Wilderness Survival 101: Bow-drill fire kit
Now that you’ve built your fire and collected sufficient fuel it’s time to actually make fire. Knowing how to make a friction fire is a difficult though life-saving skill and the bow-drill is the easiest.
Set aside the tinder bundle and piece of transfer bark you prepared in the previous step for later – you’ll need both once you get started. Now, find a lightly curved stick – similar in curvature to a bow – that’s roughly 1-2 inches in circumference and the length of your forearm. Make sure the stick is sturdy and made of a hard wood. This will serve as the base of your “bow.” Next find a thick stick, roughly 1 inch in circumference and about 6 inches long. This will be the “drill.”
Next, find two pieces of wood and carve or cut them into roughly the size and shape of a two-by-four. Make one plank out a hard wood such as maple or cherry and the other out of soft, dry wood such as cedar. The hard wood plank will be your hand grip so carve it to a size that fits comfortably in your palm. The soft wood plank is you base and should be 6 to 8 inches long.
The final component is the bow-string. You can use shoelaces if you have them, para-cord, twine, or natural cordage (that’s a post for a different day).
Starting with your bow, tie one end of the string snuggly around each end of the stick you gathered for your bow. The string should be snug, with just enough give to wrap around the girth of the drill. Set your bow aside.
Moving on to the drill, use a knife to remove all bark and smooth it down. Carve each end to a round point – sort of like a double stake and then set aside. Now for the two planks. Beginning with your hand grip, use your knife to pick out a divot in the center of one side of your stick. This will help it to grip.
The base plank is the hard part. Begin by making a divot, similar to that in your grip plank roughly a thumb’s width from the end of the base plank along the length of the board. Now, grab your bow and wrap the string once around the drill – this should be tight and difficult to do. You won’t be able to let go of the drill without it snapping out. Next, place one piked end of the frill into each divot you created,using your least dominant hand to hold the drill upright with the grip-plank. Begin to saw your bow back and forth slowly with your dominant hand.
Your goal is to make the divot in the base plank larger by wearing away the wood. Don’t stop until it’s nearly the circumference of the drill. You may need to stop regularly to re-tie your string if your bow doesn’t have a fork on the end or a notch to help hold the string in place.
Once the hole in your base plank is large enough, set everything except your base plank aside. Using your knife, cut a wedge into the center of your divot that is not quite as wide as the divot itself. Think of the shape of skeleton key hole – the wedge tapers toward the center of the circle. Carve this carefully because, if you make the wedge too large you risk the drill slipping out as you try to build your coal.
This is what your bow-drill kit should look like when you’re finished (including transfer bark):
Now you’re ready to make fire using the bow drill kit you’ve prepared. Look for how-tos, tips and tricks, and a video demonstration in my next post.