Scoutmaster Musings - Fire Pistons for Scouts

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Scoutmaster Musings

Fire Pistons for Scouts
Scouts like fire. Scouts like to burn stuff. Trying to make water flow uphill would be easier than changing that fact. At summer camp, scouts I know have had a tradition for the past 5 years of tying a small stuffed animal to a post and burning it at the stake. This started with those little beanie babies that were available at McDonalds. Every year someone has pulled one out of a pack - I just hope they aren't part of a little sister's collection.

Since scouts enjoy fire so much, ensuring they respect it and can manage it should be our goal. I encourage fires all the time and there's never a lack of volunteers to give it a go. Usually, a scout starting a fire has a gallery of advisors, whether he wants them or not. Once scouts are able to lay, light, tend, and extinguish fires properly, I challenge them to start a fire in more interesting ways.

There are dozens of aids to make a fire light faster, such as candles, dryer lint, potato chips, and purell. See Fire Helpers for a list. But, all of these need a spark, flame, or ember to get going. That is the challenge - how do you generate the heat source?

The different ways I've used to create the initial heat for a fire are Sparks, Friction, Sunlight, and Electricity. Electricity stored in a battery heats a filament such as fine steel wool until it burns. Sunlight is concentrated to a point with a magnifying glass until it ignites the tinder. Using a bow drill or hand drill to "rub two sticks together" causes friction which creates a smoldering ember. Flint & Steel creates a spark which is caught in fine tinder to produce an ember. These are all fun ways to create fire and some work better than others, depending on the weather and environment. Most of them take lots of patience, time, and physical effort.

I was just introduced to an extremely interesting, and fairly easy, way to create an ember without matches. In a diesel engine, air is compressed to produce heat. Did you know that by compressing the air around you into a small enough space, it will become hot enough to ignite tinder? There are now fire starters called Fire Pistons which do this exact thing, almost like magic.

I received a fire piston from Jeff at Wilderness Solutions so I could try it out. On my second attempt, I made an ember! It took all of about 20 seconds. Of course, I just had to show off my great new skill to the troop! At our troop meeting, I passed the fire piston around to see who could guess what it was. No scout knew - it was a brand new piece of gear! When I demonstrated it, you should have heard all the oohs, aaahs, and "How did you do that?" questions flying around. :-)

Jeff sells finished fire pistons as well as kits so you can make and carve your own. I've got two kits. My plan is to whittle them with our troop number and give them as Eagle Scout gifts. Jeff has a new Scout Fire Piston Kit with special prices for Boy Scouts. They aren't cheap, but the actual product is not cheap either. The solid coco bolo wood feels great and polishes up just beautifully. They are very solid with nothing to break if it gets dropped or even thrown across a campsite. The kits are simple to assemble and then scouts can whittle, sand, or carve however they like. They are a terrific activity for a patrol or the whole troop, especially in late winter getting ready for spring camping. There is a special bonus deal for scouts that order 20 kits that you should check out.

Here's a short video showing a fire piston in action. There are many other videos on Wilderness Solutions site.

Posted: 12:17 01-23-2008 300
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