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Don't crawl around on your hands and knees, look for a knuckle on the old birch tree. ; )
Char Cloth Sample $1 Tinder Fungus Sample $1
Here are some of the more popular choices for fire piston tinder:
Pure cotton char cloth - needs processed but is the easiest tinder to ignite, bar none
Chaga - True tinder fungus (Inonotus Obliquus) - can be used raw and is very easy to ignite
Pithy plant centers such as Bamboo, Sunflower, or Mullein - can be used raw and is easy to ignite
Fluffy down-like material found in cattails, dandelions, and milkweed pods - pretty tough to ignite
Very dry plants with a low ignition temperature like palm fibers or punk wood - very tough to ignite
Basically, if you can find a plant substance that offers any of these characteristics, it will probably work as tinder for the fire piston. Household items such as tissue paper or dryer lint don't work and you'll only get a miniscule whisp of a smell to let you know the fire piston works, but that particular tinder doesn't work. However, if you char the tissue paper first it will work but it's better to use high quality pure cotton for char cloth. You can char other plant fibers to use as tinder but cotton is my choice for char cloth. Oh yeah, cotton balls don't work very well either. The reason is because the fibers are so small and so far apart that the individual fibers go out before they can transfer the heat/spark to another fiber. However, if you process the cotton ball and twist it into a thin string first and then char the string it will work much better.
My favorite tinder is Chaga because it's found in the wild, needs no processing, and provides a very nice aroma while burning. True tinder fungus grows on the birch tree where the trunk was previously injured. At the healed injury site there may be a black or dark brown knuckle growing on the otherwise light colored tree, making it easy to spot. This black knuckle is the fungus you are looking for. The orange colored spongy inner core is the material you want. The hard outer brown 'bark-like' shell of the fungus is considered nutritional when prepared properly, but that's another story.
My second choice is the fluffy down-like material from plants like cattails and dandelions because they are so common everywhere, there just not as reliable as chaga as they can be a bear to keep the ember going long enough to extract it from the fire piston.
My third choice is pure cotton char cloth as it provides the best results on a consistent basis. The only problem is that you need to start with high quality material, process it properly, and store it very well as even the humidity can alter the quality. However, once you get the hang of making your own char cloth, you'll never run out of tinder again. You can learn to make your own char cloth here.
After that, it's all about the same to me. It really depends on your location and what is growing in your immediate area. With the guidelines above, you should be able to find something that will work. There are plenty of other options but this list should get you pointed in the right direction so you can locate your own source of fire piston tinder within your local area. Just remember, the moisture content of the fibers is the most critical when trying a new tinder. In other words, when you are trying out somehting new, make sure it is as dry as it can possibly be before you try it, otherwise, it probably won't work. If the plant material you are trying doesn't work, try charring it first and then try it again, it may work after charring. Pithy centered plants or chaga are about the only tinder sources you can use as soon as you find it where most others require some drying time or some sort of processing first. I suggest using char cloth until you become proficient with the fire piston and then you can move on to chaga and then to other more difficult options.
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