Posts Tagged With: friction fire

Tips and Tricks on Hand Drill Fire Starting

by Todd Walker

Tips and Tricks on Hand Drill Fire Starting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Of all the primitive skills passed down from ancestral tribes, coaxing fire from two pieces of wood may be the most transforming. This one skill forever changed our existence in so many ways; diet, tools, security, defense, sleep, shelter, relationships, hygiene, ceremonies, etc., etc.

Fire is automatic today. Flip a switch and fire flows through insulated wiring to illuminate our home and power our refrigerator. Yet we don’t see this miracle in action as it hides inside walls. Our hands aren’t directly responsible for creating those sparks, and, as a result, we’ve become disconnected.

At the recent Foxfire Mountaineer Festival, lots of people gathered to see our Georgia Bushcraft group demonstrate primitive fire starting methods. With Alan Kay on the hand drill and myself on the bow drill, several onlookers were able to create their first fire by friction. Afterwards I was talking to Alan about the crowd’s interest in primitive fire making and he said…

“Nothing reconnects us to our roots like friction fire.”

I spent the better part of a month spinning wood between my hands before birthing my first ember. Along the way, blisters turned to calluses. To save you time and pain, I wanted to share my experience and a few tips which may help you twirl up your first ember.

Build a Hand Drill Set

Finding optimal material is key. In my experience in the humid south, even the best material can fail. Here are a few combinations local to Georgia which work for me.

Tips and Tricks on Hand Drill Fire Starting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

L to R: Mullein spindle, river cane spindle with yucca insert, trumpet vine (top), cedar (bottom)

Hearth Board

  • Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)
  • Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) – use the whitish sap wood
  • White Pine (Pinus strobus)
  • Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)
  • Mullein (Verbascum) – tie two stalks together to form a hearth board
  • Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)

The best hearth boards are non-resinous, soft wood. My go-to hearth board is trumpet vine. I had never considered this vine for friction fire until Dusty, a fellow Georgian, used it on his channel, IHatchetJack. I have a honey hole of this vine growing along a fence row near my school. Once dead, you can break off large sections from the vine.

For a traditional hearth board, the plank should be about one half-inch thick. It will need a notch carved into the “burn in” hole. I make my notches in a pyramid shape which reaches about one-quarter into the burned in hole. The notch allows the pulverized char dust to collect while the twirled spindle creates enough heat from friction to reach combustion temperature. The notch also allows air to reach the char dust (fuel) so that when enough heat is applied – the fire triangle is complete and an ember is born.

Tips and Tricks on Hand Drill Fire Starting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Pyramid shaped notches

Non-traditional hearth boards can be effective as well. As mentioned on the bullet points above, two mullein stalks lashed together is an alternative when a flat board is not available. Instead of “burning in” a socket on a flat board, make a perpendicular cut on the two lashed sticks to keep your spindle in place while spinning. The trough between the sticks acts as a notch to collect the char dust.

My first hand drill ember was created on the friction end of my spindle… not in the notch of my hearth board. An ember is an ember, right? The idea of a no-notch hand drill ember was intriguing. I discovered that one can create a series of “burned in” holes where char dust is collected in the previous hole which serves as a traditionally notched board.

For first time hand drill experimentation, I would recommend a traditional set.

Spindle

  • Mullein (Verbascum)
  • Yucca
  • Goldenrod (Solidago)
  • Cattail (Typha)
  • Inserts in a river cane spindle: Cedar, tulip poplar, mimosa, basswood (Tilia americanaor any short, soft wood have worked for me

Productive locations to find mullein and yucca stalk spindles has been railroad tracks, road sides, cemeteries, and waste places. I like using the same wood for hearth and spindle. Good luck finding a straight piece of cedar long enough for a spindle. The river cane spindle is very forgiving. You can carve a short insert from a crooked limb to be used as your spindle material.

Tips and Tricks on Hand Drill Fire Starting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A yucca insert in the river cane spindle on a trumpet vine hearth board.

As far as the one-piece spindle goes, cut a straight section about the length of your outstretched arm about 3/8 inches in diameter. A longer spindle allows for more space to spin and provides more leverage for older guys like myself. If you’ve mastered the “float technique” like IHatchetJack, a shorter spindle is sufficient. That technique is more advanced but very efficient.

Scrape the spindle smooth with the spine of your knife or an abrasive stone. Once smooth, you’re ready to start spinning.

Technique, Stance, and Muscle

Some sit, some kneel. I’ve done both and find kneeling gives me more leverage for downward pressure on spins. My kneeling position is very similar to the stance I use for bow and drill fire starting.

My kneeling stance is described for right-handers. Reverse the directions if you’re a lefty.

