Making a Fire Drill - Fire by Friction

So I decided to practise making fire with a fire drill to prepare for my trip, and poking around the backyard I collected some sticks that were laying around, having fallen in the big wind storm we had last weekend. I had locust tree, maple and pine branches sitting in a pile by my potato patch. I left the pine branches aside - I had a bad experience last year using pine, the wood and resin seemed to melt into a hard smooth glaze, preventing anything significant from happening. Without good friction, no powder and thus no ember can be created.

I first assembled my equipment - Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe (a lightweight limbing axe), my carbon-steel laminate Mora knife (incredibly sharp), and of course a small length of military 7-strand 550 parachute cord. Normal string would work. It just sounds cooler to use the latter. Plus it really is a nice consistency for the job at hand.

I debarked a straight section of maple stick for the spindle (i.e. the spinning piece, which is wrapped with cord and spun about to create friction upon the notched fire board), and carved it until it was round and smooth - the bottom tip blunted and wide, and the top tip (around which the bearing block would fit) thin, sharp and narrow.

I had only limited sections of wood around, nothing much that was wide and good for a fire board, so I split the thickest piece of locust tree branch I had with the axe, flattened the bottom, smoothed out the face and quickly carved out a notch and rounded depression.

Making the bow by looping some cord around the ends of a curved piece of wood, I wound around the spindle, dropped it into the fire board, topped it with the bearing block and spun for about 3 or 4 minutes. Very quickly I charred out a round depression by the notch and began to create a dark brown powdery mass of wood dust - and this soon began to smoke. The sweet smoky smell was amazing, unlike a wood fire, more like shop class, that smoky smell you get when you saw wood at a high speed.

And then all of a sudden, as I was hunched over the apparatus, watching the smoke running up through the air from the rounded pile of wood dust, my poorly-prepared and narrow bearing block slipped from the top of the spindle, which had grown very hot. My palm slammed into the head of the smoking-hot spindle and all of a sudden I felt an intensely painful burning sensation.

Instead of igniting the smoking wooden powder into a glowing orange ember, which I would have then quickly blown into a flame within some tinder, I created a very painful burn and whitish blister on my palm. So as I huddled over the disconnected firedrill set, sweating in the sun, cursing the spindle, I gave up. I figured I was *that* close to making fire, and really the exercise was more to create the apparatus quickly, rather than to actually make the flame - I hadn't even gathered tinder for this final element.

Quick lessons learned - create a wide fire board, and of course, a wide bearing block. Use a nice deciduous wood - like birch or willow or even cedar if available - and spend the time to round out and smooth the spindle.

When I go into the valley next, I will collect some good wood for this, and try again - and get some photos. I will use some cedar bark for tinder, and use birch bark to catch the first flame.

I spent the rest of the evening laying on the grass and watching the birds and the planes fly by, and Monty snuffling about the lawn. A very nice evening all in all.

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