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Bow Drill Tutorial


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Here is a quickie tutorial on the bow drill. It is better suited as a handout than a PowerPoint with projector

Published in: Technology, Business

Bow Drill Tutorial

  1. 1. Bow Drill Tutorial Kevin Estela Survival Instructor Wilderness Learning Center
  2. 2. Construction <ul><li>Hearth Board * Approximately 1” thick (rule of thumb) *Approximately 1’ Long by 2” to 4” wide. If your fireboard is too narrow, it will rock back and forth and powder will shake out of the notch. *Place your Notch 1.5 times the thickness of your drill from the edge of your hearth board. *Cut a depression only deep enough to “Run” your bow drill and burn in an initial notch. *Once your depression is burned in, cut the notch from the side. This notch will look like an upside down funnel. *The notch should be large enough to allow for oxygen to fuel the wood dust. </li></ul><ul><li>*This funnel will help the coal develop in what looks like a small pyramid or cone. *Do not stress about what wood to use. Find out by testing it with a finger nail. If it easily makes a dent, it is too soft. If no dent is made, it is too hard. </li></ul><ul><li>*Avoid using resinous wood. It will smoke and give off the impression of working but it is not a good wood to use create a coal. </li></ul>Drill *Made from the same wood as the hearth board. *Approximately as long as the distance between your thumb and pinky when doing the “Hang Ten” hand sign. *Approximately as thick as your thumb. *The drill should be designed to maximize friction at the notch and minimize it at the socket. *The drill does not need to be perfectly rounded. Slight ridges will help grasp the cordage and prevent slipping up and down. *The drill can be indexed and cut down to at the notch end. *The drill should be roughed up if it becomes smoothed from use. Socket *Made From hardwood, bone, stone, etc. *Should be comfortable in the palm of your hand. *Should not be too small to grasp and not too large to be cumbersome. *The depression in the socket should not be too deep to prevent free movement of the drill. *The socket can be lubricated or wet to prevent over heating. *The socket can be created by splitting a small diameter branch and creating a depression in the center. Bow *Finger tips to elbow length or greater. *The bow does not need to be curved as the cord can be wrapped around the drill to the outside of the bow. *The longer the bow, the longer your drill will spin. The trade off is it becomes more difficult to use due to extra length.
  3. 3. Sample Bow Drill Set Ash Bow with 550 cord, White Cedar Spindle and Hearth Board, Ironwood Socket and Birch “Coal Catcher”
  4. 4. Turning a Coal into a Flame <ul><li>Even before a coal is created using the bow drill, a proper tinder bundle must be created. </li></ul><ul><li>A tinder bundle is used to make a flame out of a coal. It consists of two major types of tinder. These are coal extenders and flame extenders. </li></ul><ul><li>Coal extenders are light, fluffy and used to turn a small coal into a larger coal. </li></ul><ul><li>Flame extenders take the coal and turn it into fire and extend the length of the fire and the time it will burn. </li></ul><ul><li>One technique places the tinder bundle under the hearth board as the coal develops. This works but has the tendency of flattening and condensing your tinder bundle. </li></ul><ul><li>The other technique transfers the coal after it develops. Place a small piece of bark or a dry leaf under your hearth board for the dust to fall onto and turn into a coal </li></ul><ul><li>A coal burns at about 800 degrees F. Care must be given to the tinder to ensure it is the most dry and ideal for use in fire making. </li></ul><ul><li>Patience is important in turning a coal into a flame. A coal can burn for minutes before it will extinguish itself. This provides time to carefully adjust a tinder bundle if necessary and get all materials in place. </li></ul>
  5. 5. Bow Drill Reference Part I The author demonstrating proper technique. Note the position of the body over the bow drill. The foot is placed on the hearth board and the spindle remains upright. The cord is wrapped low on the spindle and it is wrapped to the outside of the bow. A bandana is used to keep the components from contacting the wet ground.
