Imagine you’re hiking with some friends on a day hike on a trail you’ve never been on. The trail is well marked in places, not so much in others. At one point you stop to make a quick bathroom break and tell the others to keep going, you’ll catch up in a little while. After you’re done you amble up the trail happy to have a few minutes alone. Suddenly you realize you haven’t seen any trail markers recently and you realize you’ve wandered off the trail. You don’t panic, but you hurry ahead to where you think the trail must be. Without realizing it you’ve walked further from the trail and out of hearing range from your friends.
You’re lost in the wilderness and sundown is an hour away. Next you realize that all you are carrying with you is a plastic water bottle half full, a small bag of GORP, and a light windbreaker jacket. It’s supposed to get down into the 40′s during the night and you’re gonna freeze your ass off. What do you do now? Most people would suffer through the night and probably be ok in the morning after freezing all night. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get a fire going and sleep next to it all night? Luckily, you read this post and remember how to build a bow drill and even practiced with it. Right? So let’s build a bow drill set and start a fire.
First, you can build a set without a knife and paracord, but it’s much easier if you have them. Even a small pocket knife would be invaluable for this task.
There are several pieces that make up the bow drill: the bow, bearing block, fire board, and spindle.
– Spindle: The spindle is the part that drills into the wood. The spindle and fire board should be made from the same material. Softwood like cedar or fir is best for this as it’s easier to get a good coal.
– Fire Board: This is the part that lays on the ground and receives the spindle.
– Bow: The bow can be made of just about anything as long as it has a slight curve to it. The cordage should be fairly rugged, but can be made from natural cordage if you don’t have anything available.
– Bearing Block: This is a piece of wood, or a rock, or a knife that can hold the top part of the spindle.
– Cordage: As mentioned earlier a good piece of paracord will make this a lot easier, but it is possible to do this with natural cordage, although you’ll need to angle the bow so the cordage doesn’t rub against itself and break.
Get It Right
Once you have all the steps down it’s actually fairly easy to get the coal needed to light your tinder. But everything as to work in harmony or you just won’t get the coal. The spindle has to be cut properly, the fireboard needs to be burned in and the notch has to be right. The bearing block needs to be lubricated and your bow must grip the spindle properly – not too loose and not too tight.
Also Read: Primitive Skills School
Once all these pieces come together you’ll need to use proper form in order to get the coal. Check out the video for more information on a bow drill and to see whether or not I can actually start a fire this way.
Has anybody else out there started a fire with a bow drill? Let’s hear about it in the comments.
3 thoughts on “Making Fire With a Bow Drill”
I learned this in cub scouts….they used I think it was twine but that was the80s…..now after they showed us I was the only one to get it right….at 11 years old…..but my thing is if you must start a fire this way in stead of looking for something to use for s good string ….the one string you always have is your shoe string …just use it and pieces of cotton off your sock ……if need to ….
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I did this successfully at a seminar a few years ago when I was about 48 and I remember just how highly proud I was of myself to get it done with the help of my demonstrator! What a great memory. Everyone should have a chance to do this at least once in their life. My own kids have now learned to do it quicker with flint and steel on charcloth.