Wilderness Survival 101: Making fire
Now that you’ve prepared your fire materials and your box drill kit you’re ready to make a friction fire.
Begin by setting up your bow drill kit as you did to create the notch in your base plank. Wrap the drill one around with the cord of your bow, ensuring that, when held in place, the string will spin the drill freely. Next, holding the drill so it doesn’t snap out of the bow, position it into the base plank and hold in place using your hand-hold. With your free hand – you can let go of the bow – position your transfer bark underneath the notch you caved in the base plank to catch the ashes you create. Also, make sure your tinder bundle is nearby so you can easily transfer your coal into it. Grip your bow with your dominant hand and prepare to saw the bow back and forth to create friction fire.
Before you begin sawing however, ensure you’re in the optimal position to take advantage of your body strength. Settle into a comfortable lunge position with the leg corresponding to your dominant hand – if you’re right handed, then your right leg – stretched out on the ground behind you. Your other leg should be bent at a sub-90 degree angle with the drill positioned just inside the knee. This position will allow you to use your upper body strength and a good portion of your weight to more easily push down on the drill and thus generate more friction than sawing alone.
Once you’re fairly comfortable begin to saw the bow back and forth in front of your body, spinning the drill in it’s notches. Be sure to use the full length of the bow to maximize efforts. As you get into a rhythm begin to saw faster until you start generating smoke – this is a good sign but it most certainly does not mean you’re there. In order to start a fire your coal needs to be at least 800 degrees and glowing so the trick with this is perseverance – keep sawing long after you “think” you’ve gotten it – cause you haven’t.
Concentrate on sawing long, fast strokes and on watching the coal accumulating on your transfer bark. When you start to see some orange on the bark through the heavy smoke then you’ve done it – you have a coal! For a first-timer this process can take anywhere from just 20 minutes to 3 hours. It took me 2 hours my first time. It just depends on the ease of your technique, how much additional pressure you can put on the drill, and luck. Keep working at it if you don’t get it right away and don’t be afraid to carve new notches in your base board if you bore through it at your original point. This will slow the process, but your perseverance will pay off.
Once you do have a growing, red, ember of a coal quickly set down your bow and drill and carefully use your transfer bark – blowing softly on the coal all the while to feed it – to drop the coal into your nearby tinder bundle. Once in the tinder bundle, continue to blow softly and steadily – no large gusts – onto your coal. The tinder bundle should be in your hands, while you do this with the bulk of the bundle cupped to protect your hands from the heat. While you blow inch toward your fire pit – you’ll want to be close when the tinder bundle ignites.
Steady blowing for a few seconds to a minute should cause your tinder bundle to ignite. When it does, quickly transfer it to the center of your tiny kindling tipi and continue to blow, coaxing the small fire to catch the tiny twigs you’ve set out for it. As the flame licks the twigs, begin to add more layers as discussed previously – first from the piles of smaller sticks, adding larger and larger pieces in a tipi formation as the fire catches.
And that’s it! You made a friction fire!
Hopefully all of us will have prepared enough to have practiced this before we need it and to have multiple ways to create fire on hand at the onset of the apocalypse including a friction fire skill, a handful of lighters, and a flint and steel – the more the merrier. Now go practice. And check out this amazing video tutorial by Alderleaf Wilderness College for more information.