Tony Nester, outdoor survival expert and contributor to Outside Online, recommends using a "non-resinous" wood for the drill portion of the bow and drill method of fire making. This includes such woods as cottonwood, yucca and cedar. A drill should be between 10 and 12 inches in length and approximately ½ inch in diameter. One end of the drill rubs back and forth against the fireboard, creating enough friction-induced heat to cause a lighted coal to form on the fireboard.
From the fire plough to the flint and steel, various methods of fire-starting have been devised to help hapless campers keep warm in the event of an emergency. Include the bow drill among these methods. The method involves the use of a bow-operated drill rubbed vigorously against a "fireboard." While technique is crucial to the success of this method, using materials made of the proper wood can mean the difference between success and failure.
Choose a fireboard made of the same non-resinous wood as the drill. Unlike pine, for example, non-resinous woods do not emit sap, which can prevent a lighted coal from forming (references 2). For your fireboard, select a flat piece of wood measuring approximately 12 inches in length and 2 inches in width (references 2 & 3). A notch fashioned in the side of the fireboard serves as the base against which the head of the drill rotates.
Equally as crucial as the drill and fireboard, the bow, combined with a sturdy length of string, serves to rotate the drill back and forth. For the bow, the Missouri Department of Conservation recommends selecting a green stick, such as a piece of willow sapling. An ideal bow measures the length of your outstretched arm and roughly 1 to 2 inches in diameter. A notch carved into both ends of the bow serve as points of attachment for the string.
While one hand operates the bow, the other holds the drill steady, using a "socket" or "handhold." For this piece, select oak or hickory, or any piece of sturdy wood that will fit comfortably in your hand. A proper fit allows for a firm grip. A notch carved in the center of the socket acts as a groove for stablizing the drill.
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