I’ve always had trouble with fire bows so I started to put together the following information. I was shown a great technique by Jake Cassar, that involved standing instead of kneeling. By using a long stride, a waist height spindle and a longer bow. Along the way I discovered the secret to fire bows. Hard work, determination and persistence and when you begin to become frustrated, take a break.
Fire Bow Materials
Bow Drill Woods
Best Woods *
Hand Drill Woods
Hearth/Base Board Woods
Grass Tree / Black boy – Drill and hearth
Morton Bay Fig
Pepper Tree – Drill and Hearth
Aussie Native Tinder Materials
Inner bark of the Stringy Bark Tree
Eucalyptus rubida (candle bark)
Inner core of Aloe
Inner core of Grass Tree
Heads of Cattails
Trouble Shooting Guide
Use Drill and Hearth woods of the same type or if different of similar hardness. Stay away from the very hard such as Oak, Hickory and Walnut and the very soft or resinous types such as Pine, Fir and Spruce.
Cord slip around spindle – Cord loose, spindle worn smooth and needs to be roughened, or applying too much pressure.
Cord rides up and down spindle – Keep arm straight and take long level strokes.
Spindle pops out of socket – Either or both of the fire board socket or handhold not deep enough.
Handhold smokes and heats up – Too much friction and needs lubricant or using different timbers and handhold too soft.
Drilling at angle – Adjust body and grip position.
Spindle wobbles – Hold straight and brace forearm and wrist.
Coal falls apart – Wood damp or pushing too hard.
Coal goes out immediately – If soft, powdery and light brown not drilling long and hard enough. If black pushing too hard.
Coal burns through tinder without flaming – Tinder packed too tightly.
Coal goes out in tinder – Tinder damp, Packing tinder to close and smothering coal, blowing with wrong force, holding too loosely for coal to catch in tinder, moisture from breathe putting out coal.
The drill flies out of the bow string – fixes;
a) the bearing block socket may not be deep enough
b) the pie hole in the board may be too close to the edge or not deep enough
c)your notch is too big – carve a new notch with more angle
d) the spindle is not kept vertical – brace it against your shin vertically
e) the pointy end of the spindle has dulled and should be resharpened
Wobbly Drill – fixes
a) brace your wrist against your vertical shin over the board
b) the pie hole in the board is too wide – burn in a new ball and socket joint
Smoke but no ember – fixes
a) the notch may be too narrow and not deep enough into the socket of your hearth board – widen and deepen the notch
b) moisture may be present in the hearth board – dry it in the sun or do slow bowing until you see smoke then rest. Repeat several times and test the board or find a new board
Smoke coming from the hand held socket – fixes
a) lube the socket
b) sharpen the pointy end and make sure it is not rubbing on the edge of the bearing block socket
Cant blow the ember to flame – fixes
a) may have marginal or damp tinder – place a fire extender such as char cloth, fungas, cotton wool, or 0000 steel wool in your tinder bundle with nthe ember on top
b) make sure the ember hasnt fallen out of the bundle
Try changing the amount of pressure you are using, add some or reduce it as needed until the noise goes. Once things get warmed up things should get a lot smoother and the squeak should disappear. Sometimes it helps to roughen up the surface with a knife if you think that the drill is polished up (it will look glassy). A polished drill will reduce friction and not help you at all.
Cord keeps slipping:
You need to tighten the string, if you struggle with this you can tie the cord straight to the bow before its bent. Then when you twist the drill into the string, it won’t slip. Make sure the bow is as long as your arm, which will make it easier to drill with greater effect.
The cord keeps wearing out and breaking:
This might be because of a looser cord causing friction and heat which will melt it rather than wear through. Try with a tighter cord and if that doesn’t work, plait three bits together as this will also help grip the drill causing less slipping. Para cord works well but does not last forever, if you can get hold of a leather strap or thong then this is perfect.
If you aren’t getting any smoke, don’t stop bowing but instead add pressure and bow speed.
Not the right colour dust powder:
You want dust powder that is dark brown/black. If the powder is light brown in colour and dusty, then you are going too slow and not applying enough pressure. If the colour of the powder is too light but the consistency is correct, then you are going too slowly. Also, if the colour is right but the consistency is that of little rolls of fibre, you might be going too fast or not pressing down hard enough on the bearing block. If you are getting the right colour but the powder looks crusty, then you might be going too fast, pressing down too hard, or both.
Moving the bow is too difficult:
The drill may be too wide, so try lubricating the bearing block with Vaseline, or if you don’t have any at hand, facial grease or earwax would also do the trick. Make sure the drill is not binding on the edges of the bearing block hole and whittle the drill accordingly.
Aussie Fire Bow
Aussie timber list from Aussie fire bow