Being able to use a bow drill to create fire is a cornerstone of bushcraft. This method of making fire by friction has been used by humans since prehistoric times since the 4th or 5th millennium BC. The mechanical element of the bow drill gives an advantage over other methods of friction fire lighting, such as the fire plough. 

In this latest blog, we will help you to construct your own bow drill from scratch. Read on to learn more. 

 

Making your own bow drill

bow drill being used in the woods

 

Like most things in bushcraft, constructing your own bow drill begins with a deep understanding of the natural world. Being able to identify the trees and understand how and when the different woods from each can be used is a cornerstone of bushcraft.

 

Understanding the component parts 

A bow drill is composed of the following parts:

  • The drill
    The drill is the piece of the bow drill that comes into contact with the hearth and bearing block. It is rotated by the bow itself and more specifically the cord attached to the bow.
  • The hearth
    The hearth is the piece of wood that the drill rotates into, it is a rectangular block in which the drill sits and where the embers are produced.

  • The bearing block
    The bearing block is the piece of the bow drill in which the drill sits. It should be carved so that it fits into the palm of your hand. 
  • The bow
    The bow is the part of this friction fire lighting device which gives the bow drill its name. The cordage or string that you will be using will be attached to this bow, like on a hunting bow. Unlike a hunting bow, the bow on a bow drill should be slightly curved with as little spring in it as possible. The bow gives the bow drill its mechanical advantage.

                   The image below shows the component parts in more detail. 

https://www.wildwaybushcraft.co.uk/product/one-day-friction-fire-lighting-course/

The different parts of the bow drill.

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Choosing wood

Discover our weekend bushcraft course

 

Bushcraft is about living in harmony with nature, not overcoming it. It is about so much more than just survival. Being able to identify and choose woods for a bow drill is a key part of bushcraft, as is choosing wood for your shelter, spoon or anything else that you need to make while living in the woods.

What follows is a list of woods that are suitable for making a bow drill. This list is not exhaustive and is limited to UK woods. The best way to find out what woods work for you is to experiment. Try a mixture of woods to find out what works for you.

  • Elder (Sambucus nigra)
  • Willow(s) (Salices)
  • Hazel (Corylus avellana)
  • Silver Birch (Betula pendula)
  • Field Maple (Acer campestre)
  • Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus)

Learn more about these trees in our blog Choosing Wood for a Bow Drill.

Choosing wood for a bow drill in the UK

                           Learn the art of friction fire lighting on our weekend bushcraft course

Carving your bow drill

A bow drill works, as with all friction fire lighting techniques, by rubbing two combustible materials against each other until the material is taken beyond its auto-ignition temperature.  In order to do this, it is important to carve the component parts of the drill correctly.

 

The drill 

The drill should be around 20 cm in length. It should be around 2-3cm thick and as straight as possible. One part of the drill will be in contact with the hearth and the other in contact with the bearing block. The end of the drill that is in contact with the hearth needs to be carved into a blunt point, while the end in contact with the bearing block needs to be carved into a sharp point.  The bluntness of the hearth end increases the amount of friction being generated. The sharp point reduces the amount of friction being generated in contact with the bearing block. 

 

The hearth 

The hearth should be about 40mm wide, 5 mm thick and around 30 cm long. Once the bow drill has been made, the hearth should be broken in by rubbing the drill into the hearth until a charred depression has been created. Once this has been satisfactorily achieved you need to cut the notch. This should be a straight ‘V’ extending from the depression to the outside of the hearth. Underneath the notch, place a piece of bark to catch the coal and the embers.

 

The bow 

The bow, as mentioned, should not be springy. It can be made of any wood that you like and should be about the length from your fingertips to your sternum. The cordage can either be made of any string that you have at hand, or you can make the cordage yourself – you can learn about making cordage on our intermediate bushcraft course.

 

The bearing block

The bearing block works best if carved in hardwood. It should be big enough to fit comfortably in your hand. Carve a small depression into it for the pointy end of the drill. There needs to be as little friction as possible between the drill and the bearing block. Waxy leaves such as holly can be rubbed into the bearing block in order to reduce friction.

