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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bow And Drill Fire Starting Technique

Without prior training, this method is difficult to master and requires a lot of time to build the device.

You will need a tender bundle to start off with.

Fuel is divided into 3 categories: tinder, kindling, and fuel. (Gather large amounts of each category before igniting the fire.)

Tinder- Tinder must be very finely shaved or shredded to provide a low combustion point and fluffed to allow oxygen to flow through. (To get tinder to burn hotter and longer, saturate with Vaseline, Chapstick, insect repellent, aircraft fuel, etc.)

Examples of tinder include:

·Candle (shred the wick, not the wax).
·Plastic spoon, fork, or knife.
·Foam rubber.
·Dry bark.
·Dry grasses.
·Gun powder.
·Petroleum products.

Kindling- Kindling must be small enough to ignite from the small flame of the tinder. Gradually add larger kindling until arriving at the size of fuel to burn.

Fuel- Examples of fuel include:

·Dry hardwood (removing bark reduces smoke).
·Bamboo (open chambers to prevent explosion).
·Dry dung.

Bow and Drill:

This is a friction method which has been used successfully for thousands of years. A spindle of yucca, elm, basswood, or any other straight grain wood (not softwood) should be made. The survivors should make sure that the wood is not too hard or it will create a glazed surface when friction is applied.

The spindle should be 12 to 18 inches long and three-fourths inch in diameter. The sides should be octagonal, rather than round, to help create friction when spinning. Round one end and work the other end into a blunt point. The round end goes to the top upon which the socket is placed.

The socket is made from a piece of hardwood large enough to hold comfortably in the palm of the hand with the curved part up and the flat side down to hold the top of the spindle. Carve or drill a hole in this side and make it smooth so it will not cause undue friction and heat production.

Grease or soap can be placed in this hole to prevent friction.

The bow is made from a stiff branch about 3 feet long and about 1 inch in diameter. This piece should have sufficient flexibility to bend. It is similar to a bow used to shoot arrows. Tie a piece of suspension line or leather thong to both ends so that it has the same tension as that of a bow. There should be enough tension for the spindle to twist comfortably.

The fireboard is made of the softwood and is about 12 inches long, three-fourths inch thick, and 3 to 6 inches wide. A small hollow should be carved in the fireboard. A V-shaped cut can then be made in from the edge of the board. This V-shape should extend into the center of the hollow where the spindle will make the hollow deeper.

The object of this “V” cut is to create an angle which cuts off the edge of the spindle as it gets hot and turns to charcoal dust. This is the critical part of the fireboard and must be held steady during the operation of spinning the spindle.

While kneeling on one knee, the other foot can be placed on the fireboard and the tinder placed under the fireboard just beneath the Vcut. Care should be taken to avoid crushing the tinder under the fireboard. Space can be obtained by using a small, three-fourths inch diameter stick to hold up the fireboard. This allows air into the tinder where the hot powder (spindle charcoal dust) is collected.

The bow string should be twisted once around the spindle. The spindle can then be placed upright into the spindle hollow (socket). The survivor may press the socket down on the spindle and fireboard. The entire apparatus must be held steady with the hand on the socket braced against the leg or knee. The spindle should begin spinning with long even slow strokes of the bow until heavy smoke is produced.

The spinning should become faster until the smoke is very thick. At this point, hot powder, that can be blown into a glowing ember, has been successfully produced. The bow and spindle can then be removed from the fireboard and the tinder can be placed next to the glowing ember making sure not to extinguish it.

The tinder must then be rolled gently around the burning ember, and blow into the embers, starting the tinder to burn. This part of the fire is most critical and should be done with care and planning.

The burning tinder is then placed into the waiting fire “lay” containing more tinder and small kindling. At no time in this process should the survivor break concentration or change sequence. The successful use of these primitive methods of fire starting will require a great deal of patience. Success demands dedication and practice.

Stay Prepared! Stay Alive!




  1. Will have to go out to the desert now and find some yucca or sotol and try this. Do you give workshops in El Paso? My husband and I would be interested in attending.

    1. I have not really thought about doing workshops. Right now free time is a scare creature. Thanks for visiting.

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