How to Start a Fire Without Matches or a Lighter

There are 3 basic things that we humans need to survive: water, food, and shelter. However, depending on climate, we’ll also need clothing and additional warmth – as well as a means to cook food and purify water. This is where the “red flower” comes into play. Having the skills to start a fire without conventional means such as matches and lighters is a must if you hope to survive for any significant length of time in the wilderness.

The methods man has used to start fires have evolved considerably from the earliest known forms of striking objects together to create sparks. Since then we have learned to harness friction, and have since gone on to more efficient and convenient forms. In terms of starting fires without the assistance of conventional tools, the primitive (modern flint-based lighters utilize friction as well) friction-based methods of fire-starting are perhaps the easiest to master as well as the most efficient.

Of the various friction-based fire-starting methods in existence, the bow-drill is in my opinion the most reliable. Using extremely simple parts, one can rig up a bow-drill fire-starting setup in a matter of minutes, and have a fire miniature handmade bow drill setgoing in an additional minute or two. All you need is a bow stick, some shoe-lace or equivalent string, fireboard, spindle (stick used to drill with), wooden or stone cap to anchor the top end of the spindle, and some tinder.

Granted, you’ll need some dry tinder, additional kindling, and larger sticks and firewood, all of which may be scarce in certain regions. Perfectly timed rain or snow can also ruin your chances of securing a night’s worth of firewood. These are all things you must take into consideration when in a survival situation. Depending on climate, fuel should be one of the first things to secure after water and food.

Here’s how to make the bow-drill:

  • Get your bow stick, which should be strong and relatively inflexible so as to not slacken under moderate tension, and tightly secure your string, forming a bow. (The string should be just slack enough to be able to loop it around the spindle once.)
  • Now take your fireboard and make a small gouge in it, near the edge. This gouge should be made so the spindle can fit snug into it – not too tight, but certainly not too loose either. Cut a V-shaped notch out from the board-edge to the gouge you just made so you can place the tinder right up to where the friction is creating the most heat.
  • The rest is just placing the spindle into the gouge, looping the bow-string around the spindle once, and capping it with the wood or stone you have prepared. If the tinder is dry and close enough to the “action”, it’ll begin smoldering almost immediately, catching fire after about 20 or 30 seconds of pumping the bow.
  • Also, make sure the top end of the spindle is somewhat pointy. You want to minimize friction in all places but the business end down at the bottom! Lubricating this top end is also recommended to further lessen friction. (Follow the image above as much as possible and you’ll be fine!)

Ahh, there’s nothing like a warm fire on a chilly – or freezing – winter evening!


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