How to Make a Fire Using the Bow Drill Method
In the wild, you must keep yourself warm, dry, and fed. The best way to do this is to know how to build a fire. As we’ve shown you in previous articles, there are dozens of ways to make a fire. Some of these methods are easier than others, but they all work nonetheless. In this article, we’re going to focus on one of my favorite fire starting methods- the bow drill method. While this method requires quite a bit of physical exertion, it’s fundamental as far as survival is concerned. If you can master this method, all the others will be a piece of cake.
The first and most important step in the process is to choose the right wood. You should focus on dead, dry wood that has medium-soft density. Some good tree species include cedar, cottonwood, willow, basswood, juniper, aspen, poplar, and buckeye. Once you’ve found the right type of wood, collect a few branches that are a minimum of two feet long. These will be your building materials for creating your bow drill kit.
How to Create the Bow and Drill
A bow and drill kit is composed of a few main parts. These include:
- Fireboard: To make a fire, your fireboard (also known as a “base board”) should be about 12 inches long, four inches wide, and flat at the bottom. The lingo isn’t all that important. Just focus on making your fireboard the right dimensions.
- Drill: This is the part of your bow and drill kit that spins on top of your fireboard. The constant spinning of the drill is what generates heat via friction. This piece should be about eight inches long, and about one inch in diameter.
- Handhold: This is the piece that goes on top of the drill. Basically, you’re going to need this so that your hands don’t get burnt. Fire starting methods like this one require that your handhold be about the size of a bar of soap.
- Bow and Bowstring: This is the main part of the kit. It’s the thing that will rotate the drill back and forth. Of all the components of a bow and drill kit, this one will probably take the longest amount of time to make, but it’s also one of the most important pieces.
- Coal Catcher: This survival fire starting method won’t work without a coal catcher, which is the thing that will collect the dust formed by rotating the drill. It will be placed directly underneath the notch in your fireboard to so that hot coals can collect there.
- Tinder Bundle: Finally, you’ll need a tinder bundle. Your tinder should be something that’s highly flammable (cedar bark, lint, etc.). You’ll need a ball of tinder about the size of a softball. Be sure to gather this before making your fire.
You’ve probably read all this and thought, “Okay- I’m still confused!” Don’t worry- you’re about to learn how all of these parts work together. This is one of the most physically-demanding fire starting methods you can do. But the better your setup and technique, the less energy and time it will require. Here’s a helpful video to explain everything:
Using the Bow and Drill Kit
Now that you’ve created the basic parts of your bow and drill kit, you need to learn how to use them. As I mentioned, using correct form and technique will make this survival fire starting method much more efficient. Correct body posture is extremely important with this method. Here are the steps for learning how to make a fire with a bow and drill kit:
- Step 1: Carve a small hole (called your “starter hole”) in the fireboard. Make sure that this hole is about one inch away from the edge of the board. Wrap the drill in the bowstring. Make sure that it wraps around tightly. Place the bottom of the drill into the hole that you made in your fireboard. Then take your handhold and put it at the top of your drill so that you don’t hurt your hands in the process.
- Step 2: Place your left foot on the fireboard (if you’re right-handed). If you’re left-handed, then place your right roof on the fireboard. This will help stabilize the fireboard as you twist the drill. Keep your right hand on the bow while placing your left hand on the handhold. Again, this is for right-handed people. Left-handed people should do the opposite. Then, begin spinning the bow back and forth, slowly at first, then faster and faster. Once you see smoke from the hole in the fireboard, temporarily stop.
- Step 3: After you see smoke, remove the drill from the hole and carve a small notch in your fireboard. This notch should lead to the outside of the fireboard, and is where the dust from the wood is going to collect. To make a fire using this method, you can’t skip this step! Make sure that your coal catcher is right next to your notch. That way, the dust can easily collect on it. The coal catcher will also allow you to quickly and easily move the coal to your tinder bundle.
- Step 4: Return to spinning the drill using the bow. Similar to before, start slowly and then increase in speed. Focus on rhythmic Remember, you want consistency. Once you see smoke, apply more pressure to your handhold and spin faster. Some people get tempted to stop once they see smoke. For this survival fire starting method to work, don’t stop! You should keep going until the dust becomes very dark. This means you have coal and you can now transfer it to your tinder bundle.
Allow the coal to sit there until you see a tiny orange glow. That’s how you know it’s ready. Make sure that you transfer your coal to the center of your tinder bundle. Then gently blow on the tinder to feed the fire. Add smaller sticks and twigs in the beginning, followed by adding larger ones later. If you do everything right, you should have a fire. This is one of my favorite fire starting methods because if you can do this one, you can do pretty much all of them.
Being able to make a fire using nothing more than raw materials you find in the wilderness is a great skill set to have as a survivalist. Fire allows you to stay warm, cook meals, and protect yourself from predators. Plus, there’s a huge psychological benefit to being able to make a fire. If you can do it using the bow drill method, you can do it using any method. To learn how to make a fire with a dead lighter, click here.