 

                           Learn the art of friction fire lighting on our weekend bushcraft course

Fire lighting in damp conditions

Introduction to Friction Fire Lighting: Bow Drills and Hand Drills

 

The history of friction fire lighting is bound up with the history of human civilization. The ability to light a fire when needed provides security, warmth, the ability to cook food and many other tenements of human civilization. The ability to light a fire by friction is a cornerstone of bushcraft and a key part of our weekend bushcraft course .  This blog provides an overview of friction fire lighting and an introduction to getting started.

 

friction fire lighting with W

A short history of friction fire lighting 

The ability of humans to make and control fire was a huge turning point in human history. There is evidence that humans were able to control fire from about 1.7 million years ago. This control of fire would have most likely been around wildfires.

Learn the art of friction fire lighting on our weekend bushcraft course.

Making fire

The ability to make fire, as opposed to controlling naturally occurring fires, was thought to have occurred about 700,000 years ago. It allowed humans to change their locations, provided security, warmth and lead to massive changes in diet.  The ways in which people made fire was through friction, using devices such as the hand drill or fire plough.

 

Impact on human evolution

The impact of fire on human evolution is enormous. It allowed people to migrate to cooler climates as they were now more able to survive the cold winters. The ability to make fire also provided protection from animals and, it is argued, helped humans to clear out caves prior to living in them. The ability to fire also played a key part in tools and weapon making, as well as ceremonial occurrences and art.

 

An introduction to friction fire lighting

Friction fire lighting is a large and complex topic. The ability to make fire by friction is not something that can be learned quickly or even mastered. Rather it is a lifetime of learning and honing skills. Like anything in bushcraft, the ability to make fire by friction begins with understanding materials.

Learn the art of friction fire lighting on our weekend bushcraft course.

Understanding materials

 

Bushcraft in Dorset using a bow drill

 

Being able to identify trees, plants, fungi, animals, etc is the cornerstone of bushcraft. Without the ability to identify the best material for the task in hand, you are unlikely to be successful. 

Suitable woods for the bow drill/hand drill

The following are the most suitable woods for the bow drill and hand drill. For the sake of simplicity and relevance, we are only focusing on European woods.  Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list!

Woods for bow drill

  • Elder
  • Field Maple 
  • Willow
  • Hazel 
  • Oak 
  • Popular 
  • Yew
  • Sycamore
  • Ivy

Woods for hand drill

  • Elder 
  • Juniper 
  • Pussy Willow 
  • Sycamore

Learn more about choosing woods for the bow drill and hand drill in our blog:
Choosing Wood For a Bow Drill

 

Bow Drill

The bow drill is perhaps the best-known friction fire lighting tool. It is thought to date back as far as the 4th or 5th millennium. They were used by cultures around the world including Native Americans, Eskimos, and Aborigines in Alaska and Canada

The bow drill has one massive advantage over other friction fire lighting methods – it’s mechanical nature; that is, the drill is turned by a cord, not by the user’s hands.

Learn the art of friction fire lighting on our weekend bushcraft course.

 

Making your bow drill

A bow drill works in the same manner as all other friction fire lighting methods. That is two combustible materials being rubbed together until the material is taken beyond its auto-ignition temperature which creates an ember. This ember is then used to ignite tinder.

Component parts of the bow drill

The image below shows the component parts of the bow drill – the bearing block, bow, drill and hearth. We will then look at each of these parts in detail.

https://www.wildwaybushcraft.co.uk/product/one-day-friction-fire-lighting-course/

The different parts of the bow drill.

The Bow

The bow for your bow drill can be made of any wood that you have to hand. As the name suggests it needs to be slightly curved and should be the length from about your fingertips to your sternum.

