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Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Fire by Friction
One of the most primitive bushcraft skills is being able to make fire by friction. Most would call it rubbing two sticks together. Many believe that every boy scout or girl scout learns to make fire in this fashion. But the truth is, fire by friction is one of the most difficult things to get right, and it is a very select few that ever get the hang of it. I believe it is still something worth chasing if you have never done it before and something that you need to continue practicing once you do figure it out. I enjoy trying out many different types of wood and materials for the spindle and the hearth board. One of my favorite setups is using willow for a spindle and box elder or cottonwood or aspen for the hearth board. Pairing willow with any of these three gets me a successful ember nearly every time. But what about the rest of the parts? Are there any other tips to finding the right kinds of wood? More after the jump.
The simplest test for the wood types is to see if you can press an indentation into the wood with your finger nail. If this is easily done, you are on your way to finding a soft wood that will leave you a nice dust that will hold some heat and make an ember. Not that it is impossible with harder wood types, but it will take better preparation and lots of practice. Once you have selected the proper wood types, what you use for your bow can be just about any curved piece of decent length. I once saw a video on Youtube where a guy used a wooden clothes hanger as a bow and the wooden piece that you would hang your pants on as the spindle. In the end, he got an ember and fire. It goes without saying that all your materials, especially your spindle and hearth board must be dry. The less moisture the better. The bow I have pictured is about 20 inches long. Make sure that it is not too "springy" with the curve. If it is too curved you will not have good control, so it is ok to use something a little straighter. This bow was a piece of juniper and it was all I had on hand at the time. The hearth board is about 12 inches and the spindle should be about as big around as your thumb and about 8 inches in length. There are many good videos on Youtube that demonstrate all the details about putting together a bow drill fire set and I would encourage you to search for them and watch them. For a bearing block, I used the divot that is built into my ESEE 5 knife handle scale as it is designed for just that purpose. The string for the bow is my boot lace and has good texture for spinning the spindle. Putting it all together takes continued practice and technique that can be learned on your own, or sometimes it is good to take a class in primitive fire making skills. It is very satisfying to make fire by friction, and even after many years of doing this, it still amazes me. One of my favorite movies about bushcraft and primitive living is called "Quest for Fire" from 1981. The three main characters set out on an adventure to recover a source of fire for their small tribe after losing theirs in a close battle with a rival tribe. To retrieve that one needed ember takes them many miles and into great peril before they find the answer to fire. What they discover, helps them to transcend their very existence and sets them on the path to becoming modern man. I highly recommend this movie, but a simple word of warning, there are some adult themes and violence.
Fire by friction is primal, it is aboriginal, it is very basic to survival. If you are here to learn of bushcraft and to find that kinship with the landscape and the wild, then learning fire by friction is the most natural thing to add to your knowledge and your skill set. Happy exploring.