Making Fire by Friction with Bow Drill, Hand Drill, Pump Drill, Plough and any wood-on-wood methods

So you want to make fire, without using matches or magnifying glass or even a flint and steel? Here are a few tips to focus you on the most important aspects … get a drink and settle down to read this blog …

(Also read other posts I have added here already) You will notice a lack of pictures – but you have seen many other sites, so you have any idea (otherwise you’d not be reading this!)

Bow-drill kit for making fire

Ultimately, if you really want it bad enough, you will get it, you will master fire making … but don’t expect anyone else to do it for you … you have got to WANT to LEARN. You can read all the books and watch endless video clips … but in the end it comes down to how badly you want to do it. If you are in a real survival situation, freezing and dieing, it is a bit late to learn!


Think about your fire making to date – be it camp fires, bonfires, a stove, whatever. The basics are the same:

  • Water is a problem. It boils at 100 degrees C, well below the combustion temperature of wood or other fuels. As it evaporates off it takes energy with it (latent heat). Dampness means energy lost through evaporation. Water also can cause the material to rot (break down) and thus become too soft. Water also excludes a vital component of fire … oxygen.
  • Oxygen – in the air, 21%, most air being Nitrogen. The air you breathe out contains approx 16% oxygen, carbon dioxide and water vapour. Your breath is moist (think of cold days) yet still has oxygen in it. Oxygen is essential for burning to occur! Not enough – it chokes, but too much air will remove the second vital component of fire – heat!
  • Heat – or energy – the spark, or the ember, an existing flame or the sun, chemical or electrical. You need this energy and enough of it for combustion. Not enough and you may only warm things, to much and you have either rapid combustion or other materials start to also burn, and you have a big problem – fire out of control. Making fire is about CONTROL.
  • Fuel – the material that is burning, combusting, giving off more heat and to you is the fire. Fuel has a certain amount of energy and you can release that (burn it) slowely or fast, depending whether you want an explosion, a flash in the pan or a smoulder. You control the rate of burn – but how?

The Rate of Burn is controlled by you – regulating the amount of oxygen and the size of the fuel, and how much energy is available – how much is being diverted to evaporate off moisture (say from green logs), or radiating or convecting away before it does any use / work warming fuel. (Don’t waste precious heat with a fast burning flaming fire – it looks good but all that heat is warming the atmosphere – not your next fuel which will be cold and damp. Even ‘dry’ fuel contains water!)

Fire in Orkney

Think of fires you have lit, or controlled. Think of the amount of air you let in, the fuel sizes and how you managed the fire. This is it – this is what you do – except, when making fire by friction you are doing it on a mini scale … with tiny fuel, a tiny amount of heat and some amount of water moisture. There is usually plenty of air about outdoors, maybe too much (wind) – so your job is to control this environment in which your tiny amount of heat and fuel is … look after it like it is a new life … protect it, feed it and help it grow.

OK – if you have got that – you are well on your way to making fire!

Practice safely – have water to hand, maybe an extinguisher and ensure the environment around cannot accidentally become fuel itself!!! Think of the wind direction and strength – think of the consequences and what might happen. Always be in control. Never leave a fire unattended until it is totally safe to do so – and if you don’t know that, do not start a fire!

Assess the risk – have you phone connection with the emergency services? Have you a safe exit? Who and what else is potentially in danger? Get it wrong, just once in your life, and you are an arsonist. Don’t!

Fire kills – never play with fire.

Some useful links:

The best books on the subject from my library:

Mears, RayOutdoor Survival Handbook

Brown, TomTom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival

Kochanski, MorsBush craft: Outdoor Skills and wilderness survival

Gatty, HaroldFinding your way without map or compass

Akkermans, AnthonioBushcraft Skills and how to survive in the wild

Mabey, RichardFood for Free

Wiseman, JohnSAS Survival Handbook

Grylls, BearBorn Survivor – Survival techniques from the most dangerous …

Montgomery, DavidMountainman Crafts and Skills

Wescott, DavidPrimitive Technology: A book of earth skills

That’s more than enough! Good luck – and don’t give up!

OK – a couple of pictures showing good bowing technique:

bowing technique with a guiding hand to keep spindle upright

bowing technique with a guiding hand to keep spindle upright

bowing using the full length of the bow = good

bowing using the full length of the bow = good

Careful transfer of charred dust "ember" into centre of tinder

Careful transfer of charred dust "ember" into centre of tinder

🙂 Write if you need help


5 responses to “Making Fire by Friction with Bow Drill, Hand Drill, Pump Drill, Plough and any wood-on-wood methods

  1. I am writing with details of my company and our desire to sell our range of products through your bushcraft-related website/company.
    I am the Founding and Managing Director of BUSHCRAFTTOOLS.COM which was started in February 2007.
    · We provide the ever-growing world of ‘bushcraft’ with well designed and educational fire-lighting tools.
    · Our flagship product (the FIRE-PISTON) does not create ‘fire by friction’ or ‘fire by flint/steel’ but instead creates ‘fire by compression’ – an otherwise forgotten about fire-lighting technique.
    There are currently very few suppliers of Fire Pistons in the UK and as the sole designer, manufacturer and distributor of the BUSHCRAFTTOOLS Fire Pistons, demand for my product outstrips supply.
    Since the design, manufacture and introduction of the Fire Piston into the UK market, company sales for BUSHCRAFTTOOLS have increased by 75%.
    Having recently secured a manufacturing deal in South East Asia, I feel this is the right time to push our products in larger volumes to businesses nationally, as the general public become increasingly interested in Bushcraft and survival skills.
    I would be happy to meet to discuss this opportunity in greater detail and look forward to hopefully building a successful business relationship that will benefit both our organisations.
    Yours sincerely,

    Dustin James
    Managing Director

  2. Simply desire to say your article is as astounding. The clarity
    on your publish is just spectacular and that i can think you are an expert in this subject.

    Fine together with your permission allow me to clutch your feed to stay updated with drawing close
    post. Thank you 1,000,000 and please continue the enjoyable work.

  3. I believe most furniture inside my home has a dual purpose.
    Because we have such limited space, a sofa which
    is also a bed and a bed which also offers storage drawers beneath is priceless.

    There are many good styles to choose from too.

  4. I wish you do not mind me commenting right here,
    I wished to register for your RSS feed (wonderful blog by the means) yet couldn’t discover the registration link – Please support!

  5. We are a group of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our
    community. Your web site offered us with helpful information to work on.
    You have done an impressive activity and our
    whole community will probably be grateful to you.

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