Three years ago, when I for the first time attempted to make a fire with bow and drill, I spent hours and hours, without success. I probably didn’t have a clue how it was supposed to be done.
So I started searching the Internet and watching YouTube videos for clues to doing it right. And I kept practicing until I finally got a fire!
The other day I was watching one of the Survivor Man show episodes, where Les Stroud was making a fire, and I got inspired to try doing it again.
I found a piece of a tree branch in the woods to use as a bow. For the string, I used some nylon cord from my camping supplies. I have some fairly dry cedar wood, which I used for the base and drill socket. I found a round stick in the garage from some old furniture, which I used for the drill.
On my previous fire starter attempt, I was holding the base board with my foot, which was rather difficult. This time, I staked the bow and drill fire board to the ground, which made the drilling task much easier.
It can be difficult to get the proper tension on the string. If it is too tight, the string will wear off, and if it is too loose, it will slip on the drill. I set it little loose, and then used my grip to adjust the tension on the string while drilling.
There are two main steps in this process: creating the coal, and then use the coal to ignite the tinder. Both steps have their challenges you need to learn to master.
When I tried this the first time, I had trouble making the coal. This time I was able to make the coal without much effort, but I had a difficult time igniting the tinder.
Before you start drilling, prepare the tinder by building a bird nest. The center of the nest is where the coal goes, and should contain easily ignitable, fine, fibrous material. From the center out, use increasingly bigger tinder, such as leaves and small sticks, with the larger pieces at the outlier of the nest.
You want the friction from the drilling to be at the bottom of the stick. Therefore you need to minimize the friction on the top, at the socket. Use any kind of grease on the socket, be it grass, water, your own sweat, or whatever you can find.
You need to apply just the right amount of pressure to the socket. Too little pressure won’t create enough residue, friction and heat. You need the residue to create the coal. Too little pressure also can make the drilling surface glassy, preventing residue buildup.
Too much pressure can tear up the wood, creating too much residue too fast, without it getting hot, thus there will be no coal.
You want to see smoke coming from the drilling process. No smoke means no coal. Once it’s smoking, just keep going. Try to keep the smoke coming, in order to build up the heat and more hot residue for the coal.
Stop drilling once a sizable chunk of coal gets pushed out from the drill hole, along with some residue. You know there is a coal in the residue when you see smoke coming out of it.
Keep waiting a little while to let the coal build up in the residue. The bigger the coal, the better chance there is igniting the tinder.
Once you got the coal, place it in the nest, either dropping it directly from the board, or carefully transferring it over.
If the tinder is hard to lit, maybe due to colder or wetter weather, let the coal sit in the nest a little while, to dry and heat up the nest.
Start blowing on the nest, gently but steadily, until it flares up. Carefully start building up the fire, by adding smaller, and then gradually larger size sticks. Be aware that adding larger pieces of wood too soon might cool down the fragile fire, and kill it.
One important key to success in making the fire, is practice, a lot of practice! Do your research, watch YouTube videos, and try see what they do differently. Find the “weak spots” in your approach.
I am by all means no expert, I have only done this a few times, and I am sharing what I have learned so far. There are other factors other people might highlight in their videos and on their sites, that I don’t mention much in this article, such as which type of wood and tinder are preferable, and so on.
Good luck in your fire making! If you have any questions, comments, feedback, please post!