Another bow drill problem...help a guy out :)

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Zealot

Member
Just had a second attempt at making fire with a bow drill, and...another fail. But I got way, way closer.

I managed to get smoke. And I mean it was belting it out. I'd read you should maintain friction for another 20-30 strokes, but in my excitement, I did about another fifty. Then I chucked the bow away, grabbed my tinder (dry grass), and moved the hearth out of the way so I could get at the smouldering dust. And...

...no smoke, no smoulder. It wasn't even warm.

I tried again another few times, but still no luck. The same dirty black/brown dust was all I had, and it was always cold.

Any suggestions? The wood is Hazel. It was two branches both pruned from a nearby recreational woodland and dumped. Wasn't rotten so I decided to use it. One branch of about 2.5-3cm in diameter, the other 4-5cm.

I've read that either the drill or the hearth needs to be softer than its friction wood. Could this be something to do with it?
 

Thoth

Full Member
Aug 5, 2008
321
16
Hertford, Hertfordshire
I've only ever used a drill & hearth from the same tree (sometimes the same branch). I'm not always sucsessful. But this is usually my technique, not the wood. Keep trying!
 

Lake

Member
Jun 7, 2009
47
0
.
I think your wood choice is good. Something else may be causing the problem. Here i'm using hazel too. Hope this vid will help you a little bit.

[video=youtube;SkYmxphTIII]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkYmxphTIII[/video]

ATB

Matt
 
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badgeringtim

Nomad
May 26, 2008
480
0
cambridge
U know i had the same issue -although i actually driled through the side of my hearthboard, can get smoke easilly enough just cant get the build up of an ember and i would have hoped that set would have given a lot more fires before me making a new base. presumably something to do with my technique but stll annoying!
 

ged

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
The Supreme Fire God (Addo) tells us that the wood needs to be very dry. Amongst other things I think he recommends hazel for the spindle and poplar for the hearth, although there are other good woods. I'm not sure of the importance of the choices of wood, but they work for me. From my very little experience I think that the design of the cuts in the hearth are important. My feeling is that you want the hot dust almost to flow out of the spindle hole into the cut so that it collects in a little pile. It should be very dark if not black. If you're getting a lot of smoke you're getting very close, you have the fitness required and you probably just need to brush up on the techniques. You should see a little blob of dust sticking together, that's the bit that will ignite. One thing I've noticed is that people can get quite excited during the final stages and they tend to rush. Addo warns against rushing. Just let the little blob of dust sit there, waft it VERY GENTLY if you must to get it smouldering well before you try to move it, or you'll easily put it out by accident. Your tinder must also be very dry, it needs to be the right texture and you need to have enough of it. Things like fibres from willow herb seed, flax and bullrush, any very finely divided material should do. Dry grass might not be finely divided enough but none of that matters if you haven't got that all-important blob of glowing char. When you've transferred the smouldering blob of dust to the tinder, blow gently but steadily to get a flame.

Don't waste boot laces, get a length of pull cord from a garden machinery shop for a couple of pounds.
 

Mesquite

Anyone for sailing?
Mar 5, 2008
24,079
967
59
~Hemel Hempstead~
What Ged (or Addo :) ) says.

There can also be a few other little things that aren't quite right like you might have too wide a notch on your hearth board or it's too thick and takes a long time to build up a suffcient amount of dust before it can start heating up.

You're very local to me so I could sort you out the best wood for a hearth board, namely ivy and help you if you like :)
 

falcon

Full Member
Aug 27, 2004
1,200
21
Shropshire
You possibly need just an ounce or two more pressure to move from brown to black, something which bugged me for a while. As I became more confident of my technique (and finally found a decent locking grip to eliminate wobble) I just concentrated on getting a good light pressure rythem going for the first 30 seconds...then I applied some pressure, then a bit more and the smoke volume and colour changes very quickly. On the occasions you get it spot on, the hot dust positively flows...not quite every time though. I believe the key is learning to regulate that pressure on the spindle and that improves with experience. Stick with it and it will suddenly all click together.

Hazel spindle is far and away best for me. Lime base board is excellent, though it consumes very quickly, also willow, ivy, juniper (superb) and alder. Good luck...
 

chem_doc

Tenderfoot
Sep 14, 2007
90
0
52
Atlanta, GA
Have you tried a variation on the bow drill called the Egyptian Bow Drill? It's a little easier than the standard, "spindle keeps flipping out of the string" standard bow method.
 

