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Survival Skills: 3 Ways to Easier Friction Fires

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February 28, 2014
Survival Skills: 3 Ways to Easier Friction Fires - 3

Being a huge fan of friction fire building, I always want to see others succeed as I have over the years. No, you don’t get a fire every time you try, but I’d like to think we can learn something new every time we fail. I often hear from others that they think friction fire is impossibly difficult. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be. Let’s look at three areas where you can improve your friction fire building skills, and make this process a lot less difficult.

The Cord
The very first thing that trips up most people is the cord. In some cases, they are completely defeated before the bow even makes its first stroke. With 550 cord being so popular in survival circles, it’s a natural choice for the bow and drill cord—but consider its design. It was engineered to be strong, and that’s a good thing. But it was also engineered to be thin and slippery for use in parachuting. It’s these characteristics that cause friction fire builders to stumble. If the cord can’t grip the drill, it cannot spin the drill. The ideal cord for your bow should be thicker, with better gripping power. Try 3/16-inch or even ¼-inch braided rope. If you don’t have that on hand, double your 550 cord and put a twist on it. Failing that, you could borrow an ancient technique from the Arctic, and wrap your cord wrap 2 or 3 times around the drill. This will double or triple your traction, and put a stop to the slipping that steals your energy.  

The Notch
Most dependable friction fire methods involve a notch to collect the dust. The global favorite is a triangular shaped notch that is cleanly cut through the board, typically cut at a 45-degree angle. This works fine for most materials, but there are exceptions. Woods that produce a coarse, black, splintery dust will often make fire more dependably if you change the shape of the notch. Forget the V-shaped pie piece, and cut a trapezoidal notch—one that is squared off in the back. This will pack the loose dust more tightly together, and keep it in the notch longer, allowing it to heat up to a higher temperature.

The Drill
Need an ace up your sleeve in wet or frigid weather? Try a hollow-point drill. This is a simple modification that can resolve several issues. The main benefit of this technique is that it amplifies the downward pressure of the drill by reducing the surface area in contact with the board. In essence, it’s like you’re pushing down harder, without having to do so. This is a big help when fatigue, lack of strength, and injury are affecting your performance. Simply drill out the tip of your bow drill with the tip of your knife blade, and use the drill as you normally would. 

Got any good friction-fire building tips? Let us hear them in the comments.

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from gmarkum 3/4/2014 at 10:13am

You said it Crowman, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail". Point of order however: While friction fire is certainly not my first choice for survival it falls into the category of "two is one, one is none" in my book. Anyone can flick their bic and get a blaze going that doesn't take much practice. So practice the hard stuff on the off chance that it might spare your hind parts of those you love. The guy that goes into the bush without proper gear probably can't be helped anyway. I practice the hard way when I am camping so that when the time comes for survival, it will hopefully seem more like camping then too.

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from Crowman 3/3/2014 at 11:29am

All this is great but the reality is can you do all this with your hands half frozen when it hits you that you're not going to make it out of the woods that night? My opinion is this nobody should be out in the wilds without a match safe and a fuel that will get a fire roaring minutes after you gather wood. I carry hurricane matches and a packet of fire starter that you put on top of your wood and when you light it it will dribble liquid fire all over the wood to start even wet wood. This is what will save you in a real world situations when the need of a fire means surviving the night or dying. The work it takes to gather all the items you need and effort to make a fire with a bow when it's wet or when your knee deep in snow could probably be done by only one out of a thousand people in a survival situation. I'm not trying to discount the authors skills as it takes a huge amount of skill to start a fire that way ( I know I can't and I've been out hunting and fishing in the woods 55 years) but half the people reading these fire starting survival tips can barely heat a cup of noodles in a microwave. If people that don't have the skill start believing they can build a fire with a bow and when the time comes and can't they will die. This subject in articles like these has bothered me for a long time as I think that a lot of people that read them become over confident that they can do this that they don't put in their pockets before they go afield the real lifesavers matches and fire gels. Remember "Fail to prepare is preparing to fail.

