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Thread: Hand drill advice for those struggling

  1. #1
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    Default Hand drill advice for those struggling

    I have some advice for those who are on the quest to be able to make fire consistently using the hand drill method.

    Firstly, materials. Material choice is critical for success with the hand-drill. It's not like the bow drill where any woods will do. For consistent success, you'll want the best possible materials.

    For the drill, dead woody flowering stalks are superior to anything else. Elder is a second-rate drill in my experience, because it's too hard. You want the softest woods possible for BOTH the drill and hearth and woody flowering stalks are softer. Make sure to collect the stems in autumn or early winter before they become too rotten to use. There are many, many options, far more than is commonly believed. So far I have had great success with the dead flowering stalks of great mullein, burdock, teasel, ragwort and common sorrel but there are many more that will likely work. Other ones to try are mugwort, dog rose, bramble, sow thistle, thistle (cirsium sp.), willowherb species etc.

    For the hearth, again, it's about using the materials with the lowest specific gravity, the ones that are very soft and easy to carve. Many people ignore the possibility of using roots. Well, it just so turns out that the wood from roots generally makes for superior hearth boards to the wood from the above-ground branches from the same trees. The wood in the roots isn't as dense as the branch-wood and is noticeably more flexible and easier to carve, so it definitely has different properties. Search for roots in steep banks or where trees have been uprooted and fallen over. I have had great success with willow root (10 second embers) and spruce root works great too. Alder root is another good one. For above-ground materials, lime is excellent, poplar is fairly good, willow is ok.

    Technique. My advice is to learn the floating technique. It eliminates the need for longer drills and makes for more relaxed drilling with a more constant rhythm. Apply a decent amount of pressure and speed from the very beginning to prevent the hole and drill glazing over. Eventually, there will be a sudden increase in resistance to the spinning of the drill and a change in the sound the drill makes. This is the point at which you begin to see smoke and powder starts falling down into notch. Maintain this steady pace until the notch is filled with a decent amount of powder and then speed up to full pace and increase downward pressure greatly and drill like this for as long as it takes to produce the ember ( or until you're exhausted!).

    It is a long journey and it took me several months of dedicated practice to get to the point where I feel I really have the skill under my belt, so practice regularly and don't give up because it's all worth it in the end! Just take everything I've written in this thread on board, combine that knowledge and the material choices I've mentioned, with lots of practice over many weeks and you should start seeing results. Peace

  2. #2
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    this is great news as i have loads of Polplar at work to use. i agree that wood selection is vital, i have been using elder on sycamore and get a nice dark dust forming but cant keep going long enough to get an ember, i believe this to be because the woods are to hard...

    i will try with poplar and get a nice burdock stem and keep trying...

    many thanks.

    chris.
    " Once more into the fray,
    Into the last good fight I'll ever know,
    Live and die on this day,
    Live and die on this day."


    www.lannymanknives.webs.com

  3. #3
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    Ah, elder on sycamore, extremely difficult combination, doubt I could manage it myself! Steer clear of that elder, it's seriously way too hard for a drill. Sycamore is also fairly solid stuff, too hard a wood for the hand drill really, sycamore root, now that may be a little better... Like you suggested, the burdock on poplar combination should get you much closer! You won't believe the difference that woody plant stalks make!

  4. #4

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    Thanks for this helpful advice wildranger! I have been practicing for a few months now, and experimenting and like you said it is all about the materials. I still havent got an ember yet, because I have been searching for the materials and drying them out. The best I have used so far was Burdock on Ivy. I will start collecting the materials you have told us and try them out. thanks!

  5. #5
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    Many people ignore the possibility of using roots. Well, it just so turns out that the wood from roots generally makes for superior hearth boards to the wood from the above-ground branches from the same trees.
    I know I have!! Thanks for the tip .... off to my wood pile to see what I have

    Ed
    "You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones
    will teach you that which you can never learn from masters."

