Posts Tagged With: bow drill method

School of the Woods: Turning My Classroom Inside Out

by Todd Walker

“In the school of the woods there is no graduation day.”

~Horace Kephart, The Book of Camping and Woodcraft, 1910

school-of-the-woods-turning-my-classroom-inside-out-thesurvivalsherpa-com

I deal with an inner struggle with every math lesson forced upon students.

They groan and ask, “When will we ever use algebra in real life?”

If I’m honest, my response is, “Never, unless you plan on teaching math one day.”

But that’s not entirely true. There’s that high-stakes test looming at the end of the year to determine who can regurgitate all the rote-learning jammed into a brain surging with teenage hormones. Forcing them to learn stuff they’re not interested in is as painful as pulling your own tooth with a rusty hobnail.

I can’t make them learn, but I can let them learn. In my experience, children who are allowed to follow their interests will learn across all academic disciplines enthusiastically.

We all learn the stuff we are interested in learning. I scraped by in all my college English classes with a solid C minus average. I hated writing and reading because it was forced upon me. Today is different. I taught myself to write (some may argue that point) because I have a real-world goal of sharing my journey to self-reliance and preparedness. Research and writing, unlike my college days, are now enjoyable as I purse my interests.

Here’s the thing…

Children (and adults) learn not by passively absorbing information but because something becomes interesting to them – or they watch and listen to others doing interesting stuff. Every school year my students discover my blog and YouTube channel. They get excited and want to start Doing the Stuff that I write about or demonstrate on video.

Children need space to learn naturally. Intuitively, they want to discover and develop intellectual skills – not become grand test-takers. Our rigid system of schooling promotes the latter. But awakenings happen. Moments like last Friday.

Friction Fire Friday

Capitalizing on my student’s interest in a few topics of self-reliance, and my love for the magic of friction fire, we left the classroom for a bow and drill fire demonstration. All sorts of science and math are involved in self-reliance. Heck, I’ve even witnessed students who are self-proclaimed book-haters open books on their own accord to learn about self-reliant skills. The possibilities are frightening.

School of the Woods: Turning My Classroom Inside Out ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Loading the spindle

Opening my box of tinder material and other primitive fire making tools, the Science lesson began…

“How hot does your stove top need to get to boil water?” I asked. The boiling point of water is 212º F so it must be hotter than that, right? Agreement was reached. Your electric range top is powered by fire traveling through copper wires without burning your home to the ground. Fire has always been the center piece of homes since primitive times… and it was never as easy as we have it today.

By rubbing two sticks together, we will conduct enough heat to the charred dust for spontaneous combustion.

“How hot do you think we need get the wood dust?”

Answers ranged from 200 to 250, and biscuit-baking temperature. Your oven at home doesn’t even reach the temperature needed. Through friction, we can create enough heat to raise the wood temperature to between 700-800 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot!

I pointed out that the cedar spindle we used is similar to a wooden pencil and works in the same way. The eraser end creates more friction than the writing end. When rubbing out an error in an algebra equation, the eraser leaves tiny particles of dust which is flicked away by the writer’s pinky finger.

However, the dust from our fire spindle is precious char and must be collected. Ideally, you want the wood dust to be as fine as baby powder as it collects in the missing slice of pie cut from the hearth board. Finer dust has an increased surface area to volume ratio. More surface area equates to a lower temperature needed for combustion.

After dust collects in the missing pie slice, faster revolutions of the spindle and increased downward pressure will increase the heat to reach the critical temperature needed to cause the charred dust to spontaneously combust.

And the magic happens!

For those interested in learning the bow and drill fire method, reading this won’t achieve the desired results. This is simply book-learning. Don’t expect great results from articles and books and videos. It’s called Doing the Stuff for a reason.

Some suggested do’s and don’ts can be found in our step-by-step guide on bow and drill method. Hopefully, this will offer some things to avoid on your journey to friction fire success.

Back to the lesson…

Surface Area and Fire

Before spinning the spindle, I asked, “What are three things every fire needs to burn?” Three separate students who paid attention in Science class quickly gave the correct answers; heat, air, and fuel. Our heat source is friction. Air, often taken for granted, must be present. Fuel will be our char dust in the beginning.

Not wanting to disappoint the students with smoke only, I choose a proven bow drill set made of Eastern Red Cedar sap wood. Setting up the drill in my bow, I asked which end of the pencil-like spindle should contact the hearth board to create the most friction. “The eraser end,” they answered in unison. Right. The sharp, pointed end has less surface area which equals less friction. My kids are smart scientists!

The grinding begins, followed by smoke… and oohs and aahs… and cell phones clicking pics and videos to document this primitive magic.

