top of page

Friction Fire: A Photo Journal

Before we could learn to make any fires at all, we had to prepare our materials. Chelsea demonstrated how to scrape juniper bark to create bundles of fibrous tinder. Once we had gathered enough tinder and assembled our kindling, we were ready to make some fires. Or at least, attempt to.

The first method of creating friction fire we learned was the classic bow drill. Here, Chelsea demonstrated the proper technique for holding the bow drill and spindle. Tyler pointed to her wrist, which rested against her shin to provide stability. She kept her knee at a 90-degree angle. Once her body position was locked in, she drew the bow back and forth with long strokes, using the full length of the bow.

Once a coal was produced, Chelsea knocked it out of the notch in the baseboard with the tip of her knife, and carefully dropped the coal into a bundle of tinder.

From there, she gently blew on the coal until it the tinder caught fire, and placed the now-flaming bundle into her pre-arranged cone of kindling.

Tyler taught us a useful trick by using an old, dried-out polypore mushroom as a coal extender. Once a coal had been procured, he tipped it onto the surface of the polypore and let it smolder. The polypore burns much slower than wood, Tyler explained, allowing the coal to be transported from one campsite to another if necessary.

Onward to pump drills! This type of friction fire works by pushing down on the crossbar while the strings are twisted in one direction, then letting momentum carry the spindle rapidly around in the other direction, wrapping the strings around the spindle in the opposite way for the whole process to begin again. While it can be tricky to nail the timing of this method, it requires significantly less physical exertion than bow drills or hand drills.

Hand drills were up next. This method required the least amount of preparation, only a spindle, strong hands, and a willingness to let them bleed. Tyler helped Chelsea hold the baseboard steady as she rubbed her hands rapidly together in a figure 8 pattern across the spindle while pressing down hard. This hand motion creates enough friction to create a coal, as well as enough friction to rip up the skin of your palms if you don't have callouses built up, so be forewarned.

The next type of fire was a bit more unorthodox, but in survival situations, it's necessary to use the materials on hand. Chelsea unraveled a cotton ball, sprinkled charcoal inside, rolled it back up, and then used a second plank of wood to grind the bundle against the first.

Unfortunately, Chelsea's demonstration didn't produce a flame, and neither did any of our attempts with this setup. Each of us gave a valiant effort, but in the end we blamed the cotton balls and moved on to our next fire-starting method.

Another method from the scrappy survivalist's handbook: battery fires. Simply touch both the positive and negative ends of the battery to a bundle of steel wool and watch it begin to glow. If you don't have a 9-volt battery, which has both positive and negative ends on the same side, you can use tin foilor even a gum wrapperto connect them instead.

To end the day we walked around the area where we met and gathered materials to make our own fire kits. Tyler showed us how to harvest bark and dead wood from junipers for the tinder and baseboards, and the stalks of mullein plants to shave down and use as spindles. After a whole day of attempting to make fires (with some attempts more successful than others) the group walked away with a newfound respect for the essential skill.

34 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page