Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Making Fire

This is just a short show and tell about making fire from frictions using a bow and spindle. I've wanted to do this on and off for 30 years. When I was young I filled my fathers shop with smoke trying to ignite a small piece of pine chucked into a drill press and that's all I got was smoke.

Last week I decided it was time I learned how. I went into the woods behind my house and grabbed all the parts and some 'spares'. All bone dry and softwood as far as I could tell. 

Learning: None, I guessed.
Attempt 1: Smoke and cursing
Learning: Youtube and some web reads and I learn my parts are not quite right. I needed to round the end of the spindle, the point was drilling in , so I thought....
Attempt 2: The next night. Smoke and then ember but I'm so winded from bowing that I blow the ember out of my tinder and it's gone. Excited I try for the next hour and get nothing.
Learning: More online reading and I discover the missing parts.
Attempt 3: Fire!

You can get real details online so I'm not going to try and teach all the parts. It's just too much and it's already been written. This is just about what I did.

You need 4 parts:
Bow (with a string)
This is my set.  I did this with a small saw from a Swiss Army knife.

The notch in the handboard is not needed and should not be there. I'm reusing parts.

Collecting the parts took 10 minute, 15 max. All dead wood but hanging or suspended off the ground.

The spindle should be about an inch thick and straight and smooth to reduce chatter. Mine was about 9 inches but as you can see I burned it down to 4 inches while learning.

Bow should be arm length or longer if you can control it.

I had to modify the way I cut my slot to trap the powder. You can see all the holes from failed attempts.

This is not a classic hearthboard but it worked. It shows that it's quite easy to do once you understand what your doing. And, No, it's not just bow like crazy. That just makes smoke so if you're 12 and have a drill press, it's fun, but useless.
Poof! I got and ember about the size of a large BB in about 1 minute and I let it grow to about a Pea size, dropped it on a shop towel with some tiny wood shaving from tuning the set and about a minute of blowing it into a massive ember, pow.

It would be easier with a proper tinder bundle but my goal was the ember. Getting fire was just fun.

I suspect that if I needed to I could do this for real in about an hour or so provided I have a cord for the bow and no, shoe laces are mostly cotton crap. If I was wet and cold or it was raining it probably wouldn't work but I'd still try. I know that without the information I gathered on line it was impossible for me to do it.


  1. Last fall this kids and I built a debris Shelter (next time I'm bringing string, vines are a pain the ass). I'll have to add starting file with this method next time at the cabin.

    Thanks for the blog.

    1. Do your homework. It's easy to do but it's not so obvious. The world record is 7.5 SECONDS (not a type-o). Mine was 1 to 2 minutes after I built the set which could take 20 minutes to gather and tune.