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Bushcraft Instructionals; A Comprehensive Guide to the Bowdrill


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This video was shot ad posted on my channel is the spring of 2013.

I decided to post it now, because I thik this is a very well done bowdrill instruction. There will be a brand new video up soon.

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Video Transcription

hey guys today we're gonna be learning how to do the bow drill I was asked by Terry to teach the bow Joe class for Bush class if you're watching this on youtube go over to a bushcraft USA to found chuckle Bush class you see what I'm talking about but I'm happy to do it so we'll see if we can get this done today okay guys this tree right in front of me here is a trembling Aspen it's a very good candidate for the boat row it's a dead standing tree and it's a very light wood now you don't need to know the common names or the scientific names or any kind of trees to be able to do the bow drill you just need to know characteristics and the characteristic for the bow drill is that it's a soft wood you can actually take your finger no that's why I cut some of the the bark off here you can take your fingernail and scratch the wood and dent it quite easily that's a good candidate for the bow drill so I'll show a close-up of that

some other some other good trees other than other than troubling Austin if you do know your trees for the bow drill will be basswood cottonwood some willows I've had luck with ash on sassafras a bunch of a bunch of stuff in the soft you want the softer of the hardwoods I know JCL MD can do like oak on Osage orange but for learning we're going to keep it easy we want to do the softer woods so what I'm going to do is cut two lengths about forearm length one is going to be my baton when it's going to be my working piece so my working piece I want load as straight as possible okay I've got my pieces here one my baton and one is my working piece what I'm gonna do before I go and collect the other components of the bow drill is I'm going to split this down and rough oh my my my set here the reason I'm doing this this way is because it's been raining a lot the past few days and everything is a little bit damp still so what this is gonna do is allow the air to get at the the split down pieces and the Sun to dry it a little bit as well hopefully that'll help out so I just want to baton it down go right in the middle at first okay that's not too bad a little damp but it's pretty good so now one piece has to be my my my hearth and one piece has to be my spindle I usually like to leave the thinner piece for my hearth so that's this piece here but it's not done you still want to thin it out even more you're looking for well half an inch maybe half an inch thickness this splits out like that just do the other side too okay so nice and thin you don't want too thin but about half an inch all right so we've got our hearth done now we need our spindle when I'm doing this I'm trying to keep keep this stuff up off the ground it's just in any fire situation you really want to be working up off the ground but friction fires especially and especially in the springtime this time of year so you really want to keep it up just off the ground

so for the spindle I don't want to be carving this down whittling this down to a spindle for a spindle for me I like maybe about thumb thickness in diameter so that's a lot to carve down from here so we're gonna split it down a little bit

I'm trying to keep the middle of the wood for my spindle not the sides because the sides is where those boys sure is gonna be and split down again I guess

okay now for the spindle like I said about thumb thickness and diameter a little bit bigger spline you want one end tapering like a blunt blunt tip with at the bottom where that's that's all where the friction is going to be and you want the other side to be a long point like oh uh way longer than the bottom of it and that's gonna be the top and you want no friction there and that's for the length I usually go about from pinky tip to thumb tip so in order to do that I'm gonna go there and maybe about an inch past it I'll cut up because you're going to lose some once you start drilling when you're doing this you want to try to keep it symmetrical if you start going all too crazy on one side it's gonna bow out and you're gonna have an uneven spindle it's gonna be rocking back and forth you don't want that alright so we've got our spindle roughed out right it's about a good shape a good size for it I've got the tip at a blunt end I'll show you guys this closer after the bottom out of blunt end and the top needs to be a an elongated point so I'm going to start about an inch and a half from the top and work my way making a point the reasoning behind this is that you're minimizing the friction at the top and maximizing it at the bottom okay so that's pretty good and the bottom is just gonna be a little bit fine-tuning I want to make the bottom as round as possible so that it spins effortlessly or as good as it can the spindle itself doesn't have to be smooth or round the body of the spindle roundish but doesn't have to be perfect so that's pretty good there so these two are going to stay right here will we go round up our other pieces I'm going to grab some of this grass for our tinder bundle again this stuff is a little damp it's not bad but I'm just gonna show you a few examples of tender bundles that you can use so if this is your grabbing graphs for your main tinder bundle and it's a little damp you want to put it in your pocket while you're working so that your heat from your body dries it out so I'll grab a little bit of this it's not very bad at all and keep it in my pocket for a while these Phragmites heads are also a really great tinder bundle material I'll grab a few of these okay so a couple seed heads here and they're gonna go in my pocket as well now while we're on tinder bundles a couple other good resources for tinder bundle material would be like inner bark from Cottonwood basswood ash I'm used but you can also use wood shavings really really thin wood shavings but again to learn to make it easy you want something very very fibrous such as grass really spread my tease heads I have used grape vine but in conjunction with another tinder bundle grape vine by itself is pretty core stuff if you put some Phragmites in there or some grass in there or even some other inside bark inside the grape vine works very well because the initial tinder bundle goes up and then the grape vine kind of catches fire and holds the flame a little bit longer alright next part we're gonna get is the handhold or the socket and you can see all this bark on the ground here this is gonna cottonwood tree the cottonwood limb broke and died off and shed all this bark it's called blue bark is good for a ton of things in bushcraft but today we're gonna use it for the socket so what a nice thick enough piece this one looks fine it doesn't matter that it was laying on the ground it's pretty it's gonna hit the top of it so it's not gonna affect anything it's not gonna add moisture or whatever and Plus this stuff is dry it's been it's been in the Sun all day so I'm actually gonna take a piece of this as well for my platform so that I can work up off of the ground when I'm doing it so I'll just drop where you compete well probably bring this whole piece back and then if I need to use different parts of it I can so thought wood bark is a very good resource there you can see some inner Cottonwood bark hanging off the tree it's too high for me to reach but that's a will be a good source for a tender bundle as well okay so onto the bow I made up the ball already just to save time kind of thing but I'll show you how how I did it and what my reasoning was so when I look for a bow I want a piece with the Y at the end okay that's to put the cord through and at the other end I saw a notch straight on to the that lines up with with the Y so all I do is I take my saw I put the the one between my legs and I saw a notch in you don't want to go too deep and you want to try to get it right in the middle okay so that's gonna hold your cord as well call it a couple other specifics about the boat is full length can you go away please

