friction firelighting, cheating with electric drill, but still no ember

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Feb 19, 2017
Hi, as you can tell from the title, I'm a total newby here, trying to get to 'first base' with friction firelighting, by getting a smoking coal. I've been using a peice of hazel about 12mm diameter on a hearth cut from the same tree, about 20mm thick, (with a straight cut 45 degree slice taken out of it) first as a hand drill set (not fit enough!), then chopped shortand put in an electric drill, just to be able to say' I've at least made a coal, there is hope...'.

I get plenty of smoke, and dust, and occasionally some of the dust seems to coagulate into a 'lump', but this never seems to smoke at all on it's own, and I've never seen even a speck of orange glow. I've tried lots of speed, lots of pressure, both together, getting progressively faster and then piling on the pressure, but all I get is black dust and a rapidly consumed hearth.

The wood is super dry, it's spent 6 months under the woodburner in the kitchen.
I thought it would be easy, cheating like this, but it isnt working.

Is there anything about using an electric drill that's actually stopping this from working?
Feb 19, 2017
Thats funny, I'd read that, could have sworn he recommended hazel; turns out on a second reading, he didnt mention it at all. Might try some birch or willow then, plenty around here. So its maybe not the drill causing the problem then?


Jan 21, 2005
S. Lanarkshire
I like hazel as a spindle tip, but not so keen on it for the board. Pine or elder seems to work better with it.

Tbh, it's probably not so much the wood, just that it's a combination of things to get it to work. What are you burring off the black fibres onto ? is that leaching away heat quicker than you're building it up ? and is the electric drill in itself maybe providing draught just at the very wrong moment ? Once the coal's got it's own heat going, then it needs to be fed oxygen, but if you blow it cold too soon, it just dies a death.

Best of luck with it :)



Aug 20, 2014
I would set out and out aside my entire time out to collect, prepare and attempt a friction fire. In varying weather conditions.

It's a skill that requires constant upkeep. It ain't like riding a bike.

Using the right type of wood comes with trial and error. you'll get that with experience. A little "Colins Gem book of trees" was in my pocket to help ID the type of tree I was after. Also allowed something to read once I managed it for the first time and sat down exhausted and a sweaty mess.

My preference is the bow drill, but take a prepared cord with you, leather works best from my experience. Grips better than paracord or lace etc.

Do as you did, set it all up. Slow and steady (50% physical effort) to get the drill bit shaping the notch and gather up a pile of dust under (try not to disturb this, and if it's light brown I tend to disregard it, increase effort slightly to get it darker)

this achieved. Stand back. Take off outer layers as this is the 2nd of 3 stages were a fire keeps you warm. (gathering, lighting, and sitting at it!)

Start again as you did, but start increasing the speed of the bow, don't adjust downward pressure to much yet. Once smoke starts blooming it's time to go 100%.

You should now be blowing out your **** in terms of effort, keep this up for a few seconds and then lift away (and avoid sweat dropping from your brow.

Remove hearth board and just let the air get to it. The pile of dust will slowly grow into a large ember with very little input from you.

Once you get this far for the 1st time it doesn't matter if you fail here, you've done well.

Gently transfer into your tinder bundle. I tend to add shredded/scraped birch bark to a nest of fern/grasses. If you collect these early in the day and keep in a pocket they really dry out fast.

Pack it quite right and just let the wind do the work for you to start. Then blow. Your done. You will laugh when you manage it, I know I did. Very satisfying knowing you can make one of the fundamentals of outdoor living with nothing but sticks.

Don't worry about the 99 failed attempts both before AND after achieving it. It's not a skill Id depend on personally. Practice primitive prepare modern I say. Zippo works just as well! ;-)

Felt like I was writing a scene from 50 shades of grey there. To many references to drilling blowing and sweating for one evening!


Full Member
Jun 14, 2016

Practice primitive prepare modern I say. Zippo works just as well! ;-)

Felt like I was writing a scene from 50 shades of grey there. To many references to drilling blowing and sweating for one evening!
Hahahah, that gave me a giggle , pretty good description ...

I've fallen at the "go 100%" at the smoke hurdle ...
I've yet to get an ember, plenty of black dust and smoke but no ember ...Yet.

Then it was freezing and wet , so I'll have another go.

Willow hearth and drill here, will try a a longer bow too next time...

Ogri the trog

Apr 29, 2005
Mid Wales UK
Moorea21, brilliant story - I reckon quite a few of us have been in the same situation as you.

It took me nearly two years to learn friction fire-lighting, and even then had to be coached through the process. Maybe you can find someone close to you who can give you some pointers.

Don't be disheartened though, there a many lessons of fire lighting that can be practiced apart from friction embers.

And from a personal perspective, I'd try Hazel on Cedar or Hazel on Ivy - but in all honesty, I do not enjoy friction fire-lighting these days!


Ogri the trog
Feb 19, 2017
Thanks for the encouragement, all who responded. I'll try again with different hearth and drill woods, and maybe be more patient with the smokey dust; the idea of moving the hearth away and then leaving it to coalesce makes sense too.

I live at the north end of Somerset; does anyone know anyone who could teach me this skill in person?


Full Member
Jan 28, 2017
I'm currently in the early stages of the friction fire learning curve too, I feel your pain!

Patience is definitely a key factor. The two successful embers that I have had from the bow drill, I carried on drilling even when I thought I had done enough, even though my arm was about to drop off and all I could see were stars!

Blowing on the dust pile after removing the hearth is a no go, as I painfully recall. But wafting a hand gently works really well, it's a lot more gentle.

Good luck with it, don't give up.


Feb 12, 2017
Portland, OR
The problem is straight forward. The fire gods saw your drill, and punished you by removing all the oxygen from around your hearth. (no brainer) :cool:
Jul 26, 2017
Airflow from drill blowing the dust away as it forms? Try (carefully) firing up the drill with your hand in front and around it - where does it 'blow' air? You'd be surprised, I have an old black & decker that is like a small fan, side on...