Fire from a Bow Drill

Fire has been around since the dawn of time.. from mountains spewing ash and fire from volcanoes, to early man producing the first spark, which led into fire. 

In the past, humans learnt this craft which led into being able to cook, and to even keep predators at bay.. Fire has been a tool to aid our progression in the world for millennia, and has served a great purpose not just in evolution, but the cultural development of humanity too. 

Fast forward to the present, and humans have lost their ability to make fire. Most people can't start a fire without a lighter or matches. Fire lays, techniques, and the skills of our ancestors has been lost to the ease of the modern society in which we live in. Man has fire at his finger tips, and a new found level of arrogance towards the past.

We've lost the ancient knowledge that our ancestors once had, but relearning the old ways can bring back a bountiful wealth for not just ourselves, but for everyone involved, and future generations....

With this fire series, we'll learn about different fire techniques, methods of making fire, and the psychological impact in which fire can have on a survivor out in the wilderness, and at home.

The Bow Drill kit has a few parts in order for it to work: The Block, The Spindle, The hearth or fire board, and the bow.

The Bow Drill is a tool which creates an ember via friction. As you're reading this place your phone, tablet, or whatever you're reading this on down, and rub your hands together at a fast pace for 10 seconds.

Feel that? The heat generated through the action of rubbing your hands together is called friction. This is exactly the same way, in which the Bow Drill works.


The Bow is usually made out of a bendy/flexible wood such as Mountain Ash or Rowan by measuring from your armpit to your fingertip, this is a good method to make sure the bow is a good length for yourself. A light wood, with a natural curve makes a great bow.


The spindle works well being Hazel, due to Hazel is extremely easy to find, and grows straight.  Straight wood is vital for the spindle, as it needs to spin without angling, or tipping one way. The bottom of the spindle is usually rounded to fit well into the notch of the Bow Drill, where as the top of the spindle is pointed to fit inside the block.


This part of the kit works well being greenwood meaning it's fresh wood. The reason why is that fresh wood has natural moisture, and is lubricated naturally which allows great movement of the spindle when spinning inside the block. For myself I use Ash or Fraxinus, as it's a hard wood which is very strong. 


This next bit of the Bow Drill can be a blessing, and a curse. The hearth is usually best to be a soft wood, the reason why is that soft wood in most cases, burns quicker, and  the wood needs less of a heating point to actually form a coal with friction. A good softwood is cedar. (Smells great too)

All of the kit plays an important parts to create something called the 'ember' the ember forms when the spindle spins inside the hearth, to create hot wood dust. This wood dust then collects, inside a notch within the hearth and creates a pile of hot dust, which forms a coal (or burning wood dust) after enough time, and if successful, the dust can burn on its own, creating a 'coal' which can then be coaxed into flame with a tinder bundle.

The Bow Drill has brought me great joy and pain, over the years. From my early days of managing to make my finger bleed, to burning myself on the Bow Drill, I'm now very comfortable, in creating friction fire through the Bow Drill, and do it with ease. One thing to always remember, the Bow Drill, and any survival skill, you never truly master it, you're always learning, and even the most experienced veterans, can sometimes even have 'off days'. It's all part of the learning, training, and enjoyment of survival skills!

As always, Stay Alert.

- Luke

Author: Luke

Luke has trained world over, honing his survival skills from the jungles of Borneo, to the Pacific Northwest in America. Luke's speciality lies within the bow drill and herbalism. Recently Luke has focused his main skills towards primitive first aid.


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