The Bow Drill is a fun and VERY challenging tool to use to start fires. It consists of a bearing block or handhold, a spindle or drill, a hearth or fireboard, and a simple bow. When all of these parts work in cohesion or perfect harmony, fire is created. Creating this harmony with all these parts working in cohesion is the challenging part. Friction between the drill and the fireboard is what creates the sawdust that when placed in a tinder pile creates the fire. From beginning to end, it will only be a matter of perhaps sixty seconds until you have an actual fire. The concept is simple and beautiful.
So if its so simple and straightforward, why aren't we all creating fires with these simple pieces? Because if you want to create fire using a Bow Drill, be prepared to dig your heals in and take the time to learn the proper technique and build up your upper arm strength.
So the basics....
The spindle, carved to reduce friction at one end and maximize it at the other, is held in a hole in the bottom of the bearing block, and at the other by the hearth (fireboard). The string of the bow is wrapped once around it, so that it is taut enough not to slip during operation.The usual position that a person assumes while operating the bow drill is as follows: the right knee is placed on the ground (assuming a right-handed operator) and the arch of the left foot is on the board, pinning it in place. The left wrist, holding the handhold, is hooked around the left shin and locked in place to keep it steady so it can generate enough downward pressure and speed; achieved by pushing down with the handhold and spinning the drill. The heat of the friction between the hearth and the spindle both creates charred, fuzzy dust and causes it to ignite - forming a coal or ember. The handhold is lubricated (I used ear wax) and the spindle is carved to about thumb thickness, usually 6 to 8 inches long.
An indentation and a "v" notch into the center of the dent is made into the fireboard and the spindle is placed on it. The notch allows a place for the dust collect while it is being abraded off the spindle and the hearth. Eventually, the friction generates heat to ignite the dust, which can be used to light tinder.
Now what kind of materials should you use? The hearth and spindle can both be constructed from any medium-soft, dry, non-resinous wood, and work best when both are made from the same piece of wood; however, with practice almost any wood combination can be used provided the parts contain little or no resin or moisture. The most important factor is whether the wood is dry enough to ignite, as wet wood will not work; Aspenn, Basswood and Willows all work very well. The bow should be stiff but slightly limber and around the distance from the users armpit to their fingertips. The bearing block (handhold) can be made of anything that is harder than the spindle. Bone, antler, shell and stone work best, as they can be easily greased, do not create as much friction, and do not burn; however, hard woods such as maple are quite serviceable and often easier to find and work. Some effective materials used to grease the bearing block include ear wax, animal and plant oils, or even moist vegetation.
I use the drill board for a morning or evening meditation as it makes me feel connected to the earth is a very simple way. Have FUN!