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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm on a budget of $0 so I got a neighbor kid to donate a skate board wheel for the spindle block. And, then I found in my old hobbies pile, a 1X2X18 piece of pine finishing trim. So I widdled out a spindle and remained a 1' plank for the hearth bored. I cut the gap, cut the groove for the spindle and have it a quick effort. The hearth didn't seem to make much in the way of progress, but what got me, was the spindle just seemed to gloss over. So.. Was I on the right track and quit too soon, or perhaps I may have not set my hearth properly...?
Any input?

Plants don't run!
1,976 Posts
I would suggest avoiding pines for anything but the baring block. Of course there are always exceptions. Pine resins tend to glass over and decrease friction making it a very poor choice for attempting friction fire.

Plants don't run!
1,976 Posts
I filmed it inside because I didn't have a portable camera. (Used my laptop) I feel you may have been using the wrong types of wood or perhaps had not been using proper technique.

The bow and drill is a simple mechanical device used to create fire. Two pieces of wood are are used to create friction with one being spun by cordage attached to a bow to create an ember. The bow drill has the highest success rate of any friction fire and was most often used in harsher northern climates. Proficiency is much easier with this method of friction fire.

The bow and drill has been and is still being used by people all over the world. Artifacts of this method have been found all over the world from Russia to Egypt, N. America to Australia. On all continents humans were using this method.

Below, I will try to explain to you the 6 main phyiscal compnents of the bow and drill fire method.

The three components needed to make fire

Friction fire Success Triangle

These are the three keys to success with a friction fire. Often times, two of the three are often enough to produce results. Having all three components results from practice, experience, and prior preparation of materials.

We will be examining the bow and drill friction fire method as it is the friction fire most likely to produce results even in adverse conditions.

Parts of the Bow and Drill

BOW: The bow is one of the simplest parts of the kit. It should be a slightly curved stick with a little bit of spring too it. Too flexible, and there will not be enough tension on the spindle to spin it quickly enough. Too stiff of a stick and the string runs a high risk of breaking or shooting the spindle out at the fire maker and occasionally at any friends watching. The stick should allow for full swing of the arm. The rule of thumb is that the bow should be the length of one’s arm from underarm to finger tips. This will most likely be about 30 inches. This length allows for a full sweep of the bow and a long enough sweep to keep the spindle spinning. Every time the bow stops to change direction the spindle cools down just a little bit. Any shorter than 30 inches tends to stay cooler longer; any longer than 30 inches starts to become cumbersome.

(the ends of the bow are made like this to help keep the string secure)

Fireboard/Hearth: This is the bottom portion of the apparatus made s flat as possible. It is where the spindle spins into, creating friction, and further creating an ember. It should be made from a medium to soft piece of dry and dead wood. The “finger nail test” may be applied, meaning if you can press your finger nail into the wood and leave a clear dent, then it’s probably a suitable fireboard material. Using dead branches from trees during the growing season are suitable to use as they tend to break with a clean snap and may already not have bark on them. They are more likely to be dry than dead and down wood. Remember the rhyme “Dead and down but not on the ground” for general use of finding dry wood.

If you find that all the wood in the area is wet, you may find success in carving down the wood about an inch to find the drier inner core. The fireboard should be at least 2”, at least 5 inches long, and an inch to an inch and ½ thick.
The ones that I have had best success with are: cedar, aspens, basswood, and willows. Some other commonly used woods are poplars, alders, box elder, yucca, sagebrush, cottonwood, and a minimal amount of conifers that have very little resin in the wood.
The String: this string has to be strong enough to put up with high amounts of pressure and heat. It can be made from sinew, rawhide, plants fibers, or in this case it is paracord.

