Fire Making with a Bow Drill: Quick Reference

Fire Making with a Bow Drill:

Quick Reference

Fire by friction with a bow drill

Fire by friction with a bow drill

Prepare your tinder: Imagine a bird’s nest – smallest and fluffiest to the centre, getting progressively larger outwards with enough bulk to protect your hands from heat. Have plenty of spare tinder to hand!

Preparing yourself

· Prepare all before starting, imagining the whole process

· Compose yourself and visualise fire / pray to the fire god

· Arch of bare foot on fireboard to hold securely

· 1” from spindle to foot, to keep stable and “feel” vibrations

· Front leg shin upright, rear leg knee on ground, comfortable

· Rear foot turned sideways for tripod-like stability

· Body-weight forward, to apply variable pressure

· Bowing hand free to move in long, steady strokes

· Spindle hand locked tight against shin to hold steady

· Eyes watching hearth, notch and spindle and bow cord

· Bow hand tensioning cord, should it start to slip

· Listen intently and feel vibrations

· If cord slips about spindle, stop and tighten

· Don’t rush; it is a process which must be continued to the end.


· Start with smooth, steady strokes, fairly slowly

· Start with light downward pressure on the spindle to dry off moisture

· As hearth dries and warms you can increase pressure until smoke begins

· Increase downward pressure to stop squeaking, or if surfaces become glazed – roughen wood and restart

· Continue bowing steadily at medium speed until smoke is billowing out and then keep going

· Remember to breathe steadily, keep calm and do not rush

· It is essential to keep the spindle upright and steady all the time

· Once you get smoke do not stop!

· Continue bowing until notch is full of black, smoking dust

· Dust should fall through notch onto a suitable leaf, leather, flat bark etc. ready to be transferred to the tinder nest close at hand, instead of letting it fall directly onto the tinder

· Finish bowing by easing downward pressure and bowing faster

· Take care not to move fireboard or disturb the fragile dust pile

· Now you can pause for breath! Steady your nerves and wobbly hands before the delicate stage.

Moving the dust

· The dust must continue to smoke gently, on its own, possibly glowing a little

· Very carefully lift away fireboard to leave dust pile smouldering on its own – but protect from the wind / rain

· You may need to rotate the board away, using a stick to detach dust from the notch whilst lifting fireboard

· Try hard to not disturb dust pile, but gentle breathing on it is good, encouraging it to glow and continue smouldering, to coalesce and form a fragile ember

· No need to hurry at this stage. Regain composure and breath before next stage

· Place this smoking dust ember carefully in the pre-prepared nest of tinder

· Add any remaining loose hot dust

· Hold nest between widespread hands to scoop up the whole bundle, palms inward.

Blowing air into a tinder nest in windy Orkney

Blowing air into a tinder nest in windy Orkney

Coaxing a flame

· Wrap tinder gently around ember to keep warm but do not suffocate – treat this ember like a delicate baby!

· Raise tinder nest to aid airflow and allow rising heat to remain in the nest

· Hold gently and allow air flow but keep contact between ember and tinder – avoid blowing too hard too soon

· Balance the closeness of tinder with the amount of air, enabling the ember to grow and extend to its surrounding downy tinder

· Allow time for ember to extend to the tinder – don’t rush but periodically breathe gently (not too close, to avoid sparks and cold breath)

· Blow gently, coaxing more smoke, keep tinder ball moderately compact but allow air to move through. Add more tinder to outside of ball if hands get hot

· Don’t give up – if it is smoking there is still a chance!

· As heat increases tinder will smoke liberally

· Now you can blow more steadily into the glowing centre, blow upwards and watch what is happening!

· Just prior to ignition the tinder ball will smoke very densely but continue until you actually have free burning flame

· Protect hands throughout and keep face away to avoid sparks!

Fire at last!

Gently place burning tinder within pre-prepared small kindling and nurture this as carefully as the tinder nest before. Enjoy!

Fire made by friction

Fire made by friction


One response to “Fire Making with a Bow Drill: Quick Reference

  1. Pingback: Bow Drill Clinic Answers « From The War of Nature

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s