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Thread: Bowdrill Questions

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    Default Bowdrill Questions

    OK I've been trying to master the bowdrill fire making method. The predominate wood around me is rock maple. I made a good spindle out of this with a small piece of cocobola that was an arrow footing as an extention to the hand hold socket. A hearth board of the same rock maple proved ineffective as the hearth board and the spindle simply polished each other. The rock maple just chewed up a hearth board made of punk hard maple and did the same to a hearth board of yellow pine.
    My questions are what are the best woods to make the spindle and the hearth board from? Also is it better to use a spindle and hearth board of the same or different woods? In my books on survival it just says "available hardwood"; but as I am seeing rock maple to rock maple is not working. Neither does rock maple to sugar maple. Any help and advice you can offer will be greatly appreciated.


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    Super Moderator crashdive123's Avatar
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    I would recommend using a softwood for you drill and a hardwood for your fireboard (you can do it the other way around if that's all you have). If you are using two hardwoods you will (as you said) polish them. By using a softwood as your drill you will generate wood dust along with the heat. When that dust becomes hot enough it becomes your coal.
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    See this link for a nice list of woods and their likely success rate.
    http://survivalinstructor.blogspot.c...ill-woods.html

    I've used white cedar in bow/drill instructing and can validate that guy's rating of it. Of course "very easy" only applies if you know what you're doing in the first place, and I've seen people struggle with it for sure. As many here surely know, while wood types are important, drilling "posture", tinder bundle composition, and coal-tending are at least equally important.

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    Quote Originally Posted by crashdive123 View Post
    I would recommend using a softwood for you drill and a hardwood for your fireboard (you can do it the other way around if that's all you have). If you are using two hardwoods you will (as you said) polish them. By using a softwood as your drill you will generate wood dust along with the heat. When that dust becomes hot enough it becomes your coal.
    Agreed with this.

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    Thanks guys, I did a little online research after I posted the question and started looking for some cottonwood locally. It seems it makes one of the better hearth boards.
    I don't understand about using a soft wood drill on a hard wood hearth board. I thought the drill was supposed to wear on the hearth and make dust from it. I also thought a hardwood drill was needed to "form/burn in" the hole in the hearth board?

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    Quote Originally Posted by sthomas View Post
    See this link for a nice list of woods and their likely success rate.
    http://survivalinstructor.blogspot.c...ill-woods.html

    I've used white cedar in bow/drill instructing and can validate that guy's rating of it. Of course "very easy" only applies if you know what you're doing in the first place, and I've seen people struggle with it for sure. As many here surely know, while wood types are important, drilling "posture", tinder bundle composition, and coal-tending are at least equally important.
    Thanks for that link. I have been using a wood rated as "Very Difficult"
    I know my posture is alright, Resting on right knee, left foot stabilizing hearth board, drill in right hand, spindle socket in left applying moderate pressure, sawing motion with bow in a slightly downward motion to keep cord from touching and possibly fouling as it works, start slow and build up speed, watch for smoke. Lube socket with beeswax. If I can get to Kentucky soon I know where a large amount of white cedar is and I can harvest some. I know it lives here in Indiana too but I can't remember running across any. I guess I'll convert my maple spindle to part of a figure 4 deadfall trigger.

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    You're correct about the common rig where the drill wears into the hearth and creates the coal from that. It can work the other way around as well though.

    On that, I've seen people try without notching the hearth. That can be an exercise in futility (heh).

    And yes, I saw that the wood you were using is rated as difficult, increasing your challenge.

    Your posture sounds good. The only thing I would recommend if you aren't already doing it is leaning your left forearm against your left leg, for stability. Like this scout I was instructing:

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    He has a little piece of foil under the notch to catch the coal, which was in his survival kit (for signaling, making a cup/bowl, etc.). A piece of dry bark works just as well.

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    (FMR) Wilderness Guide pgvoutdoors's Avatar
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    I personally use a softer spindle (Yucca) and a harder fireboard (Cottonwood) both of these are readily available in my area. This allows the fireboard to be notched and act as a shaver as well as a friction board. As the friction increases the powder from the spindle starts to turn black and smolder.

    Another thing I've found to be of some help is to have a bow that is not too bowed. I've even used a straight stick with very good performance. The reason is that if the bow is too curved it allows for more wobble and the cord will stretch more, requiring constant adjustment.

