I have one warning about starting fire without matches, lighters, or even flint, to all the armchair survivalists (which I consider myself as well)...
this is my experience of a 20 year old college student with no survival experience trying to make fire with a self-constructed wooden bow drill...
I've now tried to start a fire using the bow drill method (example)
total of about 5 hours without complete success. It is much, much harder than anyone makes it look, and there is a lot more finnicky things about it
that must be exact (like how hard to press, how many times to wrap your string around the spindle, notch width, angle, depth, etc) for it to work.
Practice now in the comfort of your own home, or you WILL NOT be able to do it on your first try in the wilderness.
I'm telling you, it was
tough to put together even using metal tools, and having real string on hand. In the wilderness it will be 10x harder. LEARN IT NOW.
In the first 45 minutes or so, I fashioned the spindle, handpiece, and bow. For the next hour or so I started attemping to make a fire. The spindle
was flying out of the hole I had cut into the board every 20 seconds or so. In the end I could get both the board and the end of the spindle very hot
to the touch (so hot that resin was melting from the pine board I was using onto the tip of the spindle), but there was no smoke.
The next day I gave it another try. For the first while there was only the same heat as my previous attempt. I cut in a new groove and a wider notch
in my board and worked it in again. I ended up clamping the board to a workbench at waist level so I could stand rather than sitting on my knees.
Finally quite a time later, I found the right combination of speed and pressure (and proper balance) in order to get the board smoking. I went as the
Internet had told me for 10 seconds after the smoke started, and then stopped to check if there was an ember.... nothing. The tip of the spindle and
board were blackened, but that was about it. I went at it again (much easier to get to the smoke stage once you've blackened it... about 20 seconds)
and got lots of smoke, and black ash began to pile up beneath the notch I had cut, but still no ember. (I had not put anything there to catch it and
had no tinder on hand anyway, because I just wanted to see if I could get an ember to begin with.) At that point I stopped for the day.
I haven't tried it again, and I'm not sure if I could get it to ember and it only requires luck, or if I'm still doing something wrong... maybe the
notch is still not wide enough. My friend has also given it several attempts with no luck getting an actual ember either. People stereotype cavemen as
being stupid, but let me tell you, they seem pretty ingenious to me now after I can't start a fire even with modern tools at my disposal. All of your
education isn't worth jack when it comes to hands-on survival skills.
If I actually get all the way to a successful fire, I will post illustrated step-by-step pictures and/or video as well as "DO" and "DO NOTs" to
help anyone else who actually wants to get outside and try this out.
Sure, this isn't the most necessary skill in today's age, but if you don't take the time to learn it, I suggest you always have a lighter in your
pocket, because you don't stand a chance trying to teach yourself in a real emergency.
Next I plan on trying the "fire plough" method, which is basically just rubbing a stick into a groove, to see if it is any easier, which I doubt it
is. Once I successfully master one fire-by-friction method I will start attempting to self-learn various other survival skills.
[edit on 9/24/2007 by Yarcofin]