Choosing wood for a bow drill

Choosing wood for a bow drill

Being able to light a fire by friction, using a bow drill is often seen as one of the key bushcraft skills. In this blog, we’re going to show you how to choose the correct wood for a bow drill and have a quick look at which types work best together.

Remember, the best way to learn how to light a fire by friction is to sign up to a bushcraft course with an experienced instructor. Click the following links to find out more about our friction fire lighting and weekend bushcraft courses.


Bushcraft in Dorset


Anatomy of a bow drill

A bow drill is composed of four main parts – the bearing block, the drill, the hearth, and the bow.  At it’s most simplistic, a bow drill works by grinding two combustible materials which are rubbed together until the material is taken beyond its auto-ignition temperature, this then creates an ember which is used to ignite timber. To find out more about how bow drills work and the anatomy of them read our blog Bow Drills a Beginners Guide.



Choosing wood for a bow drill


Suitable lists for your bow drill

What follows is not an exhaustive list of woods that are suitable but rather a selection of those that we consider some of the best suited to making a bow drill in the UK.

Remember, never take live wood. Look for dead wood that has not yet started to decay.
Bushcraft is about living in harmony with nature, not overcoming up.


Learn the art of fire lighting on our weekend bushcraft course
Click here to learn more


Elder (Sambucus Nigra)

Elder is native to the UK and is thought to be named after the Anglo-saxon ‘Aeld’ which means fire. This is because its hollow stems were thought to be used to blow air into embers. 

Choosing wood for a bow drill in the UK


Willows (Salices)

Willow (Salix or Salices) is a very varied genus. The Salix Fragilis crack willow is one of Britain’s largest native willows and grows to around 25 metres. 

Salix fragilis


Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Hazel is a tree that is native to the UK. Not only is it native, but it is also one of the most useful trees for bushcraft.  Throughout the ages, Hazel has been thought to protect against witchcraft, protect against evil spirits, in ancient Ireland it was considered to be the tree of knowledge.


Hazel trees for bow drill


Silver Birch (Betula Pendula)

Silver Birch is incredibly useful for bushcraft. It is also heavily bound up with Celtic mythology. In the past, it symbolized renewal and purification, love and fertility.  Silver Birch is also great for fire lighting using sparks. 

Silver Birch Bark trees


Learn the art of fire lighting on our weekend bushcraft course
Click here to learn more

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