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How to Make Fire with a Bow Drill

The bow drill is an ancient tool for making fire. The bow rotates the drill, and the friction produces enough heat to start a fire.


  • Step 1: Attach bowstring Tie each end of the string to the ends of the bow.
  • Step 2: Wrap the bowstring around the drill Wrap the string once around the drill. Adjust the tension of the bowstring so that the drill does not slide back and forth along it.
  • TIP: Do not let the string rub against itself while wrapped around the drill.
  • Step 3: Place the handhold Place the handhold on the top of the drill and grasp it firmly. Keep the drill perpendicular to the fireboard, which remains flat on the ground.
  • Step 4: Make smoke Grasp the bow with your free hand, and move the bow back and forth vigorously as you press down on the handhold with your other hand. The drill, handhold, and fireboard will begin smoking.
  • TIP: To prevent further smoking of the handhold, add some grease or resin to the top of the drill. Be careful not to get any on the fireboard end of the drill.
  • Step 5: Cut a notch in the fireboard Cut a small, pie-shaped notch through the charred area of the fireboard. This will allow embers to fall through the fireboard.
  • Step 6: Position a leaf Place a green leaf under the notch in the fireboard and continue forcing the drill back and forth. When the fireboard starts to smoke again, the char dust will ignite an ember, which will fall onto the leaf.
  • Step 7: Start the fire Transfer the ember from the leaf to a bundle of tinder. Cottonwood down works well. Blow on the tinder bundle until the tinder material erupts in flames.
  • FACT: In Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods and shared it with humans.

You Will Need

  • A bowstring
  • A bow
  • A drill or spindle
  • A handhold
  • A fireboard
  • A green leaf
  • Tinder
  • Grease (optional)
  • Plant resin (optional)
  • Cottonwood-tree down (optional)

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