It is estimated that this technique of fire-starting is at least 2,500 years old. Each ancient culture has its own version of the bow drill but the principles remain the same.
In today’s blog post I’m going to give you some pro tips for using a bow drill for emergency fire-starting so that you can create heat and fire even if you don’t have a lighter or matches. A true survivalist knows how to create fire – this is an essential skill that everyone should learn!
Examples of beginner-friendly wood types are white cedars, firs and basswood.
Note that there are some trees and plants that produce toxic fumes when burned and these wood types should definitely be avoided (e.g. oleander).
Also remember that any wood which has been previously coated with chemicals such as varnish and paint will also logically produce toxins as byproducts once they are burned.
You may use broken chairs for fuel if no other wood fuel is available for cooking. However, your food would have to be well above the flames to minimize toxin contamination from the smoke.
The spindle is the part of the bow drill system that rubs against the flat board to create fire. Learn to manipulate the angle of the spindle using your handhold. Avoid touching the spindle when you’re actively sawing the bow back and forth.
Also, your starting point should be at the opposite short edge of the flat board so you can place your foot on the other edge to steady the board.
Use a sharp carving knife to mark your starting spot before drilling. It would be difficult to drill through a flat surface so make sure that you create a shallow cavity on your marked spot before placing the spindle on top.
You should push down on the spindle using the handhold while pulling the rope so that the spindle feels like it’s going to fly toward the bow handle.
The extra tension on the rope will ensure that every movement is maximized and the vertical position of the spindle is maintained. Too much rope slack can cause your spindle to slide sideways.
Before applying tension to the spindle, make sure that your rope is attached properly to the bow so you can avoid any accidents. Both ends of the rope need to be wound tightly on either end of the bow to maintain stability during use.
If your spindle is smoking from the handhold side, twirl the spindle so that the top end is now the end that will be pressed against the flat board. You may have to apply lubrication to the top part of the spindle to prevent it from burning.