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Fire Starting

The Hand-drill

pictures used by permission of Michael Bennett

This is a simplification of the bow technique. This technique uses a spindle and a fireboard, with the spindle being simply rotated between both hands. Using the hand drill, you generate friction with rapid spinning of the drill against the fireboard. This produces black or brown dust called goofer or goofer's dust. Eventually, you will get a glowing, red hot ember or coal in your pile of dust. This coal is transferred on to tinder and blown into a fire.


The spindle & fireboard, or hand drill method uses two components, aside from tinder. The spindle should be made from mullen or cattail stalks.Willow makes a fine fireboard. The spindle should be about 15 inches (roughly 37.5 centimeters) long. The thick end of the spindle is about 3/16-1/4 inches (about 4.5-6.25 millimeters) in diameter. The fireboard is Maple or willow, and is 1/2-5/8 (12.5-15.5 millimeters) inches thick, about 1 1/2 inches wide and about a foot or so long. This can vary according to personal preference.


For the spindle, scrape the stalk smooth, removing the velvety covering and shaving down any bumps that could cause blisters. The fireboard should be very dry. Start by abrading a small divot in the fireboard about 1/4-1/2 inch (6.25-12.5 millimeters) in from the side of the fireboard. Then, rotate the spindle by hand, keeping the thicker end firmly pressed into the divot until it wears its own indentation. Cut a "V" notch in the fireboard such that the point of the "V" touches inside the indentation that the spindle is wearing. The dust will fall into a pile inside the "V."


You should acquire and prepare tinder. Some types of tinder include milkweed down, cattail fluff, cedar bark or dryer lint. The tinder should be formed into a bird's nest shape and placed near the fireboard.


Start to rotate the spindle between your hands, applying firm, downward pressure on the spindle. You will notice that your hands naturally slide down the spindle as you do this. Dust begins to form in the "V," and eventually, you will start to see smoke. Continue to rotate with downward pressure until you see lots of continuous smoke and you think that you might have generated an ember. Then stop, lift the spindle out of the hole and examine the dust pile to see if it's still smoking. Blow on the dust pile to make the ember grow into a decent coal. Transfer the coal to your tinder bundle and blow on it some more until you have a fire.


Take a 10-inch or so string and make loops around each end. Place your thumbs in the loops and place the end of the spindle in the string much like you would place an arrow in a bow string. You may want to notch the spindle. Use this method to place downward pressure on the spindle while practicing.