  6. 6. Technique and Tips Part I <ul><li>Posture is important. Tuck your socket arm around your knee. Stay over your drill and don’t lean too far forward or backwards. </li></ul><ul><li>Stroke the bow low to the ground and low on the drill. Move the bow forwards and backwards in a straight line and avoid jerking the bow back and forth. Move smoothly. </li></ul><ul><li>Wrap the cord of the bow around the drill and have the drill sit to the outside of the bow. Wrapping it to the inside will limit the length of stroke you can make. </li></ul><ul><li>*Do not start off stroking at full speed. Slowly warm up your set and gradually increase speed as more smoke develops. If running a bow drill in the winter, you must bring it up from the temperature it is outside. In freezing temperatures, this might take some time. </li></ul><ul><li>A bow drill does not need to be a solo operation. A longer bow can be used with two people or three people if one holds the socket. The advantage is the absence of fatigue as one person rests while the other works. </li></ul><ul><li>Once a coal is transferred to the tinder bundle, heat and pressure are used to turn the coal into a flame. </li></ul><ul><li>Hold the tinder bundle high and blow up and into it. Carefully squeeze the flame extenders into the burning coal extenders. Blow harder and apply more pressure as the bundle starts to ignite. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Bow Drill Picture Reference Part II A burning coal inside a notch. Note the shape of the notch, the use of the coal catcher and the location of amount of powder created. When in doubt, run the drill as long as you can. A burning coal. Note the size and shape of the coal and the distinct orange color.
  8. 8. Technique and Tips Part II <ul><li>Adding a few granules of sand will increase friction and heat in the notch. </li></ul><ul><li>Avoid placing your drill on the ground after use. Keep it warm and away from moisture. </li></ul><ul><li>When transferring the coal to the tinder bundle, bring the tinder bundle to the coal and avoid moving the fragile coal too far. </li></ul><ul><li>Be careful to use your bow drill on dry ground only. If possible, insulate your set from the cold ground with a layer of dry birch bark. The cold ground has more mass than your bow drill set and will quickly conduct the heat away. </li></ul><ul><li>Keep the drill as vertical as possible. If it starts to tilt to one side, there is a possibility the drill will “break out” of the notch and you’ll have to cut a new one. </li></ul><ul><li>When smoke starts to develop, gradually increase your stroke speed. Count down from 10 as you stroke as fast as possible maintaining smooth motions. </li></ul><ul><li>One way of avoiding fatigue is to learn to use the weak side of the body to warm up the wood and finish with the strong side. </li></ul><ul><li>The powder you create indicates speed and pressure. The darker the powder, the faster and hotter you are drilling. Also, fine dusty powder is preferable and not thick chunky granules or fuzzy hair-like powder. If you have light colored powder, you are probably not pushing hard enough or moving the drill fast enough. </li></ul><ul><li>Make sure not to pick up the drill out of the notch once smoke forms and after you stop running your bow. You’ll trap the heat in while the coal is rising in temperature and size. </li></ul><ul><li>Tap your coal free with a rock or knife before removing the fireboard. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Bow Drill Picture Reference Part III The all important notch as seen from the top of the hearth board. The notch is “1/8 th the pie.” Also, the placement of the spindle is approximately 1.5 times the width of the spindle from the edge of the hearth board. The author holding the tinder bundle higher than his face and blowing up into it while adding pressure to the outside.
  10. 10. Bow Drill Trouble Shooting <ul><li>If you do not develop a coal and all you have is powder either keep the powder where it is or transfer it to your tinder bundle. The powder will eventually burn and make even a larger coal. </li></ul><ul><li>Keep your bow drill components off wet and damp ground in between attempts. This will slow down the process. </li></ul><ul><li>Primitive technology is great to know and it inspires confidence when traveling into the woods. However, it is not as reliable or effective as being prepared a head of time. A ferro rod weighs next to nothing and can be carried 24/7. It is also far easier to carry one than craft a bow drill set. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Bow Drill Challenges/Skills <ul><li>Stack everything in your favor when you begin. Learn the technique then get more challenging. Use well-seasoned wood in an ideal setting with instructors if possible before venturing off on your own. </li></ul><ul><li>The bow drill is taught with 550 parachute line as the bow cordage but progression to natural cordage is the next level in skill development. </li></ul><ul><li>Fireboards can be seasoned in the home but making a set “from the land” without preparation is more challenging. To season a board, cut it to size and let it sit for a week or more in the sun. </li></ul><ul><li>Getting a coal in 70 degree weather is one thing, getting a coal in the middle of winter is another. </li></ul><ul><li>“ First to fire” is a great game for two or more people to play. The objective is to see who can make fire or a coal first using the bow drill. </li></ul><ul><li>Learn to identify good trees for the bow drill. Poplar and Northern White Cedar are my favorite. Keep a journal and document your trials. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Want to learn more? <ul><li>Contact the Wilderness Learning Center online at </li></ul>No unauthorized reproduction without expressed consent of The Wilderness Learning Center