    I also always allow the dust extra time to form into a smoldering coal before I remove the fireboard and try and use it to start a fire. Moving it too soon can cause it to go out or the coal to fall apart when blown on.

    For any of you trying this for the first time be aware that as the friction increases so does the resistance between the spindle and the fireboard. This makes it much harder to work the drill but keep working it as this is the critical point in which the coal is made.
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    I put a piece of birch bark (leaf, etc...) under the spindle "hole/notch" to collect any coal in case the fireboard is jarred away.
    I also use a straight bow and "bend/arc" it using the leather thong around the spindle.
    We wear a antler pendant with a pivot indentation on the back side to act as our top bearing (multi use item) for the spindle to rotate in.
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    I forgot to list the left arm against the leg to stabilize it but I do that.
    Last edited by hoosierarcher; 01-22-2009 at 09:33 PM.

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    I hiked all over town today and couldn't find any dead wood in the easy, moderately easy, or very easy catagories. I did find a yellow poplar, a cottonwood(very young tree) a sycamore(another very young tree) there used to be more sycamores here when I was young. I'll keep looking or break down and buy a bowdrill kit off ebay.

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    Always Learning dolfan87's Avatar
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    don't buy one...if it comes to that I will get you some stuff from here and mail it to you.

    It took me a few days to get everything working here at home, but once I finally "got it" I was able to go out in the desert and make one out of whatever wood I could find out there.

    Part of the experience is how difficult it is. Don't give in, because trust me that first burst of flame is so exciting.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pgvoutdoors View Post
    Another thing I've found to be of some help is to have a bow that is not too bowed. I've even used a straight stick with very good performance. The reason is that if the bow is too curved it allows for more wobble and the cord will stretch more, requiring constant adjustment.
    Agreed completely and I've made some straight bows as well.
    When I'm teaching others I need to have enough gear to have multiple people working it simultaneously rather than sequentially due to time constraints, so I have various models of various survival gear collected/bought/made over time.

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    I've done this once several years ago and was successful but that was having an experienced person guide me. I'm trying this again now but find that the string on my bow is slipping and I tend to rip the spindle right out of the board when I try to work it. I think part of my problem is that the drill is slightly curved.

    We have plenty of sugar maple and white pine in this area and I've made my fireboard and spindle from both of these. I'm thinking that perhaps I should find a straighter spindle and make a fireboard from a log of white pine.

    Comments?

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    Here's another question. It's would seem logical that the bigger team bowdrills would be more efficient than a single person type BUT is that actually true? I mean I think it would take time to develope the teamwork needed to get the job done quick and easy.

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    (FMR) Wilderness Guide pgvoutdoors's Avatar
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    When using a hand-drill it's much easier to work with a partner, but a bow & drill is really a single person device that when made proper works quite well.

    Another point should be made, the drill methods are effected by humidity and wet climates. The more moisture the wood is exposed to the less effective it becomes. And it doesn't take a lot of moisture either! Trying to scrounge up proper materials while in the field in the eastern states is much harder than the drier western states.

    Once you have the proper setup it's imperative to keep it bone dry.
    Last edited by pgvoutdoors; 01-27-2009 at 10:44 AM. Reason: spelling
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    (FMR) Wilderness Guide pgvoutdoors's Avatar
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    For practice purposes - once you have your bow and drill made, dry the spindle and fire-board in the oven at 250 degrees for thirty minutes, each time you use it. Again this is more important in wetter climate. Otherwise take advantage of hot, sunny days while your on the trails to dry out your spindle and fire-board.

    Just remember that the drill method works quite well when all factors are at there best. With practice you will be able to start a fire in minutes!
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  18. #18

    Default Wondering if you figured the bowdrill out

    I'm not an expert by any means. In fact, I have a ton to learn but I do know that the right wood is so important for beginners. The link that was posted earlier is to a good friend of mine's website and I can vouch for what he says. I know they've done extensive testing of woods and practicing firestarting.

    When I first started trying to get a coal, I had similar problems until I found the right woods to use and to really lock my holding hand against my leg. Plus remembering not to go crazy and to take deep breaths. Everyone's ability is different. My partner, Mark is super strong, so he can get coals quick while I have to use a different technique.

    The other thing that helps me when I am getting the shiny rubbed smooth affect is to roughen up the spindle so that you can get more dust. I hope you update us on how your fire starting went.
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    With lots of practice, it works well!
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    Hoosier...check your PM's

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