The Types of Wood Needed to Make a Bow Drill Fire


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.


  • 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.


  • 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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