Thursday, 29 March 2012

Come On Baby Light My Fire!


After my nature immersion and wilderness skills courses, one of the things that really intriqued me was making fire with a bow drill. Perhaps it was because it took me 4 days of consistent attempts to actually get my first coal. But, I did it!  Here is my first coal that my friend and instructor coached me....



At the end of my course, I was invited to participate in a Women's BowDrill Challenge. I am not one to shy away from a challenge.. so of course I said "sign me up". Since the beginning of October till now, I have been practicing my skill. And want to share with you what I have learned.

For those of you who are not familiar to what a bowdrill is, it is basically an ancient tool that is used to make fire by friction. It consists of handhold, a spindle and a fireboard, and a simple bow, usually a solid, curved branch. Here is a picture of my bowdrill. The handhold is made of maple, and the spindle, and fireboard is of cedar, all carved with my knife. The branch is I think pine, I am not sure, I just found it in my woodpile at the cottage. But it was all perfect.

 The first weekend I really put my skill to the test, I thought to myself... "Ah, I can do it no problem... did it once before."  Yeah, that kind of thinking will get you in trouble everytime. Every attempt is a lesson and a big lesson on patience and to be humble.

I was at my cottage and the neighbours were cutting wood next door. Yeah, the only cottage you can actually see because the addition is SO BIG! But anyway, they would glance over once and a while until they got curious enough to find out what all the squeaking was about. For the next hour of attempts, I was teased and harrassed with offers to lend a match, blow torch, etc. Yeah yeah yeah. Very funny.

It was frustrating and I felt very much like this guy in the video...


But I kept on. And after consistently being patient, calm and relatively collected, with my sore arm in tow, I finally got a coal. Here you go.... My first coal in the challenge.


In the 6 months of practicing, teaching to my kids, and more practicing, I have got the technique down pretty good. I don't get a coal everytime, but that is ok, every time I learn something new. The biggest lesson, when you think you have a coal, count to 20, then count back from 20.. then you peek. Not before. So many times I would stop just short of a coal.

Another lesson is to listen. The sound of your spindle will tell you what you are doing wrong. If you are squeaking, it is because your string is too loose or your spindle is too square.  Glazing can take place too if you push down too hard. Which if you spindle does start to glaze I like to throw in some sand to roughen it up.

And if your handhold is smoking instead of your fireboard, you need to lubricate your spindle tip a bit more... my favourite thing to use is bees wax.

Remember, technique is your friend. Get your stance right and support your handhold hand with your leg to steady the spindle. And so you don't tire so easily. That I learned the hard way.

The last lesson, be patient, stop when you get tired, don't get too frustrated and don't give up. It will all come. 

You can still see me, or hear me in my backyard, drilling away with my bow to get a coal. And my wood stove at the cottage is now lit with a bowdrill instead of a match. My kids now know how to use a bow drill and how to build a 10 minute fire that lights in seconds. It is all in the technique.

So when you see me next, don't stare at my one arm big bicep... it is all due to lessons from the bowdrill. Now it is time to take the advanced course and make everything out of natural fibres... right down to the string. Until then, I will be singing "Come On Baby Light My Fire!"