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from Crowman 3/3/2014 at 11:26am

All this is great but the reality is can you do all this with your hands half frozen when it hits you that you're not going to make it out of the woods that night? My opinion is this nobody should be out in the wilds without a match safe and a fuel that will get a fire roaring minutes after you gather wood. I carry hurricane matches and a packet of fire starter that you put on top of your wood and when you light it it will dribble liquid fire all over the wood to start even wet wood. This is what will save you in a real world situations when the need of a fire means surviving the night or dying. The work it takes to gather all the items you need and effort to make a fire with a bow when it's wet or when your knee deep in snow could probably be done by only one out of a thousand people in a survival situation. I'm not trying to discount the authors skills as it takes a huge amount of skill to start a fire that way ( I know I can't and I've been out hunting and fishing in the woods 55 years) but half the people reading these fire starting survival tips can barely heat a cup of noodles in a microwave. If people that don't have the skill start believing they can build a fire with a bow and when the time comes and can't they will die. This subject in articles like these has bothered me for a long time as I think that a lot of people that read them become over confident that they can do this that they don't put in their pockets before they go afield the real lifesavers matches and fire gels. Remember "Fail to prepare is preparing to fail.

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from Crowman 3/3/2014 at 11:29am

All this is great but the reality is can you do all this with your hands half frozen when it hits you that you're not going to make it out of the woods that night? My opinion is this nobody should be out in the wilds without a match safe and a fuel that will get a fire roaring minutes after you gather wood. I carry hurricane matches and a packet of fire starter that you put on top of your wood and when you light it it will dribble liquid fire all over the wood to start even wet wood. This is what will save you in a real world situations when the need of a fire means surviving the night or dying. The work it takes to gather all the items you need and effort to make a fire with a bow when it's wet or when your knee deep in snow could probably be done by only one out of a thousand people in a survival situation. I'm not trying to discount the authors skills as it takes a huge amount of skill to start a fire that way ( I know I can't and I've been out hunting and fishing in the woods 55 years) but half the people reading these fire starting survival tips can barely heat a cup of noodles in a microwave. If people that don't have the skill start believing they can build a fire with a bow and when the time comes and can't they will die. This subject in articles like these has bothered me for a long time as I think that a lot of people that read them become over confident that they can do this that they don't put in their pockets before they go afield the real lifesavers matches and fire gels. Remember "Fail to prepare is preparing to fail.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Crowman 3/3/2014 at 11:26am

All this is great but the reality is can you do all this with your hands half frozen when it hits you that you're not going to make it out of the woods that night? My opinion is this nobody should be out in the wilds without a match safe and a fuel that will get a fire roaring minutes after you gather wood. I carry hurricane matches and a packet of fire starter that you put on top of your wood and when you light it it will dribble liquid fire all over the wood to start even wet wood. This is what will save you in a real world situations when the need of a fire means surviving the night or dying. The work it takes to gather all the items you need and effort to make a fire with a bow when it's wet or when your knee deep in snow could probably be done by only one out of a thousand people in a survival situation. I'm not trying to discount the authors skills as it takes a huge amount of skill to start a fire that way ( I know I can't and I've been out hunting and fishing in the woods 55 years) but half the people reading these fire starting survival tips can barely heat a cup of noodles in a microwave. If people that don't have the skill start believing they can build a fire with a bow and when the time comes and can't they will die. This subject in articles like these has bothered me for a long time as I think that a lot of people that read them become over confident that they can do this that they don't put in their pockets before they go afield the real lifesavers matches and fire gels. Remember "Fail to prepare is preparing to fail.

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from gmarkum 3/4/2014 at 10:13am

You said it Crowman, "Failing to prepare is preparing to fail". Point of order however: While friction fire is certainly not my first choice for survival it falls into the category of "two is one, one is none" in my book. Anyone can flick their bic and get a blaze going that doesn't take much practice. So practice the hard stuff on the off chance that it might spare your hind parts of those you love. The guy that goes into the bush without proper gear probably can't be helped anyway. I practice the hard way when I am camping so that when the time comes for survival, it will hopefully seem more like camping then too.

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