Since fire was first discovered, man has depended on it for cooking, heat and protection. Today we have many options for starting a campfire, from matches or a lighter to fire starting kits. Many of these methods require only a match, a flick of your “BIC” or striking of a piece of flint. It has become almost second nature for us to start a fire using these but what about when you need a fire and all you have is Mother Nature and your own wits? In the spirit of always being prepared I feel everyone should know how to start a fire by hand.
It is commonly believed that only a man’s man knows how to start a fire by hand, well I am not sure about that but I do believe it is an important survival skill that everyone should learn. You may never need to use this skill. But what if you find yourself in a situation where you need a fire and matches or a lighter are not available.
Maybe while packing your camping gear you forgot to pack the matches or fire starting kit. Or perhaps you are driving in a remote area and you find yourself stranded overnight. It could even be because of extremely windy or wet conditions on a camping trip that make matches virtually uselessly. Wouldn’t it be great to be ready?
Starting a fire by hand requires the use of friction which is primitive and is probably the most difficult way to start a campfire. Friction based methods require using a fire board and spindle. The most important part of starting a friction based fire is the type of wood you use. Aspen, cedar, cottonwood, cypress, juniper, walnut, and willow are best. The wood must be bone dry in order for the friction method to work.
The Hand Drill is one friction method that requires dry wood, tireless hands and determination. First you need to build a tinder nest; this will be used to create the flame you get from the ember or hot coal you produce. The tinder nest can be made out of anything that catches fire easily, like dry bark, leaves and or grass.
Next find/make a spindle is a stick approximately 1 foot long; you will need this to spin between your hands to produce friction with the fire-board. When you cause enough friction between the spindle and the fire-board, you will create an ember which is used to start the campfire.
After preparing your tinder nest and spindle stick, make your fire-board by cutting a v-shaped notch into a flat, approximately foot long, 2 inch wide piece of wood. You want it long enough so that you can easily secure the fire-board. Next make a small depression adjacent to the v-shaped notch. Now place a piece of bark underneath the notch; the bark will be used to catch an ember from the friction between the spindle and fire-board.
Put the spindle into the depression you made on the fire board. It is important to keep constant pressure on the board as you start rolling the spindle between your hands, moving them rapidly down the spindle. Repeat this until a hot ember appears on the fire-board. When you see this glowing ember, tap the fire board to drop your ember onto the piece of bark. Hastily move the bark to your nest of tinder, place it under your tinder nest and softly start blowing on it to start your fire.
Another friction method that requires a fire board is with a Bow Drill. You will also need a great deal of patience and energy. The bow drill is probably the most effective friction based method to use because it’s easier to maintain the speed and pressure you need to create enough friction to start a fire. In addition to the spindle and fire-board, you’ll also need a socket and a bow.
Prepare your tinder nest and fire-board as before then find a socket. The socket is a palm sized piece of wood or stone to use to put pressure on the opposite end of the spindle as you rotate the spindle with the bow. If you are using another piece of wood it is best to try to find a harder piece than the wood you are using for the spindle. A wood with oil or sap are good because they create a lubricant between the socket and spindle.
Next you will need to make your bow. The length of the bow should be about the length of your arm. It is important to use a flexible piece of wood and it helps if it has a slight curve. The string of the bow can be made from thin rope, shoelaces, para cord, or a strip of rawhide. Just be sure to find something that will not break, then string up your bow and get ready to make fire.
Prepare the fire-board as before, cut a v-shaped notch and make a depression next to to it in the fire-board. Then place your tinder underneath the notch. Now wrap the spindle in a loop of the bow string, place one end of the spindle in the fire-board and apply pressure on the other end with the socket, using the bow, start sawing back and forth. Essentially you will have created a basic mechanical drill. Rotating spindle quickly, keep sawing until you create an ember. Once you have made an amber drop it into the tinder nest, softly blowing on it to start your fire.
The Fire Plow is another friction method that requires a lot of elbow grease. After making a tinder nest you must form a plow board out of soft wood. It should be flat and measure a couple of inches across and about 2 feet in length. Now make a plow stick, it must be from a hardwood, about 2 feet long and 1 inch in diameter, sharpening one end like a pencil.
You will then make a depression by rubbing or cutting down the center of the plow board about 6 to 8 inches long. This is done to form a trough to scrape the plow stick in. Clasp the plow board firmly between your legs. If you have a longer board you can sit or kneel on it to hold it in place. The most important thing is to keep the board secure.
The plow stick is then pressed onto the plow board at around a 60 degree angle with downward pressure and pushed forward. Release the pressure, pull the plow stick back to the start of the trough and then push and pull the plow stick rapidly. This will create wood dust at opposite end of the trough. Be sure to end each stroke at the same spot to allow the dust to accumulate there.
This does take quite a bit of time but eventually, the wood dust will smolder, producing an amber to push into the waiting tinder nest. After pushing the amber in to the tinder nest, slowly start blowing on it to start your campfire.
These friction methods for starting a campfire take a great deal of work but the benefits of knowing how are priceless when the need arises. At the very least the next time you go camping you can show that you are a “man’s man” and start a fire from scratch by hand.