Alternative bow drilling methods


This post was originally published in Issue 17 of The Bushcraft Journal in August 2017.

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

In the last issue of The Bushcraft Journal I looked at bow drilling posture and technique.  What I described works for most people most of the time, but there are situations where people aren’t able to adopt the posture that I suggested; equally it could be that you’re on the trail and sustain an injury, so understanding different ways of getting the same result is useful.

In this issue I’m going to show a few variations to that standard posture and also a couple of options for group bow drilling.

Oversized bearing block

From time to time we have people on courses who have problems with their wrist, either through injury or illness (I can think of several occasions where I’ve worked with people who have arthritis) which means that they aren’t able to apply downward pressure through the bearing block.  In those circumstances I’ll introduce an oversized bearing block.  For this I’ll use a log about 1m long and 15cm diameter.  Tie one end of the log to a tree and place the other end on the spindle.  The rest of the posture and technique is exactly the same as before, only now the weight of the oversized bearing block does the work.

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

Standing up

I’ve also worked with people who struggle with kneeling down, again through injury.  Here we can introduce a stump to stand on instead.  Go for a stump that comes up to about your knee.  Again, everything else is the same as previously described.

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

Combination of both

On one occasion I worked with someone who’d been injured in a canoeing accident and couldn’t kneel or put pressure on the wrist and so we combined the oversized bearing block with a stump to get an ember.

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

Group fire by friction

In modern life we don’t pay much heed to energy usage, that’s to say how many calories we’re burning.  If we burn energy and need to replenish it, well we go to the fridge or the shop.  For our hunter gatherer ancestors replenishing energy meant using more energy to go and find food, so I think they would’ve been more aware of energy use and also sharing the workload.  Which brings us to group approaches to friction fire lighting.

Probably the easiest way to combine efforts is for another person to get on the end of the bow.

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

Another option is to mirror each other, so this time both people take up the posture I described previously, they both hold onto the bearing block and they both bow.  This method means that you have to know your partner well so that between you the right amount of pressure is applied and the bowing action is smooth.  A few tries and you’ll pick it up.

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

My favourite is the 4 person approach.  Here we use the same oversized bearing block as previously and also an oversized bow.

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

One person holds the bearing ‘log’ between their legs and then two people go on the bow, one on either end.  The hearth board tends to move around so needs a fourth person to hold it still.

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

I’ll do fire by friction this way to get people involved, often with groups of children, and sometimes simply to give a proof of concept.

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

But doing fire by friction as a group also opens up the range of materials available to us.  For example, these photos below were taken in 2014, on a course we run on the beautiful Isle of Arran with my good friend Mark Bunyan, where both the hearth board and the spindle were made from hawthorn, a tricky material to get an ember from on your own.

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

Alternative bow drilling methods | bushcraft | Kent | London | south east

Thanks to Ho Kyung and Bob for helping out with the photos.

Look out for the next issue of The Bushcraft Journal where I’ll be looking at tinders.


About Gary

Lead Instructor at Jack Raven Bushcraft, teaching bushcraft, wilderness and survival skills to groups and individuals.

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