The Drill 

The drill should be around 20cm in length and between 2 -3cm.  The wood for the drill should be made of one of the woods identified earlier in the blog. The end of the drill in contact with the hearth should be carved into a blunt point, while the end that is in contact with the bearing block should be carved into a sharper point.

The Hearth

The hearth of a bow drill should be made of one of the woods identified previously. It does not need to be made of the same material as the drill. It helps to play around and find the combination of woods that works the best for you. Ivy and Hazel are two types of wood that we particularly enjoy using. The hearth needs to be carved into a rectangle about 4cm wide and 5mm thick. Narrow a depression into the hearth in the centre of the blog then, using the bow, wear down this depression into a smooth bore then cut a V shape extending towards and over the edge of the hearth.

The Bearing Block 

The bearing block can be made of any wood that you have to hand. It should fit comfortably in your palm. You will need to carve a notch into the bearing block for the sharper end of the drill to sit in.

Learn the art of friction fire lighting on our weekend bushcraft course.

bow drill being used in the woods

Hand drill

The hand drill works on the same principles as the bow drill, although it lacks the mechanical advantage. The drill is composed of a drill and a hearth. It works as the drill is spun between your hands and is spun with downward pressure being applied. As the smoke begins to appear, increase the speed until you have produced a small ember.

fire lighting Dorset

The Drill

The drill for the hand drill is largely a matter of personal preference, experience and what type of wood you are using. It should be made of one of the woods identified previously and be between 40 and 75 cm long with a diameter of 9mm to 13mm. It needs to be as straight as possible to work effectively.

 

The hearth

The hearth should be made in a similar fashion to the bow drill but slightly shorter. Once again, it should be made of the same wood as those mentioned previously in the blog.

Friction fire lighting on our weekend bushcraft course

On our weekend bushcraft course we introduce you to the art of the bow drill. If you have never used a bow drill before, we will talk you through how to carve each of the component parts and how to correctly use it. If you are familiar with the bow drill then we can help you to troubleshoot any issues that you are having and give you tips on how to perfect your bow drill technique.

Learn the art of friction fire lighting on our weekend bushcraft course.

 

Wildway Bushcraft Owner John blowing an ember into fire

Courses at Wildway Bushcraft are about more than just survival. They are about true bushcraft, about living in harmony with nature, about existing in harmony with the world around us. This philosophy underpins all of our courses. No ridiculous, over the top macho stuff from us, just practical, tried and tested techniques which, once learned, enable you to live comfortably in the woods.

One of our more popular courses is the Weekend Bushcraft Course. This IOL Accredited course takes place over three days (Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday morning) and gives you a chance to take your Foundation in Bushcraft Skills and Wilderness Living Level 2 – Assessment at a later date.

In this latest blog, we take a look at what is involved in our Weekend Bushcraft Course. Read on to find out more.

 

Overview of our wilderness living course

shelter building on our Weekend bushcraft course Wildway Bushcraft


Each of the elements of our courses is designed so that they inform one and other. Everything you learn on this course will have multiple uses and will be used many times over the course of the weekend.

 

Fire lighting

Fire lighting is a key wilderness living skill. Without the ability to cook food and keep yourself warm you will soon be very uncomfortable in the woods and what should be an enjoyable time will turn into a miserable experience. 

On our weekend bushcraft course, we show you how to make fire through a variety of means. This includes using components that you can pre-prepare, such as cotton and vaseline balls and char cloth. We will also show you more immediate ways of fire lighting, that could be deployed in an emergency, such as using wire wool and batteries. Our main focus though is on traditional fire lighting techniques.

bow drill being used in the woods

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Traditional fire lighting techniques

 

Friction fire lighting UK


We will demonstrate more traditional fire lighting techniques including the bow drill. You will also get a chance to make and try out your own bow drill. Don’t worry if you don’t get it the first time, our expert instructors will be on hand to help you out and give you tips that you can practice at home.


