The bow drill is the ONE technique that everyone should have down! This technique can be produced in almost every sector of the world and is simply the easiest of the primitive fire methods to do! This article is not to tell you the step by step process for making a bow drill. But to explain the most important tips and tricks to successfully producing it! There are a million other sources that will walk you through it. So first thing you need to know is that the most important thing to know in primitive fire is that the WOOD choice is probably the most important aspect. You must know what to look for! Some woods are much more choice than others and certain woods are almost impossible to get fire with. Make sure when you pick the wood that it meets certain criteria. Density is the most important thing in my experience so the first thing you feel for is hardness of the wood. Typically softer woods are much easier to get a coal out of and should always be picked first over hardwoods. But not to soft! You only want it hard enough that you can press your finger nail into and it leave a good indention. Also be sure to pick the driest wood you can find. Look in sunny spots on south facing exposures.


The bow should be made out of a slightly curved piece of dry dead wood about palm to armpit in length. Or you can pick a slightly green piece and conform it to the shape you want but just remember that green wood will have more play in it. Your cordage should be tough and when making primitively you should make it thicker than modern cordage. Your rope if primitive should be pinky sized or the size of a sharpie marker. If you use the canted bow technique then you can make the rope thinner. The canted bow technique is done by simply making your bow shorter and slightly canting your bow when drilling. The reason for canting is so that your string doesn’t abrade on itself and the rope will last longer. I recommend this technique when time is of the essence and you don’t have time to make a longer thicker cord.

The spindle should be thumb size or smaller and only about 6-10″ long. The length is important because if you make it to long then it will be difficult to control and you will not be able to apply as much downward pressure. When making the spindle the top part in the handhold must be pointed to reduce friction in the handhold and increase efficiency in your drilling. The bottom of the spindle should be blunted to increase friction and heat. Make sure to add lube to the handhold hole so that it turns more easily. Earwax, skin oils, grass, or anything oily can be used to decrease friction in the handhold. Your handhold should be as harder than the spindle to prevent digging a deep hole into your handhold.

Finally, the fireboard should not be to thick otherwise it takes to long to long to fill the notch with dust. The notch should not be cut to just short of the middle of the hole. 1/8 th the size of the pie. When drilling you should begin with light downward pressure in the handhold and then increase the pressure as it begins smoking. The drill smoke will usually turn colors slightly before your coal is ready. When the coal is produced then lightly fan or blow on the coal to give it oxygen. Once you have your coal then dump into your tinder bundle and blow it into flame. Make sure when you begin blowing it into flame that you lift the bundle over your head and blow from underneath it. This prevents the smoke from choking you out and allows you to blow out much more oxygen! Good luck!

Bow Drill Friction Fire Tips

-Remember to pick a really hard wood for handhold and don’t let the indention get to deep.

-Make sure the spindle is at least 7 to 10 inches long with a very well tapered spindle top and a blunted bottom for increased efficiency. This will reduce friction in the handhold and increase friction in the fireboard.

-Make sure your bow is at least arm pit to palm length.

-Your cord tension should be tight enough to flip the spindle out of the cord on its on tension.

-Tie a quick release knot on one side of the bow.

-Spindle wood should be only slightly softer or slightly harder in density than fireboard if different woods are chosen.

-Cottonwood, willow, yucca, and plants located near water are usually good for making fire.

-Make sure all your bow drill parts are constructed perfectly, this technique is all skill and not strength. If you are struggling then there is something off about your technique. Small children can get this technique, you shouldn’t have to force it!

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