How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set

by Todd Walker

The Bushcraft Journal, a free online magazine, has a wealth of articles dealing with outdoor self-reliance. This post is based on a recent article by Gary Johnston of Jack Raven Bushcraft.

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set -

As Gary mentions in his article, many people would like to learn to make fire by friction with a bow and drill but many not have the physical stamina to twirl up an ember. Others may have bad knees or other injures which prevent them from ever attempting fire by friction. This method alleviates knee pain and weak wrists.

Here are the steps our students at RISE Academy used to make fire using this method…

Long Lever Bow Drill Set

Step 1: Gather the Stuff

  • Bearing block: About a yard long log and 3-4 inches in diameter
  • A platform like a firewood round knee-high
  • Long bow about chest high for multiple bowers
  • String for bow and normal stuff you’d use for regular bow drill fire – tinder, welcome mat, etc.

Cut a 36 inch long, 3-4 inch diameter, tree to be used as the bearing block. Flatten the underside on one end of the log. Carve a pivot hole about 3 to 5 inches in from one end of the long bearing block. We found a wide pivot hole about 1/4 inch deep to be about right. We used a hearth and spindle (cedar on cedar) which the students found produced embers in the traditional bow drill set.

In the video below, we show two separate groups of students successfully using this long lever bow drill set. It makes for a great team building or family project.

Step 2: Attach Bearing Block to Tree/Pole

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set -

The bearing block attached to a bamboo riser on the student-built outdoor classroom.

Lash the other end of the long lever to a tree or pole. Use a square lashing or tie knots until it holds to the anchor point level with the top of the spindle. The long lever bearing block takes advantage of mass and mechanical advantage to easily apply downward pressure on the spindle during bowing. In fact, I applied too much pressure in the beginning which caused problems.

Step 3: The Longer Bow

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set -

Sixth graders using the longer bow.

For two or more people doing the bowing, use a longer bow to achieve more spindle rotations per stroke. By yourself, stick to a normal arm-length bow. And yes, this method works well if you’re spinning solo. The anchored bearing block steadies the point of contact against my shin – which is one of the struggles I see a lot with first-time friction fire makers.

Load the spindle into the long bow, place the spindle into the hearth board divot, and mate the top of the spindle to the long lever bearing block. The person “driving” the bearing block will place his/her foot on the hearth board resting on the stump. Steady the bearing block against the shin with two hands.

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set -

Extra length at the end of the lever bearing block give ample room to connect with the shin.

You can also set this entire rig up without elevating the hearth board. It’s certainly kinder on the knees when elevated.

Step 4: Twirl an Ember

For a group effort, have two bowers hold opposite ends of the loaded long bow. Oh, have them stand offset to the plane of the bow so nobody gets a stick in the gut. Start the pull/push slowly to gain a rhythm like a lumberjack crosscut saw competition. As the charred dust builds into the hearth board notch, pick up the speed in bowing.

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set -

Getting into a rhythm

If the first two bowers tire, and you have alternates waiting, the bearing block “driver” gives the command to switch. Including all the hands builds teamwork and ownership to the effort. While the switch takes place, check the condition of the char dust in the notch. Even if it is smoking on its own, allow the other bowers a turn in spinning.

Step 5: Blow the Ember into Flame 

Celebrate your creation of a fire egg (ember) and allow it to grow by fanning it with your hand. High-fives all around! No need to hurry as you will likely produce a larger-than-normal amount of char dust in the hearth board notch.

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set -

A nice pile of smoldering char dust!

Once the fire egg is resting in its nest of tinder material, have each team member take a turn blowing the ember into flame. At that moment when heavy, white smoke billows from the nest, get your camera ready to capture the magic of fire from scratch!

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set -

Road-kill pine straw and cattail fluff for the win!

How to Make and Use a Long Lever Bow Drill Set -

Almost there.

Place the burning nest in the fire pit and add prepared kindling for the fire to eat. Let the high-fives and fist-bumps begin! Your team has just created fire by friction and welded bonds of friendship never to be forgotten!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Primal Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

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