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How To Make a Bow Drill

The bow-drill is an ancient tool for making fire. Get back to your primitive roots and make one of your own.


  • TIP: Use a sapling or other springy wood for the bow.
  • Step 1: Use a piece of thick cotton cord, about one and half times as long as the bow for the bowstring.
  • Step 2: Split each end of the bow by about 2 inches, and then tie plant cordage half way up the splits. Tie a knot at each end of the bowstring and attach the string to each end of the bow with the knots positioned outside the bow's bend. Now go and make fire!
  • FACT: Aside from their use in making fire, bow drills were also used in primitive dentistry.
  • Step 3: Make the bow from a green branch that is 2 inches thick and 1 to 2 feet long. The branch should be nearly straight or slightly curved, and not overly flexible.
  • Step 4: Remove a 5-inch length from the second half of the split branch. Using your knife, smooth the curved side and carve a ½-inch deep, cone-shaped hole in the center of the flat side.
  • TIP: Willow, aspen, poplar, balsam fir, and spruce make good construction materials.
  • Step 5: Cut away from the branch a flat section that is 1 inch thick, 3 inches wide, and 1 foot long. This will serve as the fireboard.
  • Step 6: Carve a 1-inch by 1-foot dowel from the same half of the split branch and carve sharp points with your knife at each end. This piece will serve as the drill.
  • Step 7: Get a 5-inch diameter branch from a fallen tree. Split the branch in half with your axe and let the wood dry in the sun for a week.

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