4 Bowdrill Tips – Friction Fire Lighting

Paul Pinkerton

There’s two types of people, those that can friction firelight and those that cannot! We’ll in all honestly you can’t really measure people like that, but there are a lot of people that would like to be able to make fire from friction and haven’t tried properly or have tried and failed.

Friction fire lighting is one of those things that can bring so much frustration and yet so much elation, there’s nothing quite like that feeling of creating an ember and sitting back watching it glow in a gentle breeze, or teasing it to life with a gentle breath.

Then there’s the converting the ember into flame with a tinder bundle and gentle coaxing. It’s a skill and for some an art.


I remember the first time I managed friction fire lighting, a highlight of my many bushcrafting years.

There are some key points that you need to remember about friction fire lighting and there’s also a few tips that are good to keep in mind.

The basic components of a Bow Drill friction fire lighting set are:

  • Hearth
  • Spindle
  • Bow
  • Cordage
  • Bearing Block
  • Dust collector (Dust becomes Ember)


The great thing is that all these can be found in the wilds, although you’re best sourcing your own cordage, you can make cordage for this, but it’s going to be hard work and you’re likely to break it often, so some man made cordage is good.

You want your spindle and Hearth to be nice and dry and of appropriate wood, setting up your set isn’t covered in this article we’re going to assume that you’ve got everything set up and you’re having a go at using your bow drill kit.

Here are a few tips to help you along and maybe make things a bit easier for you.


Firstly you need a good position that allows you to keep the spindle verticle while allowing you to bear down and put pressure on it, some people struggle with this. One thing that we really think of is getting some help, seriously, do you think that people always used to do it on their own? Survival is a team occupation so when you’re starting out, or you’re tired and it’s not going well, enlist some help, it can make a huge difference and honestly. Don’t let your pride get in the way!

If your cord is sliding on the spindle you can adjust the tension, look at your technique etc as you can usually work out what’s wrong, but quick way of making a difference, if you’ve got thinner cord is to fit some thicker cordage on the bow, 550 paracord can get smoothed off and it’s fairly thin, although a lot of people use it, I know I do.

So, get some thicker cord and try it out, it could be just the job!

Usually, I find/make a wooden bearing block, carve a little indent and use that to locate the end of my spindle. The key to your bearing block working well is that you have the least friction, it’s the opposite to the other end where you want maximum friction, a good way to do this is to make sure that your spindle is fairly pointed and to lubricate the wood with something, waxy leaves work well by helping create a polished surface between the spindle and block.

Another thing that can be worth trying is to get a stone or rock that’s got a good indent and use that as a bearing block. It’s best if it’s hard and smooth reducing any friction between the wood and the rock.

This allows you to have a smoother action and there’s less chance of the spindle flicking out if the end if secured.

With the Hearth, make sure there’s plenty of room to get your foot on it, it’s easier if you’ve got it securely pinned down. Also make sure that your coal collector is nice and big so that you don’t loose that coal, I tell you, it’s incredibly discouraging having worked hard for that coal and it’s lost because you used something flimsy to collect it in or something not big enough to carry it. Remember, that coal collector, be it a leaf, a piece of wood or your knife blade is carrying the results of all your hard work, don’t skimp and don’t be lazy with it.

These are just 4 main things that you can do to make a difference to your friction fire lighting experience and chances of success. One of the key things you need to keep in mind though it don’t give up, anyone can succeed at this, it just needs perseverance. The saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is absolutely spot on.

We would love to hear how you’re doing wiht your firelighitng, please drop us a message on our Outdoor Revival facebook page

If you have a good story to tell or blog let us know about it on our FB page, we’re also happy for article or review submissions, we’d love to hear from you.

We live in a beautiful world, get out there and enjoy it.

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jack-beckett is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival