in the fire piston
with varying results. Horse Hoof Fungus is easy to identify, usually on Birch, and is very reliable. Although I have
not tested all shelf fungus’ from all environments, I know that this one is easy to use. If you can find one dying that is
dry, the leathery interior, just under the harder outer skin, should work right off the tree for you. Otherwise it needs
to be dried first. This tinder can be found year around. Prepared as Amadou it is even more reliable.
|Cut off the outer skin. The darker, smoother
leathery interior just under the lighter skin is what
you want. If it is dry enough, it may work right off.
|Cut thin strips to dry. These strips
can be turned into Amadou.
|Cramp Ball Fungus
Cramp Ball Fungus is known by a few different
names. Its Scientific name is Daldinia Concentrica
while it also goes by King Albert’s Cakes, Coal Fungus
and carbon balls. This fungus is widespread
throughout Europe and is found on dead and dying
Beech, and sometimes Ash, and grows up to 75mm. It
has a hard crumbly coal like texture and is easily
distinguished by both its very black color and growth
rings. This fungus works very well in the fire piston
and does not need preparation. This fungus is also
another year around tinder, a perfect option for those
looking for tinder in Europe.
|Just a small bit of this lights very reliably.
Mullein is a tinder that is found widely
throughout the world. It comes naturally from
Europe and Asia and grows in North America
from Mexico to Canada. It likes alkaline soil and
is found in disturbed soils, along roadsides,
fields, near seashores. In the United States, it is
found in all 48 contiguous states and Hawaii.
There are over 250 distinct species of mullein
(and many other subspecies) that grow
between 2 and 9 feet tall. The pith has produced
a coal, but it is not as reliable as the feathery
bark, which is very easy to light. Unlike wood
punk, you do not need to have "just the right"
mullein to work in your fire piston, just make
sure it is a brown stalk. It takes little
preparation and works extremely reliably and
can be found in a variety of climates. One last
tinder that you can get from Mullein is from
charring the Pith much like Charcloth. It makes
the pith much more reliable.
|Mullein grows near disturbed soils such as by railroad tracks.
While you want brown stalks, the older the stalk is, the lower
quality the pith is. The feathery bark will rub off the stalk
naturally and help determine age and quality.
|A green stalk represents mullein
in its second year of growth.
Surrounding on the ground are
plants in their first year.
|I found by experimenting that the
feathery bark works very well.
|Mullein pith works best if
sliced off in thin curls.
Milkweed offers another tinder for your
fire piston. Actually, to be honest, it offers
two. Various species of Milkweed are
widely distributed in tropical and
subtropical regions, including Africa and
India. Some of them grow in rocky
environments and some in a swampy
habitat. I see them here in Minnesota in my
backyard and different species are found in
Canada and Mexico. The distribution of
this plant is widespread. They like sun and
moist soil. The two types of tinder this
plant offers are the fluff and the ovum. The
ovum is VERY reliable with the fire piston
while the fluff is quite the challenge. As
with other plant fluffs, it lights and burns
out quickly. The trick is to have just the
right thickness ball and very quickly
transfer it to your tinder bundle. Unlike the
Ovum, it is not very reliable and would
make a better addition to your tinder
bundle. Milkweed Ovum would be a year
around tinder, both green and dry.
|Dry pods can be found year around if
you keep your eyes open. This one
was found in June 2007. Notice the
new growth in the background.
|A close up of the dry open seed pod
with the ovum still attached.
|This is a close up of the Ovum.
Its amazing how well just a
small piece of this works in
the fire piston. Don't be fooled
by those who tell you the seed
pod creates you a coal. It is
this Ovum that you want.
|Green pods are easy to locate
on the large leaf plants in late
summer and early fall.
Wood punk is another tinder that works in the fire
piston, although not as reliably as the other tinders
mentioned. I have created a coal many times but have
had varying results. The wood punk has to be in just the
right stage of rot and must be 100% dry. I found that
even though the punt felt dry, it always seemed to have
hidden dampness or simply would not light. Although I
have made wood punk work, I would recommend trying
to find one of the other tinders mentioned first. While
wood punk is available year around, it is one to use if
there are no other tinders available. While some swear
by it, my experience, as well as others, tells the truth.
I have tried a variety of plant fluffs
in the fire piston. Each produced
varying results. They are not easy to
use and not really worth the trouble.
I have not tried all plant fluffs so
there may be another out there that
might just produce a nice coal that
does not burn out so quickly. Plant
fluffs availability vary by plant cycle
and are not a year around tinder
source. Others have made Yucca,
Sunflower stalk, scrapings
from inside bamboo, and
ground up Cedar bark work in
their fire pistons although these I
have not yet tried for myself.
|As you can see, there are many tinders that work in the fire piston. Tinders
are still being discovered. We suggest experimenting with different natural
materials from your environment and trying the others mentioned to see
what works best for you. If you discover a new tinder, please let us know
and we will put the information here for all to share. A special thanks to
those of you who have shared your knowledge for this page.
|This photo is only a representation of wood punk. I
would recommend that you choose it from standing trees.
|You can find fields with
freshly open pods such as
this one scattering the land
like soft lit torches.