Learning Primitive Fire Starting Skills (With Video)

November 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Trail Boss Videos

The three most common methods of Primitive Fire Making are the Burning Lens, the Bow Drill, and Firesteel. A well educated woodsman, etc., should be well versed in all three methods. In fact, it is useful knowledge for anyone who camps especially young people who plan on spending time in the wilderness.

Of these three methods, the Burning Lens is the fastest and easiest as long as you have sun.  So this method is dependent on the weather and time of day. A Burning Lens is simply a small, powerful magnifying glass. Suitable ones can be found at most any book or hardware store.

The Bow Drill is the slowest and most physical method. So physical in fact you have to be careful not to drip sweat on your ember.  It consists of a Fireboard made from a soft wood, a Drill made from a hard wood, a bow made from a piece of any green wood and a leather or nylon lace (such as a work boot lace), and a Hand Piece made from a dimpled rock or a piece of hard wood or leather.

Fire steel is the best all around method. It is nearly as fast and easy as a Burning Lens and every bit as reliable as a Bow Drill. Whichever method you choose, you will need Tinder. There is no great mystery to Tinder. It is simply very fine dry material that lights easily. Most materials will work, as long as they are dead, dry and natural. Dryer lint, cotton balls, and Char-Cloth are very useful to carry in a sealed container so you always have some with you.

Char cloth is basically what the name implies, cloth that has been partially charred. Small squares or circles of untreated, 100% cotton or linen cloth are placed in a small can, which is sealed except for a small hole in the top. This can is then placed in the coals of a fire for 5-10 minutes (depending on the size of the can, type and thickness of cloth, etc.). Remove the can from the coals when it stops smoking from the hole in the top. Do not open it until it is cool to the touch.

After it is cooled, the cloth should have a uniform black color and the feel of Silk. Cotton or linen strings or shreds can also be used, however, they are somewhat fragile after charring and I do not recommend them.

In addition to the above mentioned items you will also need firewood and kindling ready to go. Once you have your materials assembled, you are ready to start your fire. With all the methods you start out with a small ball of your Tinder. How much is needed varies depending on the type of tinder used, but generally a golf ball-sized bunch will be about right.

Fluff the ball and form it into a small “birds nest”. Assuming you will be using Char-Cloth, you should place a single piece of it in the center of your nest. Position yourself within arm’s reach of your fire lay with your back to the wind.

Burning Lens Focus the Sun’s rays through your lens to form a pin-point on the char. instantly you will see a glow on the char. If you are not using char, continue focusing on your tinder until it begins to smoke. Set the lens aside and gently blow on the char or tinder until the glow begins to grow.

Bow Drill Place you tinder partially under the V-notch in your Fireboard. Wrap the lace around the drill one turn. Place the sharp end of the drill in the hand block and the dull end into the fire block. Begin to work the bow back and forth, like a sawing motion. Slowly increase your speed while keeping a steady rhythm. Watch for smoke coming from the fire block. Continue “sawing” until the smoke is constant (not just an occasional puff). Quickly set the bow and drill aside and dump the hot “sawdust” from the block onto the char. Gently blow. If no glow is seen, repeat the above. It may take several tries to get the “sawdust” hot enough to catch the char. If you are not using char the procedure is the same, just a little more difficult.

Firesteel use the sharp edge on the back of your knife to run down the steel. Place the end of the steel in the tinder push down, scraping big sparks into the tinder. Once you have a spark on your char, gently blow on the char until the glow begins to grow.

Do not panic or start rushing. Slow and steady is always works better. Lift your birds nest while continuing to blow gently. Fold the birdsnest loosely in half, trapping the glow in the center. Begin blowing somewhat more forcefully now. Keeping the birdsnest 6-8 inches away from your face at all times, raise it above your head. This keeps the smoke out of your face and allows the wind to now help you. Continue blowing harder until flames are seen. Place the flaming birds nest into your fire lay and begin feeding it your smallest kindling. Once the fire is established, begin feeding larger kindling, working up to your normal fire wood.

With any of these methods it takes practice. The time to practice is not in an emergency.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven L. Doran All rights reserved under international and Pan-American copyright conventions. No part of this article may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means without written permission from the author Steven L. Doran.

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