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How to Start a Fire Using Friction

How to Start a Fire Using Friction

Camping is one of the great experiences that brings us closer to nature, but when you’ve accidentally left the matches at home there’s a danger of the whole trip being ruined. In case this ever happens to you, knowing how to start a fire using your own hands and some sticks could save you a lot of hassle. An effective way of starting a fire using friction is ‘the bow-drill method’, which can be slow but it can also create fires in all kinds of conditions, even when it’s wet. Here’s a step by step guide to starting a fire using friction.

Find tinder and firewood

Try to get your hands on anything that happens to be dry and tough to act as the tinder, dead hogweed mixed with thistle down is great. For the firewood you want to be gathering several handfuls that come in all kinds of different shapes and sizes, including thin and thick.

Make a bow

Find a rigid and thick piece of wood that can be used to make a bow. You’re going to be putting a lot of pressure on this so it’ll need to be stronger wood that can take a beating. Beginners should make a bow that is around 1.5 to 2 feet long. We recommend Greenman Fire Braid for the cord, as it won’t wear through, but you can experiment with other cords too. Tie it to either side of the bow and knot it well so that it doesn’t become too slack.

Create a fire board

Dry, non-resinous wood is best here. Shape your piece of wood into one that’s an inch thick, 2-3 inches wide and around 12 inches long. It would be helpful if you managed to find wood that is light and soft enough to dent with your thumbnail without gouging. Good woods for this are Sycamore, Willow and Hazel.

Make a drill

The drill needs to be made of harder wood than the fire board and it should be as straight as possible. It should be around 8 inches long and if you can, try to use a knife to whittle it down until it’s straight and round. The top end needs to be shaped like a pencil, with the bottom end being blunt to maximize friction. Use the same wood as the base if you can, but try to ensure it is harder.

Make a socket

A socket needs to be made of wood or rock. If you’re looking for a rock, a fist-sized one with a smooth dimple in it would be ideal. If there are no rocks then wood is good too, and it should be small enough so that you can hold it in your hand but not be able to wrap your fingers around it. Use a knife to make a hole halfway into the wood.

Get a coal catcher

A coal catcher will keep the coal insulated from the cool ground and the elements after you make it, and it can be formed of dry leaves, slivers of wood, pieces of paper or even bark.


Start a fire

Try to get comfortable and go down on one knee. If you’re right-handed, hold the bow with your right hand and the drill in your left. Put the drill on top of the string with the sharp end pointing right, before twisting it into the bow. If this is tough then you can loosen the string. Place the blunt end of the drill on the crater of the board and then put the socket on the drill. Try to grab as close to the end of the bow as possible, then put some downward pressure on the socket and start pulling back and forth on the bow. It will take a while to get used to but don’t worry; it’s a process that gets easier with practice.

After doing this for a while, with the bow moving faster and the pressure being applied heavier, then you should see some black powder and smoke near the bottom of the drill. Now you want to use a knife to cut a V-shape into the edge of the fire board under the hole you just burned. Then use the firewood and tinder you found earlier and build it into a cluster, remembering to leave a hole so that you can put the coal into it. You can now make a fire by performing the same process as you did when burning a hole into the fire board.

After you start to make smoke you can take the drill and the fire board away. Use your hand to fan the coal until it starts to pick up a glow, then place it into the tinder bundle. By blowing softly on the tinder the flame should start to catch, and then you can manoeuvre the coal to spread the fire further. If you persist with this process then you’ll get real flames soon enough. Start putting increasingly bigger pieces of wood into the fire to grow it until it reaches the optimum level for you.

Tinder Bundle

Following these tips will help you to create a fire the old fashioned way, without the need for matches or a lighter. When camping you need to make sure you have all the essential items for your trip, including rucksacks, torches, knives and other objects. Greenman Bushcraft stocks all that you’ll need for a successful camping trip. If you'd rather buy your first Bow Drill so that you have something to practise on, or base your first home-made one on, then check out our pre-made Bow Drills. Also, take a look at the large list of items of other products that we offer today and be prepared for everything.


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