Once you have constructed your bow drill set and have gone through the initial fine-tuning steps, it is time to get comfortable with it. As with any new skill, it will take some time to figure out how to make it work best for you. Starting a fire with a bow drill is certainly possible, but it is not without a lot of trial and error. Don’t give up! Keep working at this primitive, but oh so important skill. It is a key part of survival training.
Read on to learn some more tricks and tips about making your bow drill work for you. Remember, these are things other folks have learned through their own experiences. You will hopefully be able to save yourself a lot of time and frustration by learning from other people’s mistakes. You will certainly make your fair share, but that is just a part of learning. You can follow along in this video, but also make sure to read the comments below as well, as they come from years of learning and making mistakes so you do not have to.
- Make it easier on yourself physically by getting as comfortable as possible. Use your non-dominant foot as a foothold as close to the spindle as possible without getting in the way of the spindle’s movement.
- Placing the dominant knee behind the foot next to the spindle is a more natural position and will lessen the physical strain.
- Your upper body will be supported by that non-dominant leg. Wrap your arm nice and snug around your shin when you are using the bow drill.
- Apply enough pressure to the handhold to keep the spindle straight up and down and in place, but not so much that you stop it from being able to spin.
- The spindle should be closest to your foot, with the bow string on the opposite side.
- Start the spindle spinning slowly, just enough to fill the “pie piece” in the hearth with dust.
- Once the “pie piece” is filled, speed it up and get that spindle spinning!
- Use the entire length of the bow.
- Now those are great tips, but it is important to remember there will be some bumps along the way before you get that first coal. The following are some of the common issues that pop up when using a bow drill and tips on how to fix them.
- String slips on spindle–this means it is too loose. You need to tighten it up. If it isn’t spinning well, the string is probably too tight–loosen it.
- Spindle goes flying. Don’t despair. This happens–a lot. The spindle needs to be at a 90 degree angle. It may help to make the holes in your hearth and hand hold a little bigger to give you some play. Go slow and steady. You will get the hang of it.
- Dust color should be dark brown. If it isn’t you will need to put a little more pressure on the hand hold.
- Dust, but no fire. Are you sure? Don’t try using the bow drill in direct sunlight. This could prevent you from seeing the first signs of your coal burning.
- You are worn out. Really, the only tip is to get in better shape! This skill can be exhausting, but you can’t give up if your life depends on getting a fire started with a bow drill. More practice will help make the whole process easier and quicker.
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