Many years ago, a preacher friend of mine would tell this simple story. He had a friend who could sit down at the piano and play just about anything you put in front of him music-wise. He could play all the tunes and all the classics. He could even improvise for jazz, the blues, rock and any different venue. Then my preacher friend would say, "How do you suppose he had the freedom to play just anything he wanted?" It always came back to the same answer, lots and lots of practice and the learning of all the fundamentals. Personal discipline focused on the goal of learning everything he could about playing piano had given him the freedom to do what he wanted to do.
Now flash forward in time to me, struggling today to get a bowdrill fire going. I know all the fundamentals, I practice friction fire methods all the time. As of late, I have been practicing almost everyday. I am almost addicted to making fire by friction. It is so primitive and yet feels so right. Yet, I know that I cannot get better at it without testing myself over and over again with different kinds of wood in different situations. I need to challenge myself with friction fire all the time to find the freedom to make it work more consistently. I am trying to build a collection of experiences both successful and failures, to teach me what works and when.
Every friction fire attempt is different. Some days, the combination of woods fails utterly and then a couple of days later, you will get success almost immediately with the same combination.
So earlier this month I attempted to challenge myself with making a bowdrill friction fire constructed from one single piece of dead standing willow I found along the trail. The only thing I allowed myself was one knife, one rope and my bearing block. The rest had to come from that one piece of willow. I fashioned my spindle, my hearth board and my bow and set to work, trying for an ember.
So here is the attempt.
I don't think I failed completely, because out of this I learned that my choice of cordage makes a big difference under certain conditions. The failure raised more questions for me, that I will have to explore yet in another outing, trying to do the same thing, the "One Stick Challenge."
So until the next time, I will keep practicing and hope that this will encourage you to not give up on any friction fire challenge you set for yourself. It is truly a big part of the bushcraft adventure and well worth mastering. Until then, Happy Exploring.