Reverence for Fire Friction

Classes Available! BOW DRILL FRICTION FIRE    For adults and children ages 10 and up. 2hrs
Try this primitive skill. Participants will learn to select proper wood, how to carve a set, and the form and technique that will prepare you for success. 

Fire is an essential skill for all those who enjoy camping and bushcraft. A few principles of campfire building can set you up for success in any season.  Collect your wood. Sort it. Divide it by age and grade level: Pre-schoolers and Kindergarteners (Tinder), 1st & 2nd Graders (Kindling), 3rd, 4th, 5th (Fuel). Build intentionally and graduating thru the levels.

You’ll need to have the principles of fire making to be effective at sustaining a fire once lit by your choice of ignition (lighter, matches, ferro rod, flint & steel, fire friction, magnifier, etc…)

Build and burn enough fires and you’ll learn a few things.

  • Collect Dead, Down and Dry wood: Take this, not that! Learn which species of wood provide better combustion and heat (BTU). Hardwood burns longer and makes coals, best choice for winter and cooking fires.
  • Work smarter Not Harder: Process wood at the burn site. Transport larger pieces on a sled over snow or float in your boat to get them back to camp where they can be worked more easily.
  • Wrap it up: If you do break your wood where you find it, wrap a line around the firewood to carry it to camp in a bundle.  When canoeing, you can use your painter line.
  • Watch out for Wind: Try lighting your tinder in a cooking pot to create a wind free environment.
  • Warm Yourself Three Times:  First when you collect, second when you process and third when you burn.

If you don’t have enough man-made or natural dry tinder, a valuable technique is creating a Feather Stick also known as an Indian Match. Use a sharp blade with pressure to splay or splinter out pieces of inner wood for maximum dry surface area that will more easily take ignition. 

If you take on the challenge of Fire Friction the following will help you find success!

  • 3P’s: Patience, practice, perseverance.
  • Take your time to find the right resources: You need dead and dry wood to carve your set. The softwood of Pine makes a great kit because the lower branches die but remain attached to the trunk of the tree without absorbing moisture from the ground. Wood that can be dented with a fingernail often work best for friction fire.
  • Prepare your Tinder Bundle:  Dry cattail fluff, flaking cedar bark, fox grape vine, dead and dry grasses, milkweed or dogbane fluff. Whatever you can find to make a birds nest. Have it ready to taco around your hard earned ember.
  • Shaka Spindle: I like my spindle about 8 inches or long enough to be held between your thumb and pinky finger.  It need not be perfectly round, slight ridges help allow the bow cord to catch corners and more efficiently create spin.
  • Like a Saw: You should use the full length of your bow (arm pit to fingertip length) to create enough friction and downward pressure to make an ember. Paracord works great for me and I keep tension with my thumb pressured on the line.
  • Bear Down: Exert full strength and concentrated attention with a bearing block in your non-dominant hand. A piece of antler works great to maintain pressure with minimal friction at the top of the spindle. Wrap your wrist around your shin for consistent perpendicular stability
  • Minimize & Maximize Friction:  Take a moment to focus on where you do and do not want to create friction. Use ear wax, petroleum jelly, ivory soap, animal fat or waxy leaves to minimize friction at the pointed top of the spindle and bearing block. Keep these lubricants off the flat bottom where you want to create your friction.
  • NY Pizza Slice:  Cut your notch about 1/8th of the spindle hole for the dust to collect. When you have filled the notch with enough dust for an ember, begin to move your bow faster to create the additional heat that ignites an ember (about 750F degrees).
  • Tinder Fungus: The hoof-shaped fungus of horses hoof if dry works great as a fire board (as does chaga). The 5,300 year-old iceman who was discovered in an Italian glacier was carrying a felt cloth pounded from this kind of fungi because it could be quickly sparked to burn.

David Alexander is a professional outdoor guide and conservation biologist.  He enjoys making nature more accessible to people and wildlife.  You can follow him at


One comment

  1. […] AUTUMN TOPICS: All About Bats, Polypore Mushroom Paper Making, Composting with Worms Lab, Autumn Olive Fruit Roll-ups, Mushrooms Identification and Clay Anatomy Art, Native American Plants/Ethnobotany, Edible Wild Plants, Sewing Medicine Bags, Clay Coil & Pinch Pots, Woodlore & Wild Plants, Autumn Tree Identification and Terminology, Making Campfire Starters, Friction Fire […]

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