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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Hearth Boards, Bearing Blocks, Drills, Bows and Strings

The basic materials for bow drill fire lighting can all be gathered from the woods and hedges of the UK without any difficulty, with a knife and saw they can then be relatively simply turned into the four main components we need;

A bow, ideally slightly curved, inflexible and strong.

A hearth, choose one of the suitable woods I wrote about in 'Bow Drill Trouble Shooting' which are also explained in my recent post 'Selecting the right wood for friction fire lighting'.

A drill, the easiest thing is to take this from the same wood as the hearth but circumstances or the lack of appropriate sized material may demand that they are made out of different pieces and even different species of wood.

A bearing block, something we can hold in our hand to apply pressure to to the drill as we spin it.

There are two additional items in this picture though?

One is an ember pan, this can really be made out of anything, I often use a leaf or a small piece of bark, but making one out of wood is quite convenient as it wont flex under the pressure of the hearth being pushed onto it, making it easier not to spill or squash a fragile ember. The other though is a string, a vital part of the bow drill firelighting kit.



Yes we can rely on carrying a man made string with us such as the one in this picture made out of climbing accessory cord but how about going a step further and making one from wild materials.

Some of the natural material options for bow drill cords. 

Lime bast

Cordage from elm bast.

Fibres from horseradish leaves.

As great as these materials are though, they are not always reliable. Lime bast takes weeks to process, elm is fairly uncommon and the place you are most likely to see horseradish is along roadsides. Also the cord you make from these fibres is often fairly brittle and has none of the forgiving flexibility that modern synthetic cord does. Yes they can be used to make cord strong enough for bow drill friction fire lighting but for a more reliable natural material how about rawhide;

A plaited rawhide bow string. 

 The rawhide will have a certain degree of elasticity so it will not break as easily as the more brittle plant fibre strings but you will need to stretch the string before using it as it other wise it will continue to stretch as you drill and will loosen as it stretches.

The rawhide string is more than strong enough for repeated uses on a bow for friction fire lighting.

You can even tie knots in it, although it will be slightly bulky. 

A bow with rawhide string and all the other paraphernalia of friction fire lighting.


 If you are interested in making or using rawhide I will be publishing a blog post in the next few weeks on how to make rawhide using a Chinese water deer skin.

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