Category Archives: fire

fire at the wildcraft

Another rather lovely posting on the Embercombe Blog from Mel who was one of the instructors on the Wildcraft Course. This was about the importance of fire.

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from effort to ember

She reminded me, with her quest for fire, how we have denied ourselves the rich experience of the journey from effort to ember.

Jane, one of our wilderness stars in the making, told us of her long journey with the bow-drill to get fire by friction. It has taken her five months. And still the quest continues. With the promise of success tantalisingly close it remains just out of reach.

Jane told us that she would be overjoyed when the day comes her tinder bundle bursts into flame from an ember created in the hearth of her bow-drill. She also said that she would mourn the passing of this time – the months she has grappled with feelings of frustration, thought a thousand different thoughts on what she was doing wrong, questioned her every movement, scrutinized her materials and her manufacture, analysed every last permutation in a heroic effort to pull the trigger of success. Jane admitted that she had become personally close to this process, this struggle…and far from becoming her adversary had become a constant companion in their quest together. Now, instead of angst she had travelled to a region where there was only joy in her journey, an appreciation of the road of experience she was travelling rather than just a yearning for the end result. For her it did not matter if the ember remained elusive for a while longer. It was as much about how she got there that counted.

And this was so wonderful to hear. Not only because it was so great to hear such wisdom from such a young heart but because it contrasted so sharply with what is wrong with aspects of our modern society. We yearn for instant gratification. We don’t want to wait, we want it now. We don’t appreciate the journey any more.  We only focus on the arrival. We wish for tomorrow without living with the moment, today. We do not cherish our lives now….we crave for what we could become. We are unhappy with ourselves in the here-and-now.

Not so with Jane. She learned, though her ongoing quest for fire, to love the moment. Live the journey. And you know what? When she eventually gets that ember…and that flame, she will know exactly what it took to get it and how it came about. She will cherish what has gone before and will never take it for granted. She will, in all probability, become one of the best teachers of fire-by-friction. Why? Because she has lived every moment, every failure and every triumph on its path.

Good luck Jane on your firequest.


table of fire lighting


top bowdrill tips

  • decent sized notch to let come air in – too small then no air or collection of dust. Too big – too much space for the dust to heat up. Notch nearly but not quite to the centre.
  • Decent length spindle – for rookies this is easier to control and lock onto shin
  • focus on position/technique rather than brute force. The more aligned and ‘straight’ you are the easier it will be. Position yourself ‘over’ the spindle and focus on straight spindle, long and level bow strokes and bearing block locked into shin.
  • Lubricate the bearing block – it is prone to generate friction.
  • Noise from the set either means too much pressure or that there is dampness (or that you are getting friction from the bearing block)
  • Take your time to build up the heat in the set – get to a level where you could go on ‘jogging’ forever – this is the point where there might be a very few tell-tale wisps of smoke but not much. You may be ‘laying’ down some brown powder in the notch.
  • When you are comfortable with the above then 10-15 seconds  ‘go for it’ but focus on control – as you get tired you will be prone to pinging the spindle from the hearth.
  • A controlled ‘dismount’ rather than let everything ping everywhere when you stop.
  • Take your time – waft the ember gently with your hand – do not blow on it. Let it coalesce

feather stick