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  6. #6
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    I have had 100 percent success with a hearth made from very seasoned ivy and the drill made from common garden BnQ pine dowel , always works so long as you rough up the tip with sandpaper once you've got the hearth and drill to a good fit.
    good luck stick at it , its very rewarding when it finally works. Also try not to use your full palms you'll get terrible blisters, try to just use the fleshy pad that runs from the base of your little finger to your wrist, this area generally has tougher skin. Lick your hands first to aid traction and away you go.

  7. #7
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    @Bones, no problem, I just wanted to share what I learned about the hand-drill over the past year of practicing it and experimenting with different materials, so that other people would be able to start with the best materials right from the outset!

    @Dr Jones, that's a great achievement because seasoned ivy isn't one of the best hearths in my experience. I would disagree with your advice about only using the fleshy part of the palm - I find it best to use the whole palm for a longer stroke but I suppose for people whose hands haven't toughened up yet, it might be a help.

  8. #8

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    hi wildranger, I've been now getting embers easily with Elder on Ivy. I picked a nice straight strand of dead bramble today and tried it out on an ivy board. I got plenty of smoke and dark dust, but no ember. I will try it out on willow root soon. Have you had much success with Bramble? It is so readily available around here, it would be great if it did work successfully. I worked twice as hard with the bramble as I have to do with elder. I was almost there to ignition point I reckon.

  9. #9
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    hey gents, i have been trying hard but cant seem to get enough grip on the spindle, i wet my hands a little to start with but as soon as its worn off i cant get the grip needed to carry on....

    any ideas what would help, i dont want to use anything i cant just get when im out, as the idea is to collect the components and make fire when im out from scratch...this is my aim for becoming fire self sufficient...

    many thanks.

    chris.
    " Once more into the fray,
    Into the last good fight I'll ever know,
    Live and die on this day,
    Live and die on this day."


    www.lannymanknives.webs.com

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bones View Post
    hi wildranger, I've been now getting embers easily with Elder on Ivy. I picked a nice straight strand of dead bramble today and tried it out on an ivy board. I got plenty of smoke and dark dust, but no ember. I will try it out on willow root soon. Have you had much success with Bramble? It is so readily available around here, it would be great if it did work successfully. I worked twice as hard with the bramble as I have to do with elder. I was almost there to ignition point I reckon.
    Aw nice one, I've been using elder too recently and getting embers easily using a spruce root hearth. If I have the choice though, I'll use a woody plant stalk rather than the elder, as I find they require significantly less effort. I've had no success with bramble either! I find that bramble smokes like crazy but the dark brown dust just never ignites. I agree with you, it'd be fantastic to crack the bramble, since it'd enable you to just walk into the woods, snap a drill of a a bramble bush and twirl up an ember!

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by lannyman8 View Post
    hey gents, i have been trying hard but cant seem to get enough grip on the spindle, i wet my hands a little to start with but as soon as its worn off i cant get the grip needed to carry on....

    any ideas what would help, i dont want to use anything i cant just get when im out, as the idea is to collect the components and make fire when im out from scratch...this is my aim for becoming fire self sufficient...

    many thanks.

    chris.
    Hey Chris, it could be the type of spindle you're using. The woody plant stalks with longitudinal ridges like burdock or ragwort will offer better grip than a smooth elder spindle. Although the smoother spindles help to prevent blisters, I find they can make it more difficult to twirl up an ember! What you're doing, spitting on your hands and rubbing them till they go tacky at the beginning is all you can do really, as you can't afford to stop half-way through and spit on them again and lose all that built up heat. It has also occured to me that once you're hands develop large callouses from constant practice, perhaps these provide more grip than smooth skin.

  12. #12
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    hhhhhhm, im using burdock on poplar now, but TBH i was getting better results with elder on ivy, i did remove some of the ridges on the spindle so maybe get a new 1 and try again..

    but what your saying is i have girley hands....

    i just need to keep trying, i will get it in the end...

    regards.

    chris.
    " Once more into the fray,
    Into the last good fight I'll ever know,
    Live and die on this day,
    Live and die on this day."


    www.lannymanknives.webs.com

  13. #13

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    HI wildranger, just to let you know, today I found a nice fallen willow tree with loads of dead roots, and with the recent dry weather we've had the wood was good and dry. So I tried the willow root hearth out with the elder spindle, and easily got an ember. I am very pleased, as there is loads of willow root available. I tried again the bramble on the willow root, but still it refuses to ignite. I think it must have a very high ignition temperature. I will be trying out Alder root soon also. Thanks again for the helpful advice.

