Fires have been essential for the survival of humankind. For thousands of years, we’ve relied on fires to cook food to a safe temperature, create warmth to protect against hypothermia, and create light. While we continue to use them for these very same reasons today, fire building is also something that many people take for granted.
You can buy a box of matches for about a buck at most grocery stores. Instead of the exhausting and tedious task of trying to rub two sticks together, you simple strike the match head against the box, at which point it will ignite into fire. Holding the lit match head under your tinder and kindling should then spark your campfire. And using a safety lighter is equally as easy, requiring nothing more than a flick of the thumb.
While matches and lighters are both effective tools for building fires, many people prefer primitive fire-building techniques. Primitive fire building is a survival skill that may one day prove useful. If you’re ever lost or otherwise stranded without access to modern fire-building tools, you can use these methods to create a fire. Furthermore, primitive fire building is always fun show off when camping with friends, even if you have access to matches or a lighter. So, what are some of the most commonly used primitive fire-building techniques?
The Hand Drill
If you watch survival TV shows, you’ve probably seen the hand drill method. It involves the use of a small but sturdy softwood stick with one end carved down to a rounded point, as well as a softwood fireboard. Once you’ve acquired these two items, you’ll need to grind the stick into a notch at the base of the fireboard. By grinding the stick back and forth between your hands, you’ll create friction — and this friction creates heat, which will hopefully create a hot coal that you can then place in your tinder. The hand drill is often preferred over other primitive fire-building methods because of simplicity.
The Bow Drill
Another popular primitive fire-building technique is the bow drill. It’s similar to the hand drill but with a few nuances. Both the hand drill and bow drill method use friction to create heat; however, the latter requires a shorter and wider spindle that’s driven by a bow. By using a bow to drive the stick into the fireboard, this technique allows for easier strokes while minimizing fatigue and exhaustion in the process. Furthermore, the bow drill method of fire-building protects the user’s palms from injury, which is a huge benefit when you don’t have access to medical supplies.
The Fire Plough
Also known as the fire plow, the fire plough is a primitive fire-building technique that involves the use of a softwood stick with a dull point and a long fireboard made of similar material with a groove in the center. When you hear about making fire by “rubbing two sticks together,” this is usually the method being discussed. You press the softwood stick into the groove of the fireboard and rub it together between the palms of your hands in a plowing motion (hence the name). Eventually this will create a hot coal, which you can place in tinder to get your fire going.
A lesser-known primitive fire-building technique is the fire saw. To create a fire using this method, you’ll need to saw into a piece of thick wood using another piece of wood. The fire saw method requires two basic components: the saw and hearth. The saw is the piece of wood that you physically move and back and forth to create friction. The hearth is the piece of wood that you saw into. Although simple in design, the fire saw method can be tedious and physically exhausting to perform.
There’s a variation of the fire saw method known as the fire thong. It’s performed in a similar manner, but it uses a pullstring consisting of wood fiber or rope. The fire thong method is most commonly used in Southeast Asia by native tribes.
Other Tips for Primitive Fire Building
Regardless of which primitive fire-building technique you prefer, there are a few things you can do to increase your chance of success. First and foremost, use the driest wood possible. If the wood contains too much moisture, you may struggle to create coals, let alone getting your campfire lit. You can often find dry wood, tinder and kindling under large tree canopies that’s covered and protected from the rain.
The primitive fire-building techniques listed above are designed to create hot coals, which you can then use to start your fire. You shouldn’t just drop these coals onto your firewood, however. Rather, place place them on a ball of tinder, at which point you should gently blow to help spread the heat. When performed correctly, the heat from the coal will ignite the tinder into a ball of flame. And once your tinder is lit, you can place it under your firewood to ignite your campfire.
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