Lupin Rider

Full Member
Mar 15, 2009
290
0
uk
Have you tried a variation on the bow drill called the Egyptian Bow Drill? It's a little easier than the standard, "spindle keeps flipping out of the string" standard bow method.
when you wrap the string around the spindle a few times? it does keep the spindle stable but uses more energy to get and keep it going i found. eueka moment for me was to use a smaller / lighter bow.
 

slammer187

Nomad
Jul 11, 2009
411
0
Ireland
Get a piece of Ivy and use it as a hearth or spindle with the hazel, You will most likely get a coal, Ivy is a good all-rounder! :)
 

Zealot

Member
Thanks for all your suggestions. The drill popping out of the string isn't really a problem, but I'll check out that egyptian thing. Managed to get dust that carried on smoking for a few minutes today. Went out when before I could transfer it though. Maybe my notch is too small...
 

andy_e

Native
Aug 22, 2007
1,742
0
Scotland
Hazel on Lime/Willow/Sycamore or Black Poplar are all good combinations to try. Just make sure you season them first. Let them dry for a week before trying them, at least while you're learning.

The notch size is fairly forgiving but there are a couple of things you can do to improve your chances, for instance you can taper the notch slightly so that the coal has a wider base and is therefore more stable. Post a pic of your set I'm sure you'll get plenty of advice if you're still struggling.

There is no right or wrong technique, just find a stance that's comfortable for you. I do find that locking your wrist against your shin is key. Every time the spindle wobbles you waste energy and allow cold air in.

Apply firm pressure downwards, but just enough to get up to speed. Once you have the speed then increase pressure gradually. Each wood combination requires a slightly different balance of speed and pressure.

If your coal smokes for any time after you've stopped and removed your hearth then you're halfway there. Feed it oxygen, gently waft or blow it into an ember before you transfer it and blow it to flame. If you do that, it's less likely to fall apart and go out. Just be careful if you've broken a sweat not to let it drip on your hard-won ember.

You don't need to rush but you do need to be prepared with good dry tinder. As ged said already, a mix of fine and coarser is good. Downy seed heads and dry grasses is ideal though not the only options. With coarser stuff you need to buff it up to generate some finer material.

Don't be in a hurry to remove the hearth-board either, give yourself a few seconds to get your breath back, then gently roll the hearth back away from the coal. Use a fine twig to hold the coal in place.

Oh, and remember to breathe while you're bowing ;-)
 

Zealot

Member
Hazel on Lime/Willow/Sycamore or Black Poplar are all good combinations to try. Just make sure you season them first. Let them dry for a week before trying them, at least while you're learning.

The notch size is fairly forgiving but there are a couple of things you can do to improve your chances, for instance you can taper the notch slightly so that the coal has a wider base and is therefore more stable. Post a pic of your set I'm sure you'll get plenty of advice if you're still struggling.

There is no right or wrong technique, just find a stance that's comfortable for you. I do find that locking your wrist against your shin is key. Every time the spindle wobbles you waste energy and allow cold air in.

Apply firm pressure downwards, but just enough to get up to speed. Once you have the speed then increase pressure gradually. Each wood combination requires a slightly different balance of speed and pressure.

If your coal smokes for any time after you've stopped and removed your hearth then you're halfway there. Feed it oxygen, gently waft or blow it into an ember before you transfer it and blow it to flame. If you do that, it's less likely to fall apart and go out. Just be careful if you've broken a sweat not to let it drip on your hard-won ember.

You don't need to rush but you do need to be prepared with good dry tinder. As ged said already, a mix of fine and coarser is good. Downy seed heads and dry grasses is ideal though not the only options. With coarser stuff you need to buff it up to generate some finer material.

Don't be in a hurry to remove the hearth-board either, give yourself a few seconds to get your breath back, then gently roll the hearth back away from the coal. Use a fine twig to hold the coal in place.

Oh, and remember to breathe while you're bowing ;-)
Yeah, I think my wood is a little damp. The powder seems to be little 'twigs' which I'm told is a sign of dampness. I think I'll head out tomorrow and pick myself up some different woods to start drying. Tempted to just go down to the lumber yard, but this feels like cheating.
 

Glydr

Member
Feb 17, 2010
49
0
Wirral
May I submit this for your perusal;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzl2zat9yOM

The spindle is sycamore, the hearth is unidentified but Im sure I've heard Ray Mears recomend that a sycamore spindle and hearth will work fine. I failed so many times having the same problem as you Zealot, then I swapped my wooden bearer block for a limpet shell that I found which is really smooth on the inside so it gives almost zero friction and it worked first time.