Wilderness Survival – Starting a Friction Fire

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 47,344
    Wilderness expert Tim MacWelch discusses how to start a fire with friction in the wilderness.

    Hi, I am Tim McWelch and this is Rick Houston of Earth Connection School of Wilderness Survival and Ancient Skills. This is our series on how to survive in the outdoors and now we are going to teach you how to do friction fire with the bow and drill. The bow and drill is a very ancient technique of friction fire making about 10,000 years old. It involves a bow which is a flexible stick with a strong fixed string on it and a drill, hence the name bow drill. A drill is relatively soft wood. This could be anything from cedar, basswood, balsa and virtually anything that is soft and easy to light on fire.

    Another component of our kit is a board much like a plank of lumber. We can split this out of an existing branch or carve it out of a branch. In this board, we have drill holes and the holes have a small notch cut in the side and you can see from this example here, first you drill a hole in the board with a tip of your knife or sharp stone then you can actually spin your drill in here using the bow to burn down into the wood then we can lay out the lines to carve a notch in the board. The notch collects sawdust that we are going generate from grinding the drill into the board. Both the board and the drill are consumed to make the sawdust and we are doing it at such speed and with such pressure that the sawdust becomes carbonized, it turns brown and if we do it long enough and hard enough, that little carbonized pile of dust will actually become a little red hot coal.

    The final component of the kit is the hand hold block we need something ether wood, stone, bone, ceramic whatever you might have or that you can make and this fits on top of our drill and then we are going to spin the drill back and forth with the bow. So, Hue is going to show some good technique for using the bow and drill.

    First you wind the drill on to the bowstring. It should be difficult to wind that drill on to the bowstring. You want the string to be very tight and have a lot of traction on that drill. Hue is right-handed so he is going to hold the bow in his right hand. His left foot is on the board, very close to the hole that he is drilling in. This does a couple of things, it corrects your body posture and it allows you to stabilize your arm against the outside of your leg from your wrist all the way up almost to your armpit. Hue is going to start of kind of slow to warm up all the pieces of wood. As the pieces warm up they start to make smoke and they start to grind off dust. As this speeds up the temperature increases and if we are fortunate the temperature that he reached was at or above the ignition temperature of this species of wood which happens to be a combination of basswood and cottonwood. You can see the dark chocolate-brown dust pile with smoke still pouring out it. If it is still smoking after you stop drilling that means that dust pile has ignited and it has become a little glowing amber. There you can see a little bit of the orange glow and little sparks flying away from it. So, Hue taps the board to get the dust to disengage from the notch, then he transfers that little coal very carefully into a waiting bundle of tinder. The bundle of tinder is Tulip Poplar bark. Hue is blowing on it with a thin stream of air almost like he were whistling and that s how you light a fire with a bow and drill.

    So, things you might want to consider would be wood species. I mentioned the cottonwood board and the basswood drill. The bow could be virtually any kind of wood that is flexible, the string needs to be a nice strong, stout string, our tinder could be any dead dry plant based material that we can process and make fluffy or just find it naturally fluffy. The fluffier the tinder the better it will burn. A few other pointers you might want to remember as you drill into the wood, you are going making dust typically, you have to fill up the entire notch with dust before it will turn into a red hot coal and practice makes perfect. What you will find is that it may take you longer to make a fire than it took Hue. Hue has years of practice. So, the more you practice the faster you will get and try different materials. Don t put all your eggs in one basket hoping that just one stick and one board will work. Try different things.

    Now, our next clip we are going to talk about wild edible foods.