I want the bow to be as long as my my arm is from my armpit to the tip of my finger okay that's gonna give me a good length of bow also the thickness I want it to be about the size of my thumb okay any any thicker if you get too thick it's gonna be taxing on your arm to be pushing it to be bowing back and forth like that go let's go you don't want it too heavy and you don't want it too thin I prefer a straighter bow this one has a little tiny bit of a curve to it which is good and it doesn't have too much flex I personally prefer a bow that's more straight than curved it does not need to be a curved bow they both work but this is my preferred method that's for cordage I want to put I want to tie a double knot to overhand knot and put it over the the Y when I string it down I just tuck the the tail end into that notch so it's in there good okay then after we're gonna wrap it and tuck it back in but not yet because we need to fit the spindle to the bow you

so now we're gonna we're gonna prep the bearing block the piece of bark so I'm just gonna trim it up a bit okay I want to make the sides a little bit smooth so it's not digging into my hand well I'm going make it as comfortable as possible just shave down the sides a tiny bit okay that's pretty good and then all I want to do is just make a hole go right in the middle and you can use this multiple times you can put holes all the way across and you probably will need to with Cottonwood bark because it's so soft and the spindle top tends to dig up into it but all I do is just start off do that and make a a wider hole buy it buy it by changing the angle of your blade down lower so that the spindle doesn't rub on the sides I'm gonna take my spindle I'm just gonna make sure it's gonna spin pretty good in there the idea is minimum friction on the top okay so that's upside down that'll be the top that's pretty good like that okay some other things that you could possibly use for a buffer a handhold or a socket will be just hard wood harder wood then you would be using for your spindle you can use green wood you can use a man-made thing you can use a skateboard wheel or an antler with the divot in it any of that stuff will work Oh getting getting the we go to get the hearth ready but you take the spindle and to do that you want to make sure that your hearth is gonna be flat when you're when you're bowing on it so I'm gonna take my piece of bar set my sharing my hearth on there and make sure when I put my foot on there it's not gonna move and that's pretty good so to get it ready for the spindle you want to make a hole almost in the middle of the board a little bit closer towards up me and do the same thing that you did for the bearing block do a little bit divot and then make a little bit wider take your spindle make sure it's gonna sit in there fine and it is okay so that's all good to go okay we've got to fit our spindle up to the bone now so the way that I do this and this is kind of important is I'm sure it works other ways but this is the way I do it

you put the top of the spindle towards the top of the bow all right so you're holding it next to each other you want to then put the spindle on the inside of the bow and the string you cross it like a tee to the bow okay like that you want to hold it there and put your thumb on the string and hold the back of the spindle you do a 180 and snap it into place so now the spindle is on the outside of the bow and the string and it's on there you do not want your spindle on the inside of the bow on the string that's not going to work you want it on the outside okay so again top of the spindle goes to the top of the bow you put it in between the string and the bow at first you make a tee to the bow you pinch it you hold the spindle place pinch the rope and 180th okay now when you're bowing the top of the spindle is gonna be at the top the bottom is gonna be at the bottom and it's all set this is a little loose okay so in order to tighten it up i unpop that and just tighten it a touch okay so now to wrap it again this is how I do it I want to wrap it around the cord and the bow going downward so that the split doesn't split any long any farther I do it tight when you're almost done put your finger go over your finger with the rope pull your finger out take the tail and put it under the loop where your finger was pull it tight and put it down the same notch that it had originally gone down okay so now that's gonna be a lot tighter perfect okay now we're ready to burn in burning in is just getting it set up it's not going for the coal yet but it's that's what we have to do now it's the next step so you should know how to put your spindle in the ball and I want to make sure like I said when I put my foot on here this ain't rocking back and forth it's stable I want to put the arch of my foot on on the board okay and I also want to put my foot not farther than about an inch and a half away from the hole so you have a lot of control they're setting up I want my left arm if I'm right-handed this is for right-handed if I want to put my right arm around my knee like this and lock my shin on my wrist not over here okay around the leg hold it so the spindle all set up in the bow goes in the notch there or in the hole sorry my bearing block comes around with me and my weight is all on my front leg and like my left shoulder so to start off you want to do long strokes well put putting moderate pressure down on the bearing block you don't have to kill yourself right now but you have to make sure you breathe go for a while until you see smoke and then once you see smoke go for a little while longer put a little bit more pressure a little faster