Place the hearth board flat on the ground. Kneel down with your right knee on the ground and place your left foot on the board. Your right thigh should be near perpendicular to the ground and in line with your left foot. When spinning commences, the stance allows you to bend at the waist and use your upper body (shoulders) to apply the needed downward pressure and rotation of the spindle.

Keep your elbows in towards your body and hands close to your shoulders to maximize leverage with each spin down the spindle. Use the full length of your palms while twirling the spindle. The beefy part of your palm (inline with your pinky fingers) is where most of the work should happen. Both palms should move equally. If one palm is doing all the work, the top of your spindle will wobble back and forth.

A little spit on your hands will increase the grip between your palms. Another option is to rub pine pitch along the spindle shaft.

Fuel your muscles by breathing. Yup, I was guilty of concentrating so hard on spinning and pressure that I forgot to breath on my first attempt with the hand drill. Practice and patience will help you develop muscle memory and stamina whether you spin a coal or not. If you feel hot spots on your palm in the beginning, stop and wait a day before continuing. Blisters will put a stop to your practice.

Hand Drill Training Wheels

I learned the hand drill technique without thumb loops. However, I think they are a good way to get the feel for the amount of downward pressure and rotation involved with spinning a coal. Plus they allow you to have your hands in the same spot on the spindle without having to go up and down in the traditional manner.

Another way to increase success is to share the workload. Have a partner kneel in front of you and take turns twirling the spindle. Even if they only raise the temperature 200 degrees, that’s less work you’ll have to do. It’s also a great team-building experience when a group starts their campfire with many hands.

Tips and Tricks on Hand Drill Fire Starting ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Tyrus, one of my eighth grade students, lived up to his t-shirt slogan and twirled his first ember.

Make a Fire

Have the necessary tinder material handy so you can swaddle your baby ember and blow it into flame. Read more about tinder material and prep here.

Resources which helped me on my quest for hand drill success…

We’d really like to hear from you if this helps you create your first hand drill fire. For those already twirling up coals, feel free to share your tips and experience.

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 our 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 changed. I do not permit the re-posting 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, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Primal Skills, Self-reliance | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Primitive vs. Modern: The Importance of Keeping Skills in Context

by Todd Walker

Primitive vs. Modern: The Importance of Keeping Skills in Context ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

From time to time I get comments on my blog from folks wanting to see more survival stuff without modern equipment involved. These types of comments appear more frequently on my YouTube channel. Here’s a recent one from a my One-Stick-Fire in the Rain video using a ferrocerium rod as my ignition source…

“pleeaaaaase im just waiting to see if some “survival” channel teaches how to do it without these gadgets like fire rods and matches and stuff like that…. come on!”

Spark ignition in the rain is not hardcore enough for some folks. Comments like this don’t offend me in the least. It highlights the symptoms too often seen in of our modern online survival community: We thirst for knowledge but lack real, hands-on experience.

You can certainly gain knowledge if the information comes from reputable sources. However, no matter how reputable or experienced the presenter may be, you can only gain experience by actually Doing the Stuff in the field.

This is a natural progression of what flows from Hollywood minds. Joe Q. Public’s hunger for entertainment and the “next-level” survival show keeps TV production companies scrambling for ratings… all the way to the bank.

The stuff I do is quite boring I’ve been told. I’ll admit, I’m not the most exciting guy in the woods. I like to think I’m smart at times, though. Sensationalism is not my thing. Over-the-top TV stuns shouldn’t be yours either if you ever need to survive in the wilderness.

Skills in Context

Our level of field experience and skills should determine what we carry to the woods. I carry modern tools like a ferro rod, Bic lighter, matches, and other so-called “gadgets” when camping or tramping in the woods. Does this make me less of a woodsman? It may in the eyes of those insulated by technology who have never had to light and maintain a fire in a rain-soaked forest.

Could I start a sustainable friction fire in the rain with resources collected from the forest landscape?

Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve never gone on a self-imposed survival trip without modern fire tools. I practice primitive fire craft while in the woods but always carry backups. In theory, I should be able to leave modern fire starters at home. One day soon I’ll have to trade this theory for action.

But for now, let’s address keeping skills in context.

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

~ Steven M. Watts (1947-2016)

Wilderness survival skills are often taught in a vacuum without background information on how these skills personally relate to the student, locale, and history. I’m fortunate to be a student of Scott Jones in the field of primitive technology and experimental archaeology. Scott wrote his latest book, Postcards to the Past, with the intent of developing “practical perspectives for observing, interpreting, and utilizing the natural world” by modern primitive practitioners like myself.

