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Wednesday 21 August 2013

Bow Drill Fire from Scratch

It's often said that a true bushcrafter must be able to go into the woods with just a knife and string and make fire, however, that's not really from scratch as you are bringing certain items with you and you may as well then bring a reliable way of making fire, any way we think there's far too much emphasis placed on fire by friction and as a result we don't practise it very often, but Davy set us the challenge of doing it in less than 3 hours! Now it's been raining on an off here for the past week so it's definitley going to be harder than normal!
we entered the woods at 12.00pm, and had a quick scout round, I spied some dead willow, my favourite material for the firebow so I cut some to add to the pile of different woods we would try.

we quickly had a pile of elder, sycamore, spruce and willow.

we quickly cut some hearths of different woods

and spindles to match, the elder spindles are not shown here. The bearing block was a piece of dead oak lubricated with dandelion stems ( we didn't want to cut live trees just for a small piece of wood!)

I originally used a piece of pine bark as an ember pan, and while I got good smoke and good dust the coal would not stay lit for longer than a few seconds, frustrating! We could only assume that the bark was damp due to the recent rain. By now an hour had passed.. So as I was walking around looking for an alternative I noticed an empty potato crisp packet and figured that if I turned it inside out not only would it be dry but the silver would reflect the heat back into the coal helping to keep it alight..I guess sometimes human refuse is beneficial in a survival situation!
The first attempt with the new ember pan produced a coal immediately!
( by the way, this was my 11th attempt in total, you can see by the hearth board that different woods and diameters were used to see if we could get a result, you can also see in the third from the right that elder was used as it's formed the mound in the hole created by the pithy centre in the elder wood.)

In the mean time Davy had been scouring the area for tinder, he found some fushia bark that looked very promising, so we put the ember in and gave it a blow...But no joy, it just wouldn't take.
Another scout around produced some grass, fireweed and thistledown, so back on the firebow and another ember was placed in this tinder bundle..(1 hour and 30 minutes at this stage)

and less than 30 seconds later...

we have time was a fraction over an hour and a half..this was way better than our previous best of 4 hours!!!!
Lessons learned were... it's possible to make fire with the minimum of equipment, but a lighter or ferro rod weighs less than a knife and cordage! Time taken and calories burnt would have been much less if we had made proper preparations and brought our own tinder or sure fire.
Moral of the story, always have sure fire with you!! Just in case!


  1. that's a job well done I have two ferros and 7 lighters in my kit in my phone pouch I keep a lighter and victorinox pocket pal

    1. sounds like you've got it well sussed, good job.