Before or about the time of the American Revolution some gentleman invented a fire piston (Fig. 26) with which he ignited punk made of fungus by the heat engendered by the sudden compression of the air.
The ancient gentleman describes his invention as follows: "The cylinder is about nine inches long, and half an inch in diameter; it terminates in a screw on which screws the magazine intended to hold a bougie, and some fungus. A steel rod is attached to a solid piston, or plunger, not shown in the figure, it being within the tube. This rod has a milled head and there is a small hole in the tube to admit the air, when the piston is drawn up to the top, where a piece unscrews, for the purpose of applying oil or grease to the piston. I have found lard to answer the end best."
" Take from the magazine a small piece of fungus, and place it in the chamber, screw the piece tight on and draw the piston up by the end, till it stops. Hold the instrument with both hands in the manner represented in Fig. 26, place the end on a table or against any firm body, either in a perpendicular, horizontal or vertical direction, and force the piston down with as much rapidity as possible. This rapid compression of the air will cause the fungus to take fire. Instantly after the stroke of the piston, unscrew the magazine, when the air will rush in, and keep up the combustion till the fungus is consumed. Observe, in lighting the tinder, the fungus must be lifted up a little from the chamber, so as to allow the tinder to be introduced beneath it, otherwise it will not kindle.
"Here it may be remarked that the instrument thus constructed has a decided advantage over the fire-cane, where the fungus is inserted at such a depth as not easily to be reached."
But in Burmah they had the same idea. There the coolies still light their cigarettes with a fire-piston. The Philippinos also use the same machine and ignite a wad of cotton stuck on the end of the piston by suddenly forcing the piston into air-tight cylinders, and when the piston is quickly withdrawn the cotton is found to be aflame, so it may be that the Colonial gentleman had traveled to the Indies and borrowed his idea from the Burmahs, or the Philippinos. At any rate we do not use it to-day in the woods, but it finds place here because it belongs to the friction fires and may be good as a suggestion for those among my readers of experimental and inventive minds.