SPINDLE: The spindle is the round, dowel like piece of wood that spins against the fireboard creating the ember. Being more particular with the selection of wood types comes into play with the selection and creation of spindle material. A softwood is required for the spindle. It is very important for the spindle material to be dead and dry. The simple method of checking to see if a dead and dry piece of wood is softwood is through the “fingernail test” where one presses the tip of a fingernail to the wood and should be able to leave an indentation without much effort and without crumbling. It may be made from the same wood as the fireboard. The spindle should be about 1 inch to 1 and ¼ inch wide and 6-10 inches long. A good rule of thumb is that it should be as thick as your thumb and as long as the tip of your thumb to the tip of your pinky in a “Hang loose” gesture. Each end should be carved into dull points with one of them being slightly skinnier and more pointed than that of the other. The skinnier pointed end goes into the hand hold and the duller point held create the ember on the board.

(This is how the spindle started, from a chunk of wood ripped off a piece of cedar)

(Whittled down in a round shape)

(Hand hold portion)

(fireboard portion)

(Hang Loose!)

Hand Hold: This is the piece that holds the spindle in the upright position on the fireboard. The tip of the spindle resting in a depression gouged in the hand hold. You do not want to produce friction with the hand hold with the spindle spinning in it. Dripping pine pitch inside of the socket can help lubricate it. The handhold can be harder species of wood than the spindle and fireboard. Bones, shot glasses, antlers, shells, and certain stones will also make good handholds. If the spindle pops out of the gouge when spinning, it should be dug deeper. Animal fat, chapstick, or even grease from your hair can be used to help lubricate the hand hold portion but do not get lubricant on the fire making end of the spindle.

Or a similar one carved out of cedar

Tinder: This is to be built up in a “bird’s nest” fashion and be comprised of fibrous and soft material that you will place your ember into. After the ember is placed into the ember, air will be blown on the ember until it erupts into flame. It is very important that the tinder be dry and very fine. Increasing the surface area of the tinder will also help in blowing into flame. Using a ball of tinder about the size of your fist is needed to catch and blow the ember into flame. With a bit of practice, less material can be used. What is suitable tinder is near endless. My favorite is cedar bark. Make a slight depression in the bundle for the ember to rest.

(like such)
Putting it all together: To prepare the fireboard you’ll need to take your blade and make a small gauge on the top of your fireboard so that the spindle will stay on the fireboard while drilling while making sure the gouge isn’t too close to the edge of the fireboard as the spindle may slip off of it while drilling.

Proper positioning and technique can truly make or break your chance at creating an ember. These are directions for a right handed person.
Load the spindle into the bow. Hold the bow in your right hand and the spindle in the left. Put the spindle between the bow and the cord. The cord should have some tension and be somewhat difficult to get around the spindle. If it is too loose, it will slip while drilling and reduce the chance of producing a coal.

Before you try and create an ember, a gouge must be burned into the fireboard and the hand hold (if using a new handhold. In this case, I am not). After the initial burn is made, cut a Pie-shaped notch into the board and into just shy of the middle of the burn. This notch is where dust from drilling concentrates and will turn into a glowing ember if it becomes hot enough.


(Burned in)

(Pie sliced notch)
Load the spindle, get into position, and start moving the bow horizontally. Get used to the motion and start slowly and keep your form solid and keep the spindle completely vertical. As you get comfortable with the motion, increase speed and apply downward pressure on the spindle. When you begin to see smoke and hot dust (usually black) building up in the notch and turns into a glowing ember it has gotten hot enough.
Keep spinning for another 10 or so strokes of the bow and slow down, take the spindle out of the hole, take your foot off the fire board (refer to my video to see proper form) and slowly start to fan the potential ember in the notch. After a few seconds, you should see tiny wisps of smoke coming from the dust. That is when you know you have an ember. Blow gently on it until you see lots of smoke or a glowing coal.

(hot dust)

(After a little blowing on it, there is a glowing coal!)
Gently tap the fireboard to get the coal to not stick to the fireboard. Gently place the ember in your tinder. In these pictures, I used a piece of birch bark under the spindle hole to catch the dust. I then move that out slowly, and scrape the coal into the middle of the tinder bundle.

Place the ember in the middle of the tinder bundle and gently wrap the tinder around it. Lift it above your head to help keep smoke out of your face while you gently begin to blow air onto it. It should start smoking greatly. While holding on to it, it should be fairly easy to tell when it is about to burst into flames. With that, give it a few last strong puffs to erupt it into flame.

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