Using a Bow and Spindle to Create Fire from Friction
In terms of starting a fire, no method is more primal and difficulty than friction. If you ever find yourself stranded on a desert island with no tools or equipment, this is more or less the only way you could ever hope to get a fire started.
It takes a lot of time to master the technique and a lot of patience to create those first flames, but it can be a very rewarding skill to learn. In this article, we’ll go over the theory, tools and technique you’ll need to know if you want to successfully start a fire by friction.
The Science Behind Friction Fire
In order to be able to do something, it often helps to understand the science behind it. Try to imagine sliding down a rope or pole. If you’ve ever done this before, you’ll surely know that it makes your hands get incredibly hot and can even burn them if you go for too long.
That heat is caused by friction. Now if you could generate a large amount of that friction in a very small area, the resulting heat could be enough to start a fire. That’s the idea behind fire by friction, and it works very well.
One of the big advantages of this type of fire is that you really don’t need a lot of equipment to get it started. That’s why this technique is such a valuable survival skill and can actually save lives. All you’ll need to get started is a few pieces of wood and a bit of rope.
One of the pieces of wood lies on the ground and is called the hearth board. The second is a long, thin stick known as the spindle, because you’ll be spinning it to generate friction on the board. There’s also the bow, which is a bendy piece of wood that will have the rope attached to it. Finally, there’s a little piece of wood that goes on top called the socket.
Finding the Right Pieces of Wood
Perhaps the toughest part of this whole process isn’t making the fire itself, but choosing the right tools for the job. Without the right types of wood, you can try for hours without producing the faintest spark. The ideal material for the hearth board is a soft wood like catalpa, willow or cedar.
The spindle, meanwhile, can be made of horsetail, fir, cedar, or something similar. It needs to have the right measurements too: about 10 inches in length and 1 inch in diameter. The bow needs to be soft and flexible, willow is a good type to use. Finally, the socket should be hard like oak or elm.
Once you’ve got your equipment ready, it’s time to get started on making this fire. The first step is to add some lubricant to the top end of the spindle. You can use grease, oil, or whatever else you want.
You can even rub it over your face or body to soak up the natural oils of your skin, if you have no other option. The idea is that the top of the spindle should be greased up, because you only want the friction to occur at the bottom.
Next, you’ll need to set up your various pieces of wood. The hearth board should be flat on the ground, held in place by one of your feet. You then need to take your bow and twist the rope around the spindle just once, placing the spindle vertically onto the board, near one of the edges.
With one hand, you need to hold onto the bow, while using the other to push the socket down onto the top of the spindle, keeping everything held in place. The idea is to have your arms and legs be as comfortable as possible, as you may have to spend a lot of time in this position.
Making Your Notches and Creating Friction
Once you’re ready to get going, you can start making your first indentation in the hearth board. Remember to keep the spindle near the edge of the board. Start rotating it, using the bow, slowly at first until you begin to forge a small hole in the wood. Eventually, the hole should become quite deep.
At this point, you should stop and use a knife to cut a little notch through the center of the hole, all the way down to the bottom of the board. This way, the little bits of dust—known as punk—that you create will fall out of the bottom, where they can collect on a leaf and eventually catch fire.
Now, you can go back to rotating the spindle and continue until the fire is made. Our tip is to keep things slow and steady. Don’t go too fast or apply too much pressure with the socket. Check the base of the board to ensure that the punk is falling out onto your leaf.
When you start to see a good amount of smoke being produced, stop and check the punk. If the smoke continues, that’s a good sign. Collect the leaf and gently blow on it to keep the spark alive while you transfer it over to your nest of tinder. Keep blowing and eventually the whole thing should catch fire. If you get to this point, congratulations! You’ve succeeded at making fire from friction.