Spark It

There is a primal link between man and fire. Everyone should know how to start one.

A survivor knows how to start one without matches. It’s an essential survival skill. You never know when you’ll find yourself in a situation where you’ll need a fire, but you don’t have matches. Maybe your single engine plane goes down while you’re flying over the Alaskan wilderness, like the kid in Hatchet. Or perhaps you’re out camping and you lose your backpack in a tussle with a bear. It need not be something as dramatic as these situations — even extremely windy or wet conditions can render matches virtually uselessly.

Whether you ever need to call upon these skills, it’s still just friggin’ cool to know you can start a fire, whenever and wherever you are.

Friction-based fire making is not for the faint of heart. It’s probably the most difficult of all the non-match methods. There are different techniques you can use to make a fire with friction, but the most important aspect is the type of wood you use for the fire board and spindle.

The spindle is the stick you’ll use to spin to create the friction between it and the fireboard. If you create enough friction between the spindle and the fireboard, you can create an ember that can be used to create a fire. Cottonwood, juniper, aspen, willow, cedar, cypress, and walnut make the best fire board and spindle sets.

Before you can use wood to start a friction based fire, the wood must be bone dry. If the wood isn’t dry, you’ll have to dry it out first.

The hand drill method is the most primitive, the most primal, and the most difficult to do All you need is wood, tireless hands, and some gritty determination. Therefore, it’ll put more hair on your chest than any other method. Here’s how it’s done:

Build a tinder nest. Your tinder nest will be used to create the flame you get from the spark you’re about to create. Make a tinder nest out of anything that catches fire easily, like dry grass, leaves, and bark.

Make your notch. Cut a v-shaped notch into your fire board and make a small depression adjacent to it.

Place bark underneath the notch. The bark will be used to catch an ember from the friction between the spindle and fireboard.

Start spinning. Place the spindle into the depression on your fire board. Your spindle should be about 2 feet long for this to work properly. Maintain pressure on the board and start rolling the spindle between your hands, running them quickly down the spindle. Keep doing this until an ember is formed on the fireboard.

Start a fire! Once you see a glowing ember, tap the fire board to drop your ember onto the piece of bark. Transfer the bark to your nest of tinder. Gently blow on it to start your flame.

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 fireboard, you’ll also need a socket and a bow.

Get a socket. The socket is used to put pressure on the other end of the spindle as you’re rotating it with the bow. The socket can be a stone or another piece of wood. If you use another piece of wood, try to find a harder piece than what you’re using for the spindle. Wood with sap and oil are good as it creates a lubricant between the spindle and the socket.
Make your bow. The bow should be the same length as your arm. Use a flexible piece of wood that has a slight curve. The string of the bow can be anything. A shoelace, rope, or strip of rawhide works great. Just find something that won’t break.

String up your bow and you’re ready to go.

Prepare the fireboard. Cut a v-shaped notch and create a depression adjacent to it in the fireboard. Underneath the notch, place your tinder.

String up the spindle. Catch the spindle in a loop of the bow string. Place one end of the spindle in the fireboard and apply pressure on the other end with your socket.

Start sawing. Using your bow, start sawing back and forth.

You’ve basically created a rudimentary mechanical drill. The spindle should be rotating quickly. Keep sawing until you create an ember.

Make your fire. Drop the ember into the tinder nest and blow on it gently. You got yourself a fire.

Remember, we’re all in this together,

Derek Paulson

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