Bowing to Fire

Last week I talked about the increasing my intentions for this coming lunar cycle. The first week was that of rekindling (see what I did there…) my drive to hone primitive survival skills, the first being fire. Fire is a need in life. It gives us warmth, kills bacteria, cooks our food, and provides security. Without fire most of us would not make it too long in life. This is why I started it off with fire. Throughout the course of my life I have taken the easy road to making fires, the simple match or lighter. Modern technology and conveniences have made fire so readily available in our daily lives; however, what would you do if you were caught our somewhere and you didn’t have a lighter and your matches were soaked through? I tried out only a couple methods because really this was one week to go out and get things started, so there are many more options to try out.

For the vast majority of us that would be stare at some wood, maybe rub some sticks together, and hope for fire. This is why it was so important to me to ensure I kept up on my fire making skills. I tried several different methods this week and I’ll tell you my favorite beyond a shadow of a doubt is that of the bow-drill method. This method can be accomplished even if you have nothing but your birthday suit while out in the woods.


This post will provide some tips and “how-to’s” in sense; however, that is not the full aim of what I am going for. I would love nothing more than to get together one and one and work together to learn these skills if you do not have them but want to learn them. This is something I will aim to provide through Raven and Oak as we progress with the business. This kind of hard to do right now unless you are local in Belgium where I currently aim (If so hit me up and I’ll be glad to talk about setting up some lessons). For the most part these posts will be a discussion of the need, my experience with them, and how they have brought me closer to nature which I love so much.

So, where did I get started? This week it was simply jump out into the backyard and the woods and play. The first method I did was a super easy one. It is not so much a primitive skill (it is loosely based off the flint) but is the magnesium fire starter. This simply involved gathering the tinder, strapping some magnesium onto, and striking the flint strip to create a spark. This spark ignites the magnesium shavings and burns about 5000 degrees which easily ignites the tinder. Now this tool is easily found at almost all stores and is a great option to have around. The problem being I wanted to get back to more primitive skills. There was nothing connecting me with the earth so I quickly pushed this one aside.

The second method I tried was the hand drill method. Now this one is a pain the ass. This method is truly in the primitive skill set; however, a very difficult one in my opinion. If you are unfamiliar with this method it entails finding a board and spindle made of softwood. The softwood allows for the friction and the buildup of heat. You cut a notch into the board to allow for air and collection of the heated dust or ash. You place the spindle on the board near the notch and begin spinning it between your hands repeatedly until enough friction has caused the dust created to be heated to a coal. This coal is then carefully transferred to your tinder which you gently wrap around and blow through. The gradual blowing of oxygen will eventually cause the tinder to ignite and voila you have fire. Transfer this tinder to your kindling and feed.

This method is a very primitive survival method for starting a fire but is a very physically demanding one. You must be prepared to twirl the spindle for the amount of time necessary to create a coal or it will cool down and you must start over again. This method was one that can be frustrating and at times won’t work for you but is one that really connects you with the elements. There is nothing but wood from the trees, the muscles and exertion of your body, and the breath from your lungs to get things going.  While this method is doable with enough hard work I have found the bow-drill to be a much easier method with the proper set up.

As I said earlier, the bow-drill is a great option for starting a fire and what is more amazing is that you can do so even if you have no tools. This option is one that I would each you on a one-on-one or group lesson, but is good to know. For me I went out with a knife and the clothes on my back. As with the hand-drill method I found some softwoods, I used Horse Chestnut/Buckeye, as there is abundance around me. I carved out an 8” spindle and flattened out a portion for the base. I then had to find a nice flexible hardwood, I used a young Beech tree branch, to fashion the bow. For the string I simply used a boot lace. To cap I used a portion of Oak that I carved a little starter hole into to fit the spindle. From here you wrap the spindle in the string of the bow, place the spindle on the depression by the notch of the board, place the cap on top, and slowly start moving the bow forward and backward to begin friction. As this progresses you apply more pressure as the smoke builds and the coal forms. Transfer the coal to your tinder, blow as before, and once again fire.

This method takes much less physical effort than the hand-bow (now mind you it is still a good effort). What I loved about this method is the ease but also the ability to use just the trees around you to make fire. I felt so connected with my surroundings. I have had to learn the trees that grow around me, learning which are soft and which are hard; and which make good tinder, kindling and burn the longest. This process of learning the plants and trees around me are vital to surviving and living in connection with nature. I love walking around and examining the trees, looking at the branches for ones that will suit my needs, talking to them to find out if it is okay to use from them. Spending the time looking on the ground, collecting firewood, and survey good campsites. And once you have created fire and gathering what is needed, being able to sit back and relax in the solitude of nature.

There isn’t much more satisfying when living out or camping in the woods than creating fire with your bare hands. The process takes you back; imagining our ancestors doing the same and doing so to simply live. Connecting with the nature around, seeking the blessing to harvest and use the resources it provides. For we must remember trees feel, trees care for their offspring through mycelium and nutrient sharing, and trees give us life. Simply learning to survive through primitive means connects us with this amazing earth and all it has to provide with only continue to care for her and treat her with respect. So continue with me as we learn to work with this amazing earth to co-exist and thrive with what she provides.