  14. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by dr jones View Post
    ....... Also try not to use your full palms you'll get terrible blisters, ........... Lick your hands first to aid traction and away you go.
    Just watched RM's Walkabout series on Rock Painting. Want to see Blisters....have a look at him unsucessfully using a handdrill. Little one at the top and almost half of his palm after the third attempt before he gave up
    Whittler Kev.
    I loike making things I does. Happy as a...
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  15. #15
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    Good post, thanks for the tips.
    Last edited by Nightfly; 31-03-2012 at 15:45.

  16. #16
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    ok Wildranger, went up to the motorway and managed to get a teasel stalk today, i was so so close today, it had the perfect brown dust, with darker brown dust on top, and when i pulled the pile apart it had black dust in the core, i think 3-6 more strokes and i would have had a coal....

    my main problem was the drill was toooooooo, big before, the new drill is much smaller which bites in more, but gives more turns to the drill for the same amount of work, this gives more friction which is where i have been going wrong.

    im confident once i teach myself the floating hand technic i will be able to gather all the components in the field and make fire from that......

    awesome, lots of practice this week and next while im off work, not got any blisters as such, which is surprising consider how soft my hands are.

    anyway, thanks to all for the help....

    regards.

    chris.
    " Once more into the fray,
    Into the last good fight I'll ever know,
    Live and die on this day,
    Live and die on this day."


    www.lannymanknives.webs.com

  17. #17
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    @Bones, nice one, willow root is the best hearth I've found so far. Also look out for sitka spruce roots as they make a nice hearth too. I haven't experimented a great deal with alder root but from the few goes I had with it, it was good but not exceptional. The bramble is really strange indeed, it smokes furiously and it looks like there's a thick plume of smoke rising from the pile, making you think you have an ember but it soon proves to have been a false hope! I'm looking forwards to trying out a load of new drills later in the season when the stalks have gone woody. I'm eager to test out common sorrel, cattail, willowherb species, sow thistle species and just whatever else I come across.

    @lannyman - that's great, I thought your burdock drill looked a little thick alright! I'm using maybe 1cm thick drills and they work great. Keep pushing for that first coal, once you get it, they start coming more and more frequently.

  18. #18
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    my "NEW" drills are probably 7 ish mm but seem to working allot better than the burdock monster...
    " Once more into the fray,
    Into the last good fight I'll ever know,
    Live and die on this day,
    Live and die on this day."


    www.lannymanknives.webs.com

  19. #19
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    sorry another thing, how the hell do you start to attempt the floating hand thingey, do you just have to try until you get it or can it be taught as such????

    again many thanks...

    chris.
    " Once more into the fray,
    Into the last good fight I'll ever know,
    Live and die on this day,
    Live and die on this day."


    www.lannymanknives.webs.com

  20. #20
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    ok just had another go, and "NOW" i have blisters....

    teasel on poplar and very close to a coal again, i need to get this floating hand style down...
    " Once more into the fray,
    Into the last good fight I'll ever know,
    Live and die on this day,
    Live and die on this day."


    www.lannymanknives.webs.com

  21. #21
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    7mm is pretty thin and will work well, only problem is they'll tear up the hands quicker than a 10mm drill. For the floating technique, I remember learning it ages ago by watching a demonstrational video on youtube. From then it was just practice and it took a few practice sessions to really get the hang of it and then further weeks and even months of practice to be able to generate sufficient downward pressure, for a sufficient length of time to form embers, while only floating. It's a whole new ball-game! What you need to do is practice the technique slowly at first, without applying much downwards pressure, just getting a feel for it - the hand that's moving away from you will be subtly pointed downwards and the hand moving back towards you will be level.

  22. #22

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    .. thanks again for the good advice
    Last edited by Bones; 14-04-2012 at 01:51.

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