4B70.10 Fire Syringe


Adiabatic compression, ideal gas law


This fire syringe consists of a glass tube with a tightly-fitted piston inside the tube. When the piston is pushed down quickly, the air inside the tube is compressed. The quick compression of the air in the tube causes a rapid temperature increase that ignites a low flash-point material such as a small piece of flash paper.



  • [1] Fire syringe
  • [1] Tweezers
  • [1] Straw
  • [1] Long Q-tip
  • [1] Long wire
  • [1] Foam
  • [1] Lubricant
  • Small pieces of flash paper

Safety Equipment

  • [1] Safety glasses

Classroom Assembly

  1. Swab out the tube to make sure the inside of the tube is dry and free from any residues.
  2. If the O-rings on the plunger appear to be dry, apply lubricant to the 'O' ring and spread the lubricant thoroughly by working plunger up and down several times.
  3. Take a small piece of flash paper from the container using tweezers and position it at the bottom of the tube.
  4. Insert the ignition tube into ignition tube housing.

Important Notes

  • Refrain from touching the flash paper by hand to avoid introducing moisture to the paper.


  1. Put on your safety glasses.
  2. Place the fire syringe on top of the foam.
  3. Raise the plunger to its highest point.
  4. Hold the housing firmly and quickly push down on the plunger.
  5. If ignition does not occur, try pushing down more forcefully or replace the piece of paper with a smaller piece.
  6. Remove any combustion residues using a long wire and a Q-tip.


Additional Resources


  • PIRA 4B70.10
  • Instruction sheet accompanying Science Kit Fire Syringe
  • Sutton H-179; Freier P214; DHP He-5; Miller p190; Edser p266
  • H. Balfour, "The Fire-Piston" from "Anthropological Essays Presented to Edward Burnett Taylor in Honour of His 75th Birthday," Oxford, 1907
  • The old web site had dead links labelled "The Firepiston: Ancient Firemaking Machine" and "The Amazing Firepiston"


  • Don't attempt this at home!

Last revised

  • 2020


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If you have any questions about the demos or notes you would like to add to this page, contact Ricky Chu at ricky_chu AT sfu DOT ca.