okay so we're burned in that's it it's as simple as that now you can see the the the top of the spindle starts to dig into the bearing block so it's probably a good idea if you're doing this with this kind of bearing block to start a new hole now so that it's an easy spin but you can see here it's all charred and that's good you don't want it to look glazed over you want to look charred so we're gonna keep our spindle up off the ground by putting it on the bark there and we need to cut a notch okay

and now we have to cut our knotch cutting the knotch all I do is first off you have a lot of space between the hole and and the end of the wood so I just take a sliver off to make it a little bit easier on myself so I'm not notching an inch in okay so that's pretty good there I want to mark the notch first off I want to go in like a piece of pie that's what I want the notch to look like okay we can adjust it after but there is my mark and I'm gonna go off the back so to cut it I just rock it back and forth or rock the knife back and forth one of the two or both of them and then go on the other side it's eventually gonna pop itself out see there goes piece okay you don't want to go too far about almost halfway into the middle of the circle but not quite halfway and you want to make it clean you don't want to be all jag you want the the cuts to be clean so we cut the way that the knotch works is like a slide okay it it takes if it takes the dust that's gonna form around the edges and it puts out all in one concentrated place so you want to fall as easy as possible so I like to clean up but not make it nice and smooth and there we go okay so that's done what I want to do before I do anything else the top is fine on the spindle sometimes it wears down but it's fine I just want to make a new hole in my bearing block I'm gonna go right next to my old hole do the same thing make a wider hole at the ends and set the spindle in it and spin it a couple of times okay so that's good to go what we also want to do now before we start to drill because this is our last step is we want something to catch the the where is the Ember is gonna form so you can use a leaf you can use anything you want I personally like to take a piece like a sliver of wood to do it because it's a little bit more sturdy so piece of wood and you put it underneath the notch so it'll catch your dust before I start bowling again I want to make sure that I'm well-rested maybe it's a good time now to fix with your tim complete with your tinder bundle whatever you need to do to just take a couple minutes to be able to catch your breath and relax your arm so my tinder bundle is here it just clearly consists of Phragmites and grasses it's all dried up real good now I want to put the Phragmites on the inside of my tinder bundle because it's more apt to catch the flame easier and I'm just going to use the grass as an outer part okay it's definitely not necessary you can use one or the other you don't have to use both but that's about my tinder bundle there and I'm not gonna set it on the ground I'm gonna put it up on this stick over here because I don't want to catch any moisture after that I'm just gonna clear a tiny little area here just throw my tender bundle down on okay now if you were planning on making a fire from this bow drill you would need to have your fire prep already done okay at this stage because once you have your flame in your tinder bottle it's not going to last long you don't want to be running around trying to grab sticks and stuff so what I do is I make the prep for a full split wood fire before I even start to go onto this stage but for this for this lesson you do not need to bring it to a actual fire okay so we're ready to go same thing again spindle up cross it 180 pop it into place everything's the same as the last part arch of the foot not too more in an inch away drop your leg and for this you want to you want to make sure you have your breath you want to you want to breathe that's for sure so same thing use a whole length of the bow and breathe let's see smoke already so I'm gonna go fast okay I got an ember there you want to wave it with your hands to keep it going

maybe grab your knife and tap it out so it doesn't when you pull the board off it doesn't make your Ember go flying everywhere now pitch your breath again because you're gonna need it to blow your attender bundle into flames that's no rush that's going strong that's good cool I tend to bottle over here and make a nice bird's nest with a little divot in the middle the wind is blowing that way so I'm gonna have my back to the wind blowing it that way the wind is going to assist the the flow of oxygen and get the bundle going better and it's not.we blowing smoky in my face so transfer it gently blow slow at first then keep a good stream of oxygen to it there you go watch oats go tender bundles do not need to be man do not need to be natural they could be man-made you can use shredded up jute twine but I really strongly would suggest to practice with the natural tenders if you can get a bow-drill coal and you can't find a tinder bundle or something to blow it into flames that doesn't know good for you at all so Punk wood is another good one just just experiment and if there's any questions at all please don't hesitate to ask me I'd love to help you out so you guys take care and hope you hope you learn something

About the Author



Joe is a very talented bushcrafter. He has a "straight" approach to bushcraft life-style. His videos reach a very high quality, both for the shootings and for the content. He took part on the History Channel show "Alone"

You can find all his videos on his YouTube channel.

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