Posts Tagged With: hand drill how to

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

Friction Fire Hack: Get Consistent Coals Using a Hand Drill

by Todd Walker

Primal fire has been coaxed from dead wood by twirling a straight stick between two human palms for millennia. I’m still amazed every time I look down at a pile of charred wood dust smoldering on its on accord and sending wisps of smoke skyward.

Friction Fire Hack: Get Consistent Coals Using a Hand Drill ~ © TheSurvivalSherpa.com

Starting a fire with modern devices, which accompany me on outings, can not compare to our ancient ancestor’s fire. As my preparedness journey moves forward, I find myself practicing primitive more and more. What if those modern devices fail, or run out of fuel, or get lost? Could I create that all-important fire from what the forest provides?

Primitive fire craft includes many methods. The bow and drill may be the most popular for modern primitive practitioners and bushcrafters due to its mechanical advantage found in the bow. However, the hand drill is more simple in design with fewer parts required. Two summers ago I began my journey to master hand-spun fire methods. Blisters turned to calluses as I birthed a primal coal from twirling a stick between my palms.

Here’s a video of my early experimentation with hand-spun fire…

If you’ve tried and failed to bring fire to life with a hand-spun spindle grinding on a piece of wood, here’s a hack which may give you the needed boost to light your first hand drill fire.

Hand Drill Thumb Loops

I have spent many hours spinning sticks on wood without thumb loops to produce embers. Failure in my beginner hand drill experiences was mainly due to running out of strength and stamina at that crucial time where downward pressure and rapid twirling was required to raise the temperature of charred dust to the point of ignition. My arms and shoulders would fatigue killing my technique and any chance of a glowing ember.

Over the years I’ve read of this simple technique which offers twirlers a mechanical advantage with hand drills. A helpful article by Dino Labiste on Primitive Ways made sense to me. I gave it a spin.

Material and Tools

  • Cordage – about two feet of sturdy cordage
  • Spindle – my river cane spindle capable of using wooden plugs or any spindle material you have available
  • Hearth Board – a suitable wood for friction fire 1 to 2 inches wide, 1/2 inches deep, and long enough to place your foot on it with enough board left for drilling
  • Knife – whittling plugs, divots, and hearths
  • Welcome Mat – a leaf, piece of leather, or anything which will collect the charred dust and glowing ember

Step 1: Notch Your Spindle

Cut a 1/8 inch nock in the top of the spindle deep enough for your cordage to mate securely. On my cane spindle, I have a smaller piece of cane which serves to cap the hollow storage chamber at the top of my spindle. I notched the cap as I would a cane arrow or atlatl dart.

Step 2: Cut Cordage to Length

You need a length of cord which will drape through the nock and hang down the spindle. Allow enough excess for tying a loop on each end of the hanging cordage. I tied one loop first, ran the cord over the nock, and estimated the amount needed for the second loop before cutting.

Adjust the length until your thumbs (inserted in the loops) and hands are in the middle of the spindle when assembled.

Step 3: Tie Two Loops

I had planned on using one of the four knots I use most often for camping and woodcraft – the bowline. However, Allen, the son of the landowner who allows me to use their property, showed up at my shelter and taught me a new knot he uses while fly fishing – the perfection loop. Either knot will work, but I enjoy learning new knots.

Friction Fire Hack: Get Consistent Coals Using a Hand Drill ~ © TheSurvivalSherpa.com

The height of your hands should be near the middle of the spindle for balance

Trim the loose ends of the loops near the knots. I found that leftover cordage can get in the way while spinning the spindle.

Step 4: Give ’em a Spin

Place your thumbs through the loops and grip the spindle between your palms. Place the bottom of the spindle in a divot hole in the hearth board. Begin slowly twirling the spindle between your hands to get the feel of how the thumb loops aid in spinning. As you spin you should notice the divot should begin to smoke and create a bit of charred dust around the rim of the divot. Stop and prepare the divot with a V-shaped notch which slices into the pie-shaped divot hole.

Step 5: Go for the Coal

The loops will generate a lot of downward pressure on the hearth board. Don’t overdo it in this beginning stage or you may drill through your hearth board without producing a coal. Spin with medium pressure until the hearth board notch is filled with charred dust. I’ve found that using thumb loops reduces the time needed to generate enough char to fill the board notch.

Friction Fire Hack: Get Consistent Coals Using a Hand Drill ~ © TheSurvivalSherpa.com

A cedar plug insert used on a mimosa hearth board for this coal

Now is the time to apply more downward pressure and rapid spinning. This increases the friction between the spindle and board which raises the temperature of the char dust to ignition temperature. If you think you’re to that point with smoke flying, stop spinning but keep the spindle mated to the board socket. Watch to see if the char is producing smoke on its own. If so, gently remove the spindle and tap the hearth board to loosen the char from the notch. Carefully lift the board and fan the char with your hand. If there’s an ember in there, it will continue to grow and glow.

If you don’t see the char pile smoking, all is not lost. I’ve twirled embers on my second attempt with the same char dust many times.

Congratulations! You’ve produced a primal ember by rubbing two sticks together. Now transfer the fire-egg to a tinder nest and blow it to flame.

Step 6: Trouble Shooting

  • Too much downward pressure in the beginning produces gritty dust. Take a pinch of the dust between your thumb and forefinger to determine how fine the dust feels.
  • Less pressure produces fine dust like baby powder which creates more surface area and increases your chance of ignition.
  • Wood selection has much to do with success or failure with any friction fire method. Some woods are more prone to produce coarse dust. Others char into a fine powder. Experimentation with different wood combinations will prove this point.

This is not an exhaustive essay on how to spin a coal with the hand drill. It is, however, a simple hack which will increase your chances of creating coals consistently.

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, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Lost Skills, Self-reliance, Survival Skills | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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