School of the Woods: Turning My Classroom Inside Out ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Documentation

Midway through the process my bow string snaps. The bank line on my favorite bow had twirled one too many spindles. I thought of asking the students to donate a shoe lace. Knowing the affection and social status placed on shoes of middle schoolers, I declined. We had just enough cord to wrap around the bow handle and proceed with drilling.

A few determined moments of spinning brought the charred dust to ignition temperature. Smoke floated skyward signaling the birth of a baby fire egg.

Allowing time for the fire egg to mature and grow inside the dust pile, we formed a “bird’s nest” from a handful of roadside pine needles which had been crushed and mangled by vehicle tires to create lots of surface area in the tinder. This stuff is a free, ready-to-use fire resource my primitive technology mentor, Scott Jones, turned me onto.

Birthing the Fire Egg 

A smoldering pile of dust was cool and all but flames licking through my fingers was what the students came to see. We transferred the fragile egg from its welcome mat to the prepared nest of tinder, gently swaddled it, and breathed life into the egg until it hatched into hot flames.

A full-fledged campfire wasn’t permitted. To build a sustainable fire, read our tutorials on Bombproof Fire Craft.

Doing the Stuff in Context

The bow and drill is the easiest of friction fire methods to learn since it maximizes your muscle power through leverage and mechanical advantage. On the second demonstration that day, we had enough time for one student to give it a whirl.

One male students knew all about this wilderness survival stuff from watching, in his words, “all the survival shows.” He knew the facts. He even told the class that we could carry the fire by placing it in dried elephant dung. Sadly, we were fresh out of elephant poop that day. His statement, true where elephants roam, highlights the importance of practicing wilderness skills in your wilderness (urban or rural) by actually Doing the Stuff.

As Steve Watts once said…

“… if it’s not in context, it’s just arts and crafts.”

Naturally, I asked our “survival expert” to try the bow and drill technique. He declined. Why? He knew all the facts but maybe he was afraid of failing in front of his friends. Whatever his reason, none of us can learn a new skill without learning to fail forward.

One of our female basketball players volunteered to try. She was very coachable and demonstrated good technique. For these two reasons, this young lady will probably be the first of my students to birth an ember by rubbing sticks together. We even had our resource officer watch and want to give primitive fire a spin.

Turning Class Inside Out

Not ever child may show interest in making fire from scratch. But I’ll bet they’ll stand in amazement watching the smoke and flames created by rubbing sticks together. This may be the hook needed to get them out of doors and into nature.

Every child needs to curiously explore his or her interest in our natural world. There’s more to this stuff than just building self-reliance skills. Their overall health and wholeness as a human being is the top benefit. Now, get outside and go wild!

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has chanced. I do not permit the reposting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.

Categories: Bushcraft, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Education, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

by Todd Walker

Imagine the first human who made fire from scratch.

The Art of Rubbing  Sticks Together

We have no way of knowing the gender of this hero, but I’m sure her clan celebrated her curious discovery well into the night! We’ll call her Pyrojen.

Scouting for berries by the stream that day, she threw a fist-sized rock at a slithering, scaly animal. Snake was a delicacy during berry season. Her projectile missed its mark. Hunger has a way of improving our hunter-gatherer craft. She threw more stones at random targets in the creek bed.

Still missing her target, Pyrojen’s frustration turned to anger, then to rage. She pitched a flailing fit while breaking rock on rock. And it happened. Sparks flew from two random rocks which lit her curiosity.

Word spread to nearby tribes huddled and shivering in dark, damp primitive shelters. Like a moth drawn to a flame, they came. Wondering as they wandered towards the glow if they too might learn to capture this primordial, glowing ember. And the rest is history.

This is where the term pyromaniac originated. 😉

Our fascination with fire is nothing new. For millenniums, men and women have stared at flames. Fire was man’s first TV. Besides being mesmerizing, fire from scratch opened a whole new world and we’ve been creatively using it’s power to make other useful stuff like glass, pottery, and weaponry.

We had three generations in our house last week. I offered to show our oldest grandson (almost 7) how to start a friction fire. He was not interested… yet. His bow and arrow held his attention. But our son jumped at the chance.

Here’s how he started his first friction fire using the bow drill method. If you’ve ever wanted to created fire by friction, the bow drill is the most efficient way. There are subtle nuances involved which can only be mastered by Doing the Stuff!

Ready to make ancestral fire?

Gather the Stuff

Though you can make a bow drill set from natural material in the bush, this is my practice set I use at home. It’s better to practice in a controlled environment to perfect your skills than waiting until you absolutely need them.

