A Brilliant Bearing Block for a Bow Drill Fire Set

by Todd Walker

Ever hear a brilliant idea and wonder why you didn’t think of it earlier?

A Brilliant Bearing Block for a Bow Drill Fire Set

On The Pathfinder School Learning Center, Dave Canterbury posted a pic of a bearing block he made using an old soda can as an insert to reduce friction on his bow drill set up. While this idea wasn’t new to me, he suggested I use a piece of fat wood as a bearing block for my set. How brilliant is that!?

I made a bearing block out of a fat lighter’d knot yesterday. It’s a simple DiY project and adds another layer of fire redundancy in my kit.

You can’t walk far in the woods in Georgia without stumbling over fat wood. From previous resource gathering jaunts in the woods behind my school, I knew exactly where to harvest a few lighter’d knots for this project.

Down-and-Dirty Steps

Material and Tools

  • Fat wood knot (lighter’d knot)
  • Soft metal blank
  • Vise
  • Ball pen hammer and 9/16″ socket
  • Drill and bit
  • Wire brush
  • Epoxy

Step 1: Harvest a Lighter’d Knot

Harvest a fat wood knot. You can use a piece of fat wood from the core of a pine tree. It will take a bit longer to shape and finish into a smooth hand hold. You’ll speed up the process if you can find a nature-made hand hold – a fat wood knot.

A Brilliant Bearing Block for a Bow Drill Fire Set

A great score on lighter’d knots! My previous bearing block in the center is made of cedar. 

Step 2: Mold Your Divot Blank

Use a soft metal. I used a blank from a metal electrical box. I’ve seen socket blanks made from U.S. coinage.

A Brilliant Bearing Block for a Bow Drill Fire Set

Ball pen hammer, 9/16 ” socket, and a vise

Place your blank over an appropriately sized socket from a ratchet set. I used a 9/16″ short socket. Center the rounded end of a ball pen hammer on the blank which is resting on the socket.

Place the whole set up in a vise (hammer, blank, and socket) and tighten to create a dimple in the metal blank. File or sand any rough edges off the edge of your divot to prevent snags.

Step 3: Prep the Lighter’d Knot

If you have a grinder and wire brush attachment, use it to knock off any crust of the knot. Place the knot in a vise for this part. Normal safety precautions: Wear eye protection and gloves. This step also brings out the natural color of the fat wood – if that matters to you.

Next, place the knot in your hand and find where it’s most comfortable. Mark the spot under the knot where you’ll place your divot for the blank.

A Brilliant Bearing Block for a Bow Drill Fire Set

Mark the spot for your divot hole

Load the knot back in the vise and drill a hole about a 1/4″ deep to accept your divot blank. Use a paddle bit that is the same width as your divot blank. For me, a 7/8″ bit matched perfectly. The bit size and hole depth depends on the size of the blank you use.

A Brilliant Bearing Block for a Bow Drill Fire Set

7/8″ paddle bit was just wide enough

Dry fit the divot blank in the hole. Tweak as needed. It shouldn’t be a very tight fit since you’ll be securing the blank to the wood in the next step.

A Brilliant Bearing Block for a Bow Drill Fire Set

Dry fitting

Step 4: Epoxy the Divot Blank

Follow the directions on your epoxy and mix an amount that will fill the divot hole. Place the divot blank on top of the epoxy and set firmly. Wipe up any excess that squeezes out around the divot blank.

A Brilliant Bearing Block for a Bow Drill Fire Set

The finished product

After the epoxy sets up, sand off any residue around the hole if needed.

A Brilliant Bearing Block for a Bow Drill Fire Set

Ready for friction fire!

Of course you wouldn’t have access to these tools in a wilderness setting. I’ll be posting on how to make a bow drill set from all natural harvested wood (poplar tree) in the next few weeks. Hope you stick around!

Keep Doing the Stuff,


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Categories: Bushcraft, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff | Tags: , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “A Brilliant Bearing Block for a Bow Drill Fire Set

  1. I must admit, I’ve never tried starting a fire with a bow drill. But I was under the impression that you need friction to heat up the tinder. I’m thinking, “How are you going to start a fire if you’re spinning wood on a piece of metal?” Then I’m thinking, “The heat from the work has to go somewhere, dummy.” It just doesn’t seem right. I guess I need to try it.


    • I didn’t explain the whole method. The bearing block is what the pointy part of your spindle rest in. You want the least amount of friction as possible on that end. The coal will be produced as the other end of the spindle causes friction on the fire board or hearth.

      I’ll try and get that tutorial together for ya soon, Matthew. Hope tis helps.


      • Awesome, thank you. I’ll watch for that. If you could, when you write that, please also explain why it’s important that we’re using this “fat wood” over some random branch. I’m not grasping that concept either.


      • Fat wood is resin rich and makes an excellent fire starter. Just shave or scrape some off the bearing block into a tinder bundle. Scraped off into a fine dust pile, you can start the pile with a ferro rod.

        Fat wood is naturally water proof too. If you have it your area, you’ll want to collect it and use it for kindling. If not, let me know and I’ll send you some. 🙂


  2. highdesertlivin

    That is cool, Im going to make one w/ the fat wood. I have plan’s to make one w/ some regular material, my plan was to use a pre 64 quarter. As im sure you know this provides possible 2ndary use. With the fatwood 3 uses, awesome. Thank’s for the post.


  3. BILL

    Not really trying to nit pick your grammar, but it’s ball peen hammer, not ball pen. You just left out one (e) is all.


    • I knew it didn’t sound right, Bill. My wife, DRG, is a Language Arts teacher. You’d think her knowledge would rub off on me. 🙂

      Thanks for pointing that out to me!


  4. Pingback: 14 DiY Projects for Wilderness Self-Reliance | Survival Sherpa

  5. Pingback: 14 DiY Projects for Wilderness Self-Reliance

  6. The socket and ball peen hammer trick works with coins too, should you not have an electrical box knockout handy.

    A bit off topic but just used your trick on some buffalo nickels to dome them to make buttons. Piece of 12 gauge copper wire bent into a loop, a quarter inch of lead free solder, a touch of soldering fluid, fire up the torch to apply heat and the button is made.

    Thanks for getting me thinking outside the box!


  7. Sure am. I go by @technoprimitive on Twitter. Just found you on there and followed you!

    Thanks again for all the great info!


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