Shortcuts for Friction Fire




Introduction: Shortcuts for Friction Fire

Salve, I invite you to follow along as I take a quick walk around my property in search of fire-making materials. I will tell you right now that this is not a how-to on friction fire so much as a collection of handy shortcuts. I have found these tricks to be very helpful and time saving in situations where there aren't desirable fire-making materials.

While I wouldn't really call these skills advanced, I am going to be brief and assume the reader has some prior knowledge on these subjects. I will, however, give a list of resources at the end for anyone looking to learn more about these primitive skills, whether beginner or experienced woodsman.

I'm entering this in the Live off the Land contest, so head on over there and vote, if you please.

Disclaimer: it's up to you to be responsible with what you may learn here. Don't start wildfires, don't eat plants (or anything) you aren't certain about, and check your local rodent laws before attempting to trap them.

We won't be using anything we can't find in the bush, so let's start with...

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: A Simple Edge

We are going for simple-and-straight-to-the-point here, so a one-blow stone tool is what our knife will be. In my area the best cutting-edge rocks are flint (or chirt) and jasper, both pictured along with our hammer rock. The hammer needs to be a softer rock that won't break when striking the flint. Of course, you can always just throw the flint against whatever until it break, the point here is to get a sharp edge.

If I were living in the wild, I would take the time to make a Hoko knife, or even knap out something nice. This article has a more survival focus, however, so we are staying as quick and simple as we can.

Step 2: Fire Making Materials?

There are generally a lot of friction fire materials around where I live, and look at what all I found: Horseweed, Yucca, Cottonwood, and Willow. Here are some problems I often run into:

The Horseweed (Conyza canadensis) here doesn't grow very big, and is often times too green to use.

The Yucca here (Yucca glauca) is oftentimes small as well, and while it's not too hard to find a stalk big enough, it is hard finding one that's straight.

The Eastern Cottonwood here just popped up in our wash a few years ago, otherwise there really aren't any on the plains out here. And while Cottonwood works good for friction fires, finding a piece long and straight enough for a hand-drill is extremely rare.

Willow- this willow wouldn't be growing here if we weren't watering it, but there are Sandbar Willows growing wild close by. I, however, have never had much luck with them.

Cottonwoods and Willows are nice however, because there is almost always dead branches that are dry and ready to go.

So to make fire with these materials, I will need to cheat a bit.

While looking for all this, I found a nice dry patch of ground that yielded a great big handful of dry grass for tinder. Which reminds me...

Step 3: Don't Forget to Forage!

Look at all these edibles I found while hunting for my fire kit! I'm as bad at multi-tasking as the next man, but if you're out and about, there's no sense in wasting time finding food later. You might even want to set up a few simple traps if you're on a trail.

Pictured is a very simple deadfall trap that is quite simple yet quite reliable. The yellow gumweed flower represents bait (I just wanted it to be visible), the bait goes between the twig/stick and the rock. The twig or stick propping up the rock should just barely be strong enough to support it. I've caught many mice with these deadfalls, and they work great for any small rodents.

And since I've mentioned trapping mice, I will tell you how to cook and eat them. You'll need four or five to get any kind of meal, but they're pretty easy to cook; you just put them on a stick and roast them over a fire. You have to burn all the hair off, and roast them a good long while to make sure they're cooked all the way through. Then you eat them whole. Survival is pretty fun sometimes.

You should also be always on the lookout for useful supplies, such as the Milkweed I found for cordage fibers.

Some of these plants are out of season, but I just wanted to make a point as to foraging-as-you-go. If you don't know the plants in your area, I can't recommend learning them enough.

Step 4: Making a Fire Kit

I am going to make a hand drill kit for simplicity's sake. I will talk more about other kits later.

Since I can't find a good spindle of Horseweed or Yucca, I will be hafting to create my spindle. You'll see what I mean in a minute. If you get confused, just look at the pictures.

So we need a straight, sturdy shaft, I found a Wild Lettuce plant with a nice stem.

Now I'm going to turn one yucca stalk into the spindle point and the hearth. So first I just cut a two-or-three inch section out and worked half of it down to a smaller diameter. This will be the point of our spindle. Then I took the leftover yucca stalk and broke it into two small pieces that snug up well to each other side-by-side. This is the hearth. Some people like to tie them together, but as you will see in the next step I just hold them together with my foot.

To finish the spindle, I shoved the yucca point into the wild lettuce shaft and with the milkweed fibers tied a constrictor knot plus a few square knots to keep the shaft from splitting. I didn't even bother twisting the milkweed fibers into real cordage, for small stuff like this there is often times no need and is just that much more time spent.

The wild lettuce has soft pith in it's center so I was able to shove the point right in, but if I was to use a willow shoot, for example, I would need to do what is called "scarfing", I will leave a link explaining how to do this at the end.

Now, let's see if it works!

Step 5: Fire! Fire! Fire!

So at this point there are only a couple things left to say.

With a two stick hearth you will have to hold it together with your feet, and it burns through quicker than a solid hearth board. Those are the downsides to be aware of. The benefits are that you can just rest the spindle against your foot (if you're barefoot it can burn you, so be careful) and create a resting place fore the spindle, as opposed to having to make a groove. You also don't have to cut a notch for your coal as it will form in the crack of the two sticks. Plus, using this style of hearth, you can make a fire kit out of a single stalk, if you can find one long and solid enough, I find Mullien stalks good for this. Now that's simplicity. I may have to update this with an example of that.

Now I must be honest... I failed to make a fire with this kit. Can't learn without mistakes, though. This was my mistake. I didn't test the wild lettuce stalk for it's strength. It broke just a moment after I began to get smoke and was too short for me to use. But it got smoke rather easily and I have no doubt it would've gotten a coal if it were stronger.

I grabbed a horsetail spindle that I had around and twirled a coal to make myself feel better... But, like I said, mistakes are good for us, and now you can learn from mine. I will try to update this soon using a willow shoot and scarfing.

Step 6: More to Learn

There's always more to learn. If you are a beginner there are some great guides right here on Instructables! If you are looking to go a bit deeper, here are some recommendations. This website is great and has a lot of friction fire stuff. There is a great page on scarfing here. There are also links to other websites.

Attend a primitive skills gathering. There are skills gatherings popping up all over the place. My favorites are Rabbitstick and Between the Rivers, but do a google search to find out what's near you.

Find an outdoor school. This is a step above a skills gathering, with many including full immersion survival.

Books! I learned most of my wild plants from books, as well as a good number of skills, tips, and tricks.

Outside. Just go outside and mess with stuff.

Last of all, feel free to ask me any questions, and please to leave any comments or criticisms. Thanks.

Live off the Land Contest

Participated in the
Live off the Land Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Trash to Treasure Contest

      Trash to Treasure Contest
    • Rope & String Speed Challenge

      Rope & String Speed Challenge
    • Fix It Contest

      Fix It Contest

    2 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Well done! I'd love to see more on foraging, prepping, and eating some of those greens and mice or snakes.


    3 years ago

    Interesting read, thank you!