A couple of years back I became interested in primitive fire lighting techniques. I began by making a bow drill and playing around with cedar and pine. I got frustrated when I could not get it to work. I talked to a lot of guys about the problems and one guy suggested that cedar and pine are very hard to light a fire with.
Eventually I found the holy grail of fire lighting timbers and I would like to share it with you. The first time I tried it, I did not have my bow and only used my hands. I made a drill and to my surprise I got a coal!!! The timber I used was debarked in the morning and fired a coal out about 4hours later, it was green...
If you have never lit a fire by primitive methods let me say, it's one of the most exhilarating feelings seeing a coal drop from your hard work. I recommend it to everyone to try. When I was really into practicing, I used to invite people over and see if they could light a fire. Some did and to see their face's light up was truly wonderful.
In this instructable I am going to try and get all the info I can across about fire lighting with your hands, two sticks of wood and a knife.
For better quality and a clearer understanding, watch the video in 1080p. Switch it to 1080p with the small 'cog' icon at base of the video.
Step 1: About Lantana
Lantana is a plant that is native to the Americas and Africa. It's everywhere. In fact, lantana grows in over 50 different countries which is partly why I chose this timber for this instructable. It also contains an oil of some description that aids in the fire lighting. This means it can be used after only a few hours drying - i.e. green.
Lantana is a pest in a lot of countries and is spread by birds that ingest the seeds. This makes it a good plant to legally cut and use from state forests and places that it is impacting.
Lantana is poisonous and has small hairs on the leaves that can cause itchiness if they come in contact with skin, especially in sensitive areas like the inside of the elbow joint.
It has a pungent smell to let you know not to mess with it but ironically that can be used to help identify it.
The centre of the stalks have a pithy-like substance which makes splitting it fairly easy. The squarish stalks also have small spines that run vertically up the stem. These can be stripped off by removing the bark.
It also creates a super rich nitrogen filled soil underneath the plant which is excellent for growing your garden plants should you like to garden.
To locate it: lantana often finds its way to the edges of rivers or dried up creek beds. This is because these are the places where small birds feed and catch their prey. When in season, it's an easy spot because of its brightly coloured flowers.
Step 2: Cutting Your Drill and Hearth Board
Try to pick the straightest long piece you can find. 400mm-600mm or 15-23inch is best. Up to half inch or 12mm in diameter. You will cut both your hearth board and spindle from this.
Spindle: The piece you will spin with your hands.
Start by stripping all the bark off into a pile. Keep the bark, it's good tinder for later.
With the bark stripped off, sight down the stick and cut off the end that is most bowed. In my case it was the base of the stick which was good because this off-cut is used to make the hearth board later on.
Next, jam your stick somewhere where the outside can dry off a little, while you collect other things and make the hearth board. I used two small sapplings and a stick to force the bow of the spindle out. While the outside cures, it will help keep the spindle straight.
Hearth board: The base board for your spindle to burn on.
Split another piece of lantana vertically down the center. Use your knife to guide and control which way the timber naturally wants to split.
Note: This piece must have a larger diameter to the drill spindle you have picked. Not much, but a little bigger is fine.
Once in half, pick the nicer of the two sides and use the tip of your knife to make a small hole in the flat face of your hearth board. This does not go through, but is a starting point for your drill or spindle to stay put while you set it.
Step 3: Setting the Drill / Spindle
In order to have the drill piece running smoothly you will need to set the drill. To do this you must first make the end of your drill spindle slightly pointy so it stays in the hole you have made in your hearth board.
Put the point of the spindle in the hearth board hole and begin to spin the drill. It will wobble around a bit but keep going until the base of the drill sets itself, it will no longer wobble around. Instead you will see the base of the drill spin nice and even. Dust will start to build around the base.
This set hole does not have to be really deep. In fact, that will reduce the amount of useable timber on your hearth board.
Step 4: Cutting a Notch
With the drill set, you can now cut a notch into the side of the set hole. You want this notch to be about 3-4mm at the widest point (1/8th of an inch). Cut this notch to zero at the centre point of your set hole.
Step 5: Making a Birds Nest
The birds nest will provide a place for the coal to become flame. It's used to create smoke in such quantities that the smoke bursts into flame.
Collect dry grass from nearby areas and work it into a birds nest. Do not forget to add those shavings off the side of the spindle to the center of this pile. Assuming they have turned slightly yellow, they are great material to use.
Step 6: Check List Before Drilling
It's important to make sure you have the following prepared before using valuable energy to make your fire. If you follow this list you should get a coal.
- Cut drill with a point. Hearth with small hole for drill to go in
- Set drill then stop
- Shave the sides off drill tip
- Cut notch into hearth board
- Place hearthboard on top of bark or similar to catch the coal
- Have birds nest ready with shavings off the side of spindle ready
- Have kindling and timber ready for once the fire is lit
Step 7: Drilling Method
As this timber was green in the core, a bit more pressure is involved at the end of the drilling process. I use two techniques to get a coal.
The first is called floating hands (pic 1 & 2): This is a way of keeping your hands on the one place on the drill while spinning it. To do this put your hands on either side of the drill and make your hands move like you are dusting them off against each other. Some people use a "v" shape with your hands to describe this motion. A little practice and you will have it down.
The second is a straight forward and back motion (pic 3): This should be done when a lot of downwards pressure needs to be applied.
Start your spindle by using the floating hands. Take your time and relax while doing this method, the idea here is to start heating the drill tip with minimal effort. This will also begin to draw some fine dust into the notch.
Stop once the drill is set and shave the side of the drill tip away. If it touches the sides of the hole, it can slow you down. Once you have done this for about 10 seconds it's time to swap to the forward back method. Put medium pressure downwards till you see some small wafts of smoke appearing. Remember, it's not a race, take time with the medium pressure and also grab the base of the drill at the end of each stroke to reset your hands.
Lastly, start to focus on speed with slightly more pressure. Don't stop when you think enough smoke is coming out, push yourself to make the smoke thick enough to affect your vision. When the drill is taken out you will see a small black patch of dust, this is your coal.
Step 8: Nuturing Your Coal
Believe me when I say this is where I have seen many people come unstuck. The coal is an important step because the hard work is done and now patience is required.
Blowing your coal straight up will soon put it out. Try to use your knife to pile the unburnt drill dust on top of the coal. A slight breeze is enough to keep it growing. You can also shave dust off the spindle and add it on top of the coal. Keep adding dust till it's of a decent size - about 12mm or half inch is ample.
Step 9: Coal to Fire!!
When the coal is large enough, use your knife to carefully scrape it off into the nest center. Take the nest to the location you want to light the fire and begin by carefully folding the nest on itself. With a swinging action re-boost the coal in the center. This is a gentle way of ensuring the coal's survival. Next, hold the nest above your eyes with the wind blowing away from you and blow into the nest. Keep blowing. The smoke will pour out and eventually burst into flame. Squeezing the nest gently will aid this process.
Throw your nest to the ground and make a small tower of twigs and leaves pointing up over the flame. Like a tepee. Heat rises, so always start your fires in this way.
You are now surviving.
There are many more effective ways of lighting fires with next to nothing but it's handy to know this method. One day it may help you survive in the wild by keeping you warm and safe. I hope I have helped some people learn this technique and maybe pass it on to future generations.
Thanks for taking the time to read this tutorial.
Best of wishes on your adventure.