The Five Components of a Bow Drill Kit: Component #1: BOW

  • Straight stick
  • Green, meaning it’s not dead, so it won’t snap
  • Just a little bit of flex
  • Can be straight or bent
  • The right size bow should go from armpit to fingertip or wrist
  • Somewhat stiff because we will be applying forward pressure on the bow

You want pressure to transfer directly into a circular momentum on the spindle. Too much flex will take away from that energy and put sideways tension on the spindle, causing it to flip out on you.

The next two parts are the hardest to reproduce in the wild, so a lot of times I’ll carry things that allow for me to not have to do this when I’m out…

Component #2: CORDAGE

  • About a three-foot section, maybe a four-foot section of paracord
  • I carry a piece in my pocket soaked in beeswax, which gives it a little more grip and keeps it from getting sweaty

Component #3: BEARING BLOCK

  • A piece of wood that you set inside your palm. You drill a divot in this and it sits on top of the spindle and that’s what you bear down on with downward pressure.
  • You can use a hardwood spindle with a softwood board, or a hardwood board and a softwood spindle. It can be mixed and matched, or it can be from the same piece. 99- percent of the bow drill kits that I make are from the same piece of wood.

Show a pic of the eastern red cedar from Georgia that he’s working with. Caption: These came out of the same piece of wood. They don’t have to come from different species, and one doesn’t have to be harder than the other. They can be the same wood. You don’t have to be that selective. Don’t believe the manuals!

My bearing block needs to be harder than the spindle and the hearth board, or at least harder than the spindle. This is because when this sits up in here, as I’m producing friction, it’s wearing away dust from both the end of my spindle and from the hearth board. I want this to be as friction free as possible, and if this is a softer wood like the hearth board, it will


Prepper Advantage Field Guide: Bow Drill 2 wear evenly with this and I’ll get friction up here that I don’t want early. Fat wood with resin is ideal, because as it heats up, that resin turns back to a more liquid state, which lubricates for less friction.

Steel striker: I have one with a small bow drill divot in it. It’s also my flint striker. You don’t need something like this, it’s just convenient.

Component #4: SPINDLE

  • Can be of the same wood, same species
  • Go thumb to pinkie, so probably eight inches, maybe ten inches
  • As I’m using it, it’s going to wear down and get shorter, so I’ll often go just a little bit farther than that spread to compensate. Then I have enough left over to do multiple tries with this one spindle

Once I find a kit that works and makes it, I’m not going to throw it away, just as I wouldn’t throw away a lighter that still had fluid in it. I’ll throw this or carry it around with me until it’s completely worn out.

Once the spindle gets down to three or four inches, it’s really a challenge to be able to pull off a bow drill ember at that point. You need a new spindle.

Shape: think back to kindergarten and those big fat pencils: the sharpened point and the rounded off eraser shape. A literal “rule of thumb”: the bow drill and hearth board should have thumb thickness (spread of thumb to pinkie)

Component #5: HEARTH BOARD

  • Rectangular board, four fingers wide so that you can use both sides
  • About thumb thick, all the way around
  • When shaping these: hammer out of a full block, then use an improvised plane or knife to shape it
  • It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to sit flat, it shouldn’t rock
  • Going for that rectangular shape, “rule of thumb”, about the same length as your spindle because it came from the same piece of wood

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