Ancient Atlatls: How to Make a Down-N-Dirty Spear-Thrower ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Scott Jones firing the bamboo atlatl at a class this summer

I may have hands-on knowledge of fire by friction, but do I have the wisdom to know “when” and “why” to use this skill? I have been humbled on more than one occasion attempting to spin up a coal with friction fire techniques on “dry” days in Georgia. Our humidity sticks to you like fly paper. Add a steady rain or a slight drizzle and I reach for my thumb drill (Bic lighter) or other modern devices to start my fire.

Should you add friction fire methods to your skill set? Is it even practical?

The more I sweat, the less I freeze. The meaning of this statement should not be taken literally. Sweating in cold weather is big no-no. What I mean by this is that the more I practice primitive, the more confidence I build in using a bow and drill or hand drill as a survival insurance policy.

On my journey of outdoor self-reliance, I have found that nothing beats preparedness. Even on day hikes with Dirt Road Girl, I carry my haversack packed with emergency shelter, water bottle, sheath knife, tarred mariner’s line, with room for other essentials… and the occasional rock that catches her eye. Instead of making shelter from forest floor debris, a time and labor intensive doing, my emergency space blanket or GI poncho can be strung up with little effort if need be.

Again, context is essential. Do you want to Learn to Return or Learn to Stay?, as Chris Noble wrote in one of his excellent articles at Master Woodsman a few years back. Skills to return or stay may overlap. The tools and mindset to acquire comfort in the woods are what distinguishes the two. However, the logical choice for most outdoorsy folk is the later.

One of my favorite quotes from Scott Jones in Postcards to the Past is…

“one of my goals is to get people to think about what the think they think.”

The first peoples to settle a land had to make do with what they had, not what they wished they had available. Skills to accomplish this task were passed down from generation to generation. For us moderns, through practice and experimentation, we too can incorporate these wilderness living skills to expand our options.

The main reason I practice primitive fire is the integration into the natural world I gain. My senses sharpen when woods trekking if I plan to make fire by friction. With a keen sense of urgency, I take note of overlooked trees and their dead limbs to determine if a tree swallowed fire, and, in return, will pass fire onto me. As Native American stories go, not every tree swallowed fire.

Another practical reason for friction fire practice is the attention to detail required. Preparing finely processed tinder material which will turn a small coal into fire is a practice which transfers nicely when using an open flame or 3,000 degree sparks from a modern ferro rod.

Friction fire demo at my school

Friction fire demo at my school

Mastering different fire by friction techniques is my goal. My middle school students love this stuff. But it’s not a method I try first when I’m cold and wet. Add the stress of a real survival situation with accompanied elevated heart rate and the fine motor skills needed to craft an effective bow drill set from the landscape is quickly lost. This bit of context is lost on most folks watching entertaining videos from the comfort of home.

But our pre-history ancestors did it. That’s the only choice they had. I’ll bet Grok would have used a Bic lighter or ferro rod if that technology was available.

As I’ve said before, fire covers a multitude of survival sins. Even if you’re improperly dressed for the environment, fire can help you sleep. As Mors Kochanski says, “The quality of a survival kit is determined by how much it can help you when you need to sleep. If you can sleep well at night, you have it made.”

Until you’ve done enough friction fires that you can’t get ’em wrong, and ironed out all the pesky nuances of twirling sticks together, and you’re ensured that physically injured will never happen, go prepared with modern fire tools. If not, be prepared to be vexed with a cold, wet, miserable, sleepless night in the woods… or worse.

This is not to say you should ditch primitive skills. Nothing could be further from the truth! You just need to keep them in context.

Related Resources on our site:

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 our 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 re-posting 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, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle

by Todd Walker

Primitive Fire Balls - How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle - TheSurvivalSherpa.com

 

 

One of my favorite DiY fire starters is waxed jute twine. I’ve been using these for years in damp/wet conditions. They ignite with ease with ferrocerium rods and lighters/matches. Flint and steel sparks are too weak to ignite waxed jute alone. Charred material is needed. I wondered if anyone had made one before.

I searched for ideas online for making a waterproof tinder bundle which could coax fire using modern and primitive ignition sources (friction fire embers and/or flint and steel). Joshua Stuck made this fire starter and shared it on Primitive Ways.

Time for me to trade theory for action!

In his article, Joshua used birch bark strips to wrap his jute twine bundle and fire starter before waxing.The only native birch in my Georgia woods is the river birch which doesn’t work well as a wrap or basketry. This reinforces the importance of spending time in one’s local woodland to find and test your natural resources.

One of my favorite natural tinder sources is the inner bark of dead-standing tulip poplar trees or dropped limbs. Needing a pliable bark wrap for this project, I carefully separated the outer and inner bark from a young tulip poplar to produce strips wide enough for the task. I also have a collection of dry cottonwood inner bark which I used.