I’m planning a tutorial on making a bow drill in the woods. Stay tuned!

Here’s the stuff what you’ll need for the bow drill method…

  • Fire hearth (board)
  • Bow and bow-string
  • Spindle (drill)
  • Handhold socket
Friction fire kit

Friction fire kit

Fire Hearth

friction fire

Select wood that is free of moisture and resins. I had a scrap piece of cedar 1×4 board left over in my shop. I ripped it down to 2 1/2 inches wide by about a foot long. The board measures about 3/4 of an inch thick. Anywhere between 3/4″ to 1/2″ is a good thickness for your hearth.

Spindle

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

About 8 inches long

We used a thumb-sized dowel rod made of poplar. The length of your spindle should be about 8 inches. Without a measuring device, make the spindle about the length from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinky finger.

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

The business end

There are two ends of the spindle. On the business end (where you’ll create the primordial ember), chamfer a slight bevel on the entire edge to fit into the pivot you’ll create in the fire board with your knife. This pivot will be ‘burned in’ by friction to create a socket for your spindle.

Whittle the opposite end to a point. The pointed end decreases the friction on the handhold socket.

Handhold Socket

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

Since my practice set gets lots of use, I made a metal socket and secured it with epoxy.

I created my handhold from a piece of cedar leg I shaved down when I made DRG’s cedar bench. I split a smooth, rounded 4 inch piece and made a pivot hole that would accept a “knock out” from a metal receptacle box.

You could use a coin of some kind for the socket. Or you could burn a socket in the handhold with your spindle. A round stone with a dimple would also work.

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

Ball pen hammer, 9/16 ” socket, and a vise made the metal divot

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

Cordage

We used the quintessential survival cord – 550 paracord – for our bow-string. You could use tarred bank line, natural cordage, braided dental floss, animal sinew, or any strong line.

Bow

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

Bow and bow-string

The length of your bow should measure from the tip of you outstretched finger tips to your arm pit. Use a limb with a slight bend. My bow (oak) has a large bend but it’s what I had available. I’ve seen bows work that were perfectly straight.

If you have a boring tool (awl on your Swiss Army Knife) or a drill and bit, drill a hole about an inch from both ends of the bow. Away from civilization, just cut a 1/4″ notch on the back of the bow where you would have drilled holes. Wrap the cord around the notch to hold the bow-string in place.

Burning In Your Socket

Place your spindle on the fire board so that the edge of the spindle is about 1/4 inch from the edge. Tilt the spindle and make a mark where the center of the spindle would touch the board. Now make a pivot hole with your knife that will accept the drill. Spin the board with the knife point in the pivot until you’ve created a shallow hole the diameter of your spindle.

Twist the spindle into the bow string and slowly burn a hole in the board. This creates a socket  in the fire board that will mate with the drill.

Notch the Socket

Once you’ve burned in a socket hole, cut a notch on the edge of the board that runs at a 45° angle from the center of the hole. The notch should cut into the burned hole about 1/8th of an inch. The notch is used for air flow and collecting charred cellulose dust from process of friction.

Rubbing Sticks Together

I’m right-handed and built my bow drill to allow my students to see the process while facing me. That is why the notched holes are facing away from the fire-maker. If you’re left-handed, just flip this set around and the holes face you as you place your right foot on the board.

Before starting your bow drill, place a dry leaf, piece of paper, or bark under the edge the fire board to collect the ember. This will be used to transfer the primal ember to your tinder bundle. (It’s a good practice to lay a dry barrier under the complete set to prevent moisture from entering your fire hearth).

With your bow sting tight, twist the spindle into the cord with the business end down. Place the drill in the socket on your fire board, place handhold on top of spindle, and brace your off-hand against your shin for stability and pressure. This technique also helps you keep your drill vertical.

Now begin to spin the drill with long, smooth strokes while applying pressure on the handhold. The correct amount of pressure takes practice. Use the entire length of the bow string to rotate the spindle.

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

Our son creating smoke

Not too much pressure in the beginning. You’ll begin to see charred dust fill the notch in your fire board. Once the notch is almost full, you’ll pick up your pace with the bow. You’ll need to create a temperature around 800°F to create an ember from the char dust.

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

A successful ember

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

Messaging (blowing) the ember inside the bird’s nest (tinder bundle)

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

His first primitive fire!!

Friction Fire: The Art of Rubbing Sticks Together

Making char material to ensure future fires when using flint and steel or a ferro rod

This method of making fire is a spiritual experience that connects you to our ancient ancestors. It’s also a great way to connect with your family now!

Keep Doing the Stuff with fire!

Todd

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Thanks for sharing the stuff!

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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Primal Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 17 Comments

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