HomePublicationsThe Tracker MagazineVol 1, No. 4, Jun-Jul-Aug 1982

The Tracker Magazine - Vol 1 No. 4, Jun-Jul-Aug 1982

Hand Drill Fire
Eric Heline

Now that you have all mastered the use of the bow and drill give your attention to the hand drill method of fire starting. While requiring more effort and practice to develop the pressure and speed necessary to provide yourself with a fire this way, it requires less material (fewer parts) and is much easier to carry around in one's pockets. It also eliminates the need for cordage, the making of which could take up precious time if you happened to be caught without some.

The two parts needed are a drill and a fireboard, preferably of the same materials, although combinations will work. I have a good mix using cedar for a fireboard, and a mullien stalk drill. And, of course, a good, dry, fuzzy tinder bundle is required.

Other plant brothers which will provide a good drill are yucca, giant ragweed and burdock. The shoots of willow, cottonwood, basswood and soft maple work also.

Select a dry, well seasoned, straight piece about 2-1/2 to 3 feet long, remove any bark, scrape the knots down, and finish till smooth.

If cut green, peel the bark off and allow to season for a good length of time to be sure it is absolutely dry.

The fireboard is prepared in the same way as with the bow and drill, being of dry wood and carved flat. Be sure to have a good, clean notch cut all the way through the board and just up to the center of the firehole.

The hand drill is operated by placing a knee on the fireboard and spinning the drill between the hands, exerting as much pressure as possible while spinning. Work the hands as far down the drill as it will allow, then quickly move them to the top and start down again, spinning as rapidly as possible. Repeat the process at least 2 or 3 more times after it really starts to smoke. Carefully knock the hot dust of the coal out of the notch with the knife point or a wood shaving, into the tinder bundle and blow it into flame.

Because the handdrill, method cannot develop the great speed and pressure of the bow and drill, a lot more attention and care is needed to be sure the drill and fireboard are well made, and both parts sometimes need constant recarving, depending on the materials used. A good fit is needed between drill and board to provide the most friction between the end of the drill and the hole in the board. It also takes a good bit of practice to tone up the arm muscles and develop a good rhythm, so don't give up, even if you don't get much smoke the first few times. Keep trying, you'll get it going!

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