Today we will be going over the Bow Drill Friction Fire method. It's one of the easier methods of primitive fire. Although its not easy, it requires the proper components and the right technique to produce an ember. With that, there are many variables that go into the bow drill and truly any other method of primitive fire starting. In wet conditions its extremely difficult. For that reason I would not recommend relying on any friction fire method.
Usually the bow drill requires to man made elements- a knife and cordage. You can fashion both of those in the field but that again requires a whole other set of skills Most likely if you have a knife and cordage; you will also have a fire starting device. The bow drill is good to practice, great to master, but bad to rely upon.
Even though this is one of the "easier" friction fire method it requires the most components.
|The main components|
Knife- a good knife will make putting together a bow drill set much easier. I prefer a full-tang knife for wilderness use. Although you can make a bow drill kit with a Swiss Army Knife if you had too. There are also techniques that you can make a kit without a knife- like the "two stick" method. I'll show that technique in the future.
Bow- the bow need to be a strong piece of wood with a slight curve. It needs to be armpit to wrist length for best results. This is the easiest component to make.
Cordage- I like to use 550 cord, because I always have it on me. You can also use bank line but it has a tendency to break over extended use. Some like to do it "all natural" by making their own cordage. The Native Americans used strips of deer hide for their bow string.
Fireboard (Hearth)- The fireboard is best made by batoning a piece of desired wood into a plank measuring around 3/4" thick (best practice-dont let it be much thicker than your spindle). It needs to be long enough for you to get your foot on to hold it in place without disturbing the divot. For best results, the fireboard needs to be constructed from the same wood as your spindle. That way the densities are the same. You will want a medium density wood (not too soft, not too hard). A good indicator is pushing your finger nail in the board to see if it will imprint a mark. Like your spindle, the fireboard needs to be extremely dry.
Spindle- Your spindle should be about the size of your thumb. I like mine to be a little wider to increase the friction. The length should be from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinky finger (like the hang ten surfer symbol). One side need to be tapered with a point to decrease friction. The pointy end will go in the hand socket. The other end will need to be a dull fat point; to increase friction. Again this will need to be extremely dry for best results.
Handsocket- for this video I used my SURVIVE! Knives EDC-4 that has a bow drill divot in the handle. You can use other items such as bone, shell, stone, or a piece of hardwood. I like to lubricate the handsocket to decrease friction. You can use items such as a green leaf, pine sap, vaseline from your tinder balls, suntan lotion, and even oils from your face.
Coal Catch- You can use a dry leaf, piece of cardboard, or a chip of wood. Make sure its dry as to not suck the heat from your ember.
After you have your components you will then need to carve a small divot into your hearth board. Place the spindle in the board and start the action of the bow drill. Work the spindle until you have successfully "burned" in the divot. Next you will want to carve a V-Notch into the fireboard. Your V-notch will be 1/8th of a piece of a pie and will come just to the half way point of your divot. Make sure its carved all the way to the bottom of the board. The V-Notch will catch the dust you produce and the friction will cause it to create an ember.
When first starting out with this technique you will want to practice in perfect conditions. Once you have that mastered move into more austere environments like rain and when cold. Generally when you need fire most the conditions will suck. Training like you would in a real life situation will make you a better survivalist.
We have video on YouTube demonstrating this technique if your interested to see it in action.