View Full Version : Bow drills
I'm trying to work my way up the ladder of difficulty with bow drill woods...so far willow, sycamore, birch...Can anyone suggest a next step or two? :-D
Also any suggestions on a good wood to try a hand drill with? :-?
Not sure about the next step but from personal experience I'd put ash last. I spent week trying ash until I gave up and went back to sycamore.
From another Matt
Elder is my definate favourite for the handdrill. It is easy to find, and comes in nice straight shoots very often. This drill I like to combine with poplar.
Sorry Qweeg, that was too much like a challenge!
I got an ember from ash today in my lunch break - you need a fairly thin spindle and long strokes! Also the bearing block is a bit of a problem when drilling such a hard wood - I was using holly with plenty of green leaves packed in every time i stopped, but still the ash eats it pretty quick, and you have to keep thinning the spindle top.
Ok next...hand drill..elder....hmmm :wink:
I'll add another vote for elder for the hand drill. I used willow as the hearth which seemed to work well.
A useful tip I picked up for avoiding that annoying 'glazing' that can thwart your progress is to use a small amount of sand/grit in the hollow of the hearth.
I've tried using the dead stems of Teasels. They begin to smoke very quikly, though I haven't managed to convert that to an ember as yet.
Must go now - time to change the dressings on the blisters :lol:
I have been told that Sweet Chestnut is pretty difficult to get fire out of. Guy on the course I went on cut some by mistake, even the instructor struggled.
Mind you, I don't know if that is the right way to think about it. Wouldn't it be better to try things that you tend to find as fallen or dead trees. Most places you can find willow, sycamore or elder but there are places where they are harder to find. How about Black Thorn and Hawthorn, they are common and widely spread? Big Beech trees also tend to drop bits, have you given those a go?
I have only really started with the bow drill so haven't had a chance to work through all the woods around here yet.
Does anyone narrow their drills in the middle? Just a thought for getting more speed without making the bearing end/hearth end ratio too big.
There's an interesting variation of the bow drill on the primitive ways website http://www.primitiveways.com/e-fire.html which works really well. My 12 year old son who struggles to get smoke with a normal bow drill is almost at the point of getting an ember with this method.
As for hand drills I use an elder drill with a clematis hearth but mullein stem is also good for both hearth and drill
Chris, narrowing the spindle at the centre doesn't seem to have much effect.
You're right though, when out and about I'd use the easiest downed wood to hand, but while I have the luxury of being able to practice on other woods, I think its worth trying the tougher woods just to tighten up on technique.
Narrowing the spindle has a detrimental effect due to the fact that it reduces the spin and therefore means either more elbow grease or starting again.
I have seen students try numerous ways of 'improving' the technique but at the end of the day 1000's of years of evolution have improved it about as much as possible.
There is one new 'cheat' that I know of - but until Im sure its 100% Im not saying any more.
The spindle thing isn't something I have tried. I am lazy and it looked like a lot of work :wink: . I did see a guy do it and he said it worked for him, keeping the string more centred. The smaller spindle would give you more revolutions per stroke, but the cord might have to be tighter since you are giving up some mechanical force advantage. All interesting to speculate about....I guess I will have to give it a try and tell you if it truely is useless :-)
In most places if you take half an hour to carve the spindle you might as well have spent half an hour and found some better wood!
Personally I am going to try this stuff in the wet (as soon as we get some) using kit I know works in the dry before I go making it hard :-D
The bow drill does work and works well - it takes practice and determination to learn mind you but once mastered the worlds your oyster.
But top tip, as I say I have taught fire by friction for several years now, is to forget all your 'ideas' about spindle size and turns on the string or keeping it centred and too get yourself a good book - Ray Mears 'the survival handbook' I recommend and study this carefullly. Select the best wood you can find and then try and try again - eventually you'll get it.
It is hard work and so it should be, on courses I often tell students to think of learning the bow drill as 'personification' of their will to survive, those who want to - succeed and those who give up - fail.
Survival of the fittest isnt a race but a slow determined plod!
I'm still a newbie to bushcraft, so please forgive my ignorance, but, how can you tell what wood it is if it's not still attached to the tree?
I did the obvious and checked out those nearby, but there was quite a mixture of Ash, Oak and pines. I held the fallen branch to each and as it was a bit old and weathered, it seemed to be a match for all of them.
Anyway, made my bow and hearth etc, and got it smoking really quite quickly. So much so that after several attempts I got an ember, but then dropped it in my excitement and now only seem to be able to produce a high pitched shreaking sound from my drill and hearth. I'd kept it well lubed with leaves etc........but was it my choice of wood that was the problem?
Bark, buds, and branch shape can help in some cases. How the rings in the wood apear can give a clue, ash for instance has very porous, balsa like, early spring growth and very white later growth. Other woods tend to be more uniform. Some trees have heart wood that is a different colour and texture than the outer sap wood, yew, cherry and sweet chestnut are examples of that.
I don't know how to adequately discribe the characteristics of wood in words. I learned what little I know by wandering around picking up sticks from known sources, breaking them, peeling the bark and carving on them. Then when I met something that had bark like sycamore, cut like sycamore and weighed about the same as sycamore would, I could take a good guess that it was sycamore! :wink:
If it squeaks, lean on it HARD, at least that has worked for me. When it starts to get hot it stops squeaking.
Welcome to the best Bushcraft site in the world!!
Over the next day or two I will give you some basic tips on tree identification, just so you know your ash from your elbow!!......there is a joke in there somewhere!!
I have got to fly off line now but I will put something together that I give my students and that should get you on your way.
Thanks for the welcome folks, and thanks for the advice. I loook forward to the tree id tips. At the moment I'm nipping round picking up branches etc from trees while the leaves are still on them, and will now do what you suggested by carving and peeling etc.
Thanks once again.
A very good book for ID of Trees is,
TREES AND BUSHES OF BRITAIN AND EUROPE by OLEG POLUNIN - it was published in the 70's but is well worth a search for. Its the best book I know of Ray recommended to all his assistant instructors.
Is willow any good for the base board? As I am just about to fell tons of it and it would nice to do something different with it for a change.
Willow can be used for the base and the spindle. It will need to dry out though unless you have some standing deadwood that can be used.
I use only willow spindles on maple boards.
I got a newbie to try my kit, had to slow him down a bit, then coax him on.
Less than two minutes, Bingo!
Usually, I spin up an ember in about 30 secs. And I have to remember not to push too hard, as this will dead-press the hearthboard.
Also, I use the Egyptian setup (Knot and turns around the spindle).
Next time out, I might try Elder/Poplar.
Cattail and Great mullein worked NOT for me. Great way to make a drill, tho.