Thursday, April 26, 2007

Catching Fire (Part 3)

Fire by Friction
Before I get into the different parts and technique of the friction fire, I would like to just say a few words about this amazing skill.
I have seen stong people fail at this skill and weak people succeed. The real skill here is the knowlege of the parts and how everything comes together. Having respect for the wood in your hands that your cutting away at to make every part perfect.

"Strive toward perfect part's & form and the bow drill will come with ease & delight."
-Tom Brown III-


Bow & String-

The length of the bow should be as long as from your armpit to wrist with a little curve. The bow should be strurdy and a little flexible. The string can be made from natural plant fibers, sinew, rawhide, or any modern string. I have not used natural cordage yet because I need to make a flex bow for that skill. Lets just stick with modern string for the beginner.

Hand Hold

Find a piece of wood that fits comfortably in your hand. This wood should be the same or harder than the spindle. After the hole is burned, put some soap, fat, or even pitch in the hole to stop the friction.


The hardness of the spindle and the fireboard should be the same. This will allow even wear on both the board and spindle. Spindles should be no bigger than your thumb and should be as long
as from the tip of your pinky to the tip of your

thumb. As you can see in the picture, one side comes to a long point and the other side comes to
a shallow point. This is to control the friction. We want alot of friction where the spindle meets the fireboard so there is a shallow point with more surface area in contact with the board.

Fireboard and Notch

Fire boards should be thumb thick or less with a

flat top and bottom and with squarred off sides. My fireboard here is really just a bit to wide. Fireboards should be two spindles wide. That way I can use both sides without having a bunch of wood in the middle that won't ever be used.

When burning in the hole on the fire board, make sure that the rim of the hole is not quite out to the edge of

the fire board. As you can see the hole was burned until it was the same size as the spindle.

To get the perfect notch we need to carve out 1/8 of the hole. Make sure that the center of the notch is not quite the center of the hole. The walls of the notch should come straight down and b e smooth. If the walls of the notch are not smooth, the dust will have a harder time forming a coal at the bottom.

Tender Bundle

The tinder bundle can be as simple as dried grass or layered. Here I have some plant fiber twine and some cedar bark in the middle.
Some ideas for good tinder: dry grass, mosses, leaves, inner bark, milk weed/cat tail down.

Make sure that your wrist locks into your leg so that the spindle will have support.

Other ideas for a fire board

A complete set made from just one branch.

Catching Fire (Part 2)

Fire Structure


The first part of the construction process is finding a good location. Find a spot that is safe from getting other dead branches hanging from trees on fire. Clear the Ground of debris. If you already have a shelter built or know where it is going to be, make sure you have your fire 4-6 feet away from your shelter.

Now that we have a good location, dig a small depression in the ground. Make sure that there are not any pitches roots near the fire pit. (Fire can spread easily through pine roots and other types of trees) Finish the pit off with a ring of dry stone to contain the fire.

Collecting wood:

Like with anything else, location is a very important element to consider when gathering fire wood and also for the fire itself. The best place to find dry wood is off the ground. Even if is is raining, there can still be dry wood found this way. I look for a broken branch that is still connected to the tree. This picture shows dry wood off the ground. Also, with this type of gathering there is a wide variety of sizes in the branches all in one place.


Pencil lead size
Types of wood:

Soft wood- pines, fire, hemlock, cedar
Burns hot, fast, and gives off lots of light.
Medium wood- cotton wood, aspen, poplar, willow
These make good cooking fires.
Hard wood- oak, walnut, hickory, maple, ash
Burns slowest, good heat, and great coals.
Wet wood burns 3-4 times longer that dry wood.
Green wood burns 8 times longer than dry wood.

Tee pee Fire
The great thing about the tee pee fire is that it is good for just about everything you would need for a basic camp. It gives off lots of light and sheds the rain. When lighting a tee pee fire, every layer lights the layer on top of it. So instead of adding wood to a small flame and building it up, get the structure built first and it will take care of itself!

The first layer is the tender bundle layer. This can be made for anything that is really small and really dry. Examples would be: dry grass, leaves, inner bark, or cat tail down.

Here I have some dry plant fiber I got from a natural twine. ( I know my fire pit should have been clean up more from the debris)

Here I have my pencil lead thick twigs on top of my tender. (There really are dry even thought they look green)

If I really wanted to make sure that my flame lasted a bit longer in wet conditions, I have some pitch gathered on a leaf.

Now, the next layer.

Notice that I have left a door in my fire. This way I still have access to my first layer.

I have some wood off to the side to fill in the door once I light the structure.

There are lots more that can be covered about fire structure. Always be safe and think about what you are doing but also experiment.
I can not take credit for this knowledge. Most of what I have learn, I learn at the Tracker School.