Another natural option I considered for wrapping material was a dead hornet’s nest. The papery layers come off in large sheets. Cedar bark was another idea.

I’ll be using all-natural material personally gathered from my local landscape… except the char cloth and bee’s wax. The wax was purchased, and the cotton denim was lying on my shop floor.

Primitive Fire Balls

Material and Tools

  • Dry Tinder Material: I used finely processed inner bark of tulip poplar in one ball, and crushed roadway pine straw in the other.
  • Charred Material: Char cloth, charred rope, or charred punk wood can be used. My experiment found the best results using char cloth. Here’s my tutorial for making char cloth.
  • Exterior Wrap: Inner bark, hornets nest, anything dry and pliable.
  • Bee’s Wax: In keeping with the natural material theme, bee’s wax was used. Old candles stubs or paraffin wax will work.
  • Double Boiler: Melt wax safely in a double boiler to prevent accidental fires.
Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Above the bee’s wax is a few layers off a hornet nest which might work as an exterior wrap.

Step 1: Create a Tinder Bundle

Process enough inner bark into fine fibers to make a compressed ball about the size of a golf ball. Mine were slightly larger. Be sure to place the finest fibers at the center of your tinder bundle.

Another addition could be fat lighter’d scrapings sprinkled into the nest. I didn’t do this but will test it on my next batch.

Step 2: Insert Char Cloth

Spread the compressed tinder bundle and place a piece of char cloth in the center of the nest. Now ball up the nest with the char cloth in the center.

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Char cloth in the center of the tinder bundle.

Step 3: Apply Wrapping

Begin wrapping the compressed ball with your chosen material. I found the tulip poplar strips created a tighter, neater wrap than the cottonwood inner bark. Work to cover the entire ball to form a shell.

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

For size comparison, a wasp (pictured left) flew into the hot bee’s wax during melting. Ironic, huh?

Step 4: Wax the Balls

With your bee’s wax melted, carefully dip the ball into the wax. The wax is hot so be careful. You’ll get wax on your fingers no matter how carefully you dip. I used tongs after the first coating of wax. The wax will help hold loose bark in place.

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Double boiler method

After the first coat, I simply laid the ball in the wax and rolled it around to coat the entire bundle. Allow the wax to cool a bit between each coat. I applied 4 or 5 coats of wax to each ball. While the wax is still pliable, press and form heavy drips into nooks and crannies.

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Using the Primitive Fire Balls

I tested the shell’s ability to keep moisture out by placing the ball in one of our bird baths for a few minutes. This is certainly more water than they would see inside my haversack under normal rainy conditions – save capsizing a canoe.

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Floating for about 3 minutes in a bird bath.

To light the tinder bundle, cut it down the middle and open the ball to revel the char cloth. Fluff the tinder out of its compressed state to create surface area. Use a flint and steel to spark the char cloth. Gently blow the glowing char cloth to ignite the tinder bundle. Turn the bundle over to allow the flames to bring the waxed exterior to combustion temperature.

Primitive Fire Balls: How to Make a Waterproof Natural Tinder Bundle ~ TheSurvivalSherpa.com

This is the pine straw tinder after 5 minutes.

Conclusion

Both Fire Balls, tulip poplar tinder and pine straw tinder, burned steady for well over 5 minutes. A slight stir of the burning bundle will rekindle and extend the burn time – especially so in the crushed pine straw ball. The pine straw ball also ignited more quickly than the tulip poplar ball.

One thought occurred to me that melted pine/conifer sap could be used to seal the Primitive Fire Balls. We have an abundance of pines in my area making sap easier to harvest than honey comb.

As a modern primitive practitioner, I enjoy the miracle of friction fires. I have a backup plan in my thumb-drill (Bic lighter). The practicality of having a waterproof tinder bundle and fire starter made from all-natural materials gives me options when starting fires in wet conditions. Practice primitive stuff and push your limits.

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: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

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

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,

Todd

P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, and our Facebook pageReady to trade theory for action? Join us in the Doing the Stuff Network on these social media sites: PinterestGoogle +, and Facebook. Use the hashtag #DoingTheStuff when sharing your stuff on Twitter.

Thanks for sharing the stuff!

Copyright Information: Content on this site (unless the work of a third-party) may be shared freely in digital form, in part or whole, for non-commercial use with a link back to this site crediting the author. All links in articles must remain intact as originally posted in order to be republished. If you are interested a third-party article, please contact the author directly for republishing information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Bushcraft, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff | Tags: , , , , | 16 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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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Primal Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 17 Comments

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