Fire off the landscape using rock tools is a feat that will push your skills to your edge even if you have experience with fire off the landscape with knives.
The day started on the land searching for quality materials to construct a bow drill set. Dead standing trees are one of the best sources for hearth boards and spindles. Always remember higher is drier, and I found a dead standing balsam fir with some nice straight sections up high. The straightest section just below the top would be my spindle.DSCN3960
I then found a piece of dry dead white pine good for a hearth board. My piece ripped off fairly flat on both sides to begin with so it was almost a hearth board already. The next step was to find a solid hand hold. I chose a dead and dry piece of hemlock that I broke off a tree. It split rather nicely as I pulled it off.
Back at the fire ring, I was ready to prepare the spindle, hearth board and hand hold. For the hand hold, all I needed to do was take a sharp-cornered rock and push and twist it into the hemlock until there was enough of a divot to hold the spindle. For the spindle, I first removed the sharp pointy pieces where twigs used to be by abrading it against a rock until it was nice and smooth. Then I shaped the spindle’s top and bottom into points against an abrading rock, making sure that the top of the spindle was pointier than the bottom so I wouldn’t just drill through the board. Finally, I abraded the hearth board against a rock to make it flat enough so it wouldn’t wobble around while drilling.
With the hand hold, spindle and hearth board prepared, I needed something for a bow. For this, you need a small branch about arm length long that is light and has some decent flex so it doesn’t break when you tighten the cordage. I found a dying branch on a tree that broke I down to arm length. I cut a small split in one end of it so that the cordage could through and would hold nice and tight.
Finding rootlets that will make cordage is the most challenging part of a drill bow set. I picked a hemlock tree and used a digging stick to expose some rootlets. Two of the rootlets were slightly thicker than a pencil and long and straight. They pulled up from the soil just like wires. I split the two rootlets in half, making sure that they did not run or rip off too short. It took a little more than a half dozen tries before I got that job down without breaking the rootlets. Patience is key.
After soaking the split rootlets in water so that they would not dry out and become brittle, I did a simple three strand braid with the half rootlets, tying of both ends with an overhand knot. After slipping one end of the cordage through the split on the bow top, I pulled the cordage down until the knot caught in the top split. I then pushed and twisted a sharp-cornered rock into the hearth board until I had a divot deep enough to ensure that the spindle wouldn’t shoot out during drilling. As a last step here, I wrapped the spindle with the cordage, leaving plenty of extra cordage to wrap around my hand so that I could have greater control over the cord tightness.DSCN1751
With that done, I sawed a notch into the center of the burn hole using a big rock with a nice edge held between my legs. I sanded the notch smooth with flat rock so that dust would fall freely onto the dry leaf below it. After mashing some balsam fir needles on the top of the hand hold for lubrication so that the spindle could rotate more freely, I wrapped the cordage around the spindle and my hand again. I was now, at last, ready to make a hot coal.
When you use natural cordage, you can’t let the cord abrade against itself because it will break. To avoid this, the key is holding the spindle at a slight angle and bowing at an angle. Start bowing slowly and gradually increase speed much like you do when going for a run. At first, bow with just enough pressure so that the spindle doesn’t pop out. As you start going faster slightly increase pressure. Exert more and more pressure the faster you go.
After doing this a while, I was seeing some good billowing smoke. That was my sign to bow as fast as I could with as much downward pressure as I could give while still allowing the spindle to spin freely. And then, POP! My spindle goes flying out.
But looking down and on the leaf I used to catch the hot dust, I saw a nice smoking dust pile. Removing the hearth board carefully so not to knock away the coal, I gave my smoldering pile of hot dust extra oxygen with a few waves of my hand. Sure enough I got a nice little red coal.
I transferred my little coal to tinder bundle of dead dry grass, cedar bark fluff, and dandelion duff. Blew it into flames and put the burning bundle inside of a prepared fire tepee, and it went up in flames.
Making fire off the landscape using rock tools was the most satisfying coal of my life. Even more satisfying than my very first bow drill or hand drill coal using knives.