If you would like to know more about what to expect when using a bow drill then take a look at these blogs:

Book your space on our weekend bushcraft course

 

Shelter building

shelter building on a weekend bushcraft course

Having a solid shelter that can withstand the elements, keep you warm and be livable is another key element of wilderness living.  On our weekend bushcraft course, we will teach you various cutting techniques, using knives and axes, tips for making cordage and site selection. These skills will be combined to help you build your shelter. You will then have a chance to sleep in your shelter on Saturday night.

 


Remember, this course is what you make of it. If you would rather sleep in a tent or under a tarp on both nights just let us know!

 

Campfire cooking 

campfire cooking


Ah, the joys of cooking over a campfire. Is there anything better? On our weekend bushcraft course, set in a beautiful Dorset woodland, we will teach you the art of campfire cooking. You will have a chance to cook the small game (fish, fin, and fur) that you will prepare throughout the course over a fire.

 

If you have any dietary requirements or preferences, let us know and we can accommodate them. 

 

Water sourcing

Water sourcing is a key wilderness living skill. Without the ability to find drinkable water you won’t be able to live in the woods for long. On this course, we will show you how to find water and then filter it in order to make in drinkable. We will also show you how to make a filter using natural materials and what you should consider when sourcing water in the wild.

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Knife skills

bushcraft knife skills

 

Aside from knowledge a knife, or in certain circumstances an axe, is the most important thing that you can take with you. At Wildway Bushcraft, we are not precious about knives. They are tools to be used and you should be able to rely upon them. Like all tools though, they are worthless unless you are able to use them correctly. On this weekend bushcraft course, we will teach you a few basic knife and axe skills which will enable you to construct shelters, prepare small game, make tent pegs, construct a bow drill and much, much more.

Learn more about knives and axes for bushcraft in the blogs below: 

Book your space on our weekend bushcraft course

 

Much more 

There is loads more to learn on our weekend bushcraft course. Read what previous customers made of the course on TripAdvisor here.


                                                      Read our reviews on TripAdvisor here.

 

In 2019, our weekend bushcraft courses will take place on the following dates: 

 

 

Book your space on our weekend bushcraft course

 

Weekend bushcraft courses UK Dorset Hampshire

Bushcraft is about more than just survival. It is about living in harmony with nature. It is about understanding the natural world around you and how it can be used to your benefit and comfort. At Wildway Bushcraft, we promote wilderness living and encouraging understanding of the natural world. Bushcraft is about learning and perfecting the techniques that our ancestors used to keep themselves alive and to thrive in the ancient world.

Read on to learn more about what the woods meant to our ancestors.

Ancient bushcraft


Ancient Briton

The Paleolithic period, also known as the Stone Age is used to describe human prehistory and dates from around 3.3 million years ago. Mesolithic period describes a period around 9000 to 4,300 BC. During this period, ancient Britons – a mix and match of peoples from throughout what we know as Europe and further afield – were hunter-gatherers. It was not until the Neolithic period, around 4300 – 2000 BC that people first began to domesticate animals and plants. It was during this period that people began to settle down into more fixed communities. These timescales make the Iron Age (750 BC – 43AD) seem positively recent!

 

The Ancient Landscape

The landscape during the Neolithic and Mesolithic period would have been very different from the landscape today. Rather than the rolling hills and urban centres we see today the landscape would have been thickly forested with small areas of grassland. Animals such as reindeer, wild horses, and pigs roamed the landscape, and elk, red deer and wild boar formed a large part of people’s diets.  In addition to this meat, people also ate shellfish and a large number of plants.

old wood, ancient Briton imagined

Ancient intuition

Our ancestors would have been in tune with this ancient landscape, knowing which plants and vegetables were safe to eat, which ones were dangerous, where animals were likely to be found and where water was likely to be.  It is this understanding of the natural world around us that bushcraft practitioners seek to cultivate.

 

Ancient Britons and fire

The ability to make fire was a key moment in human history.  Not only was it used to keep potential predators away, it was also used for cooking meat and even defrosting meat from kills during the long and bitter winters. Evidence of controlled fire by humans dates back to around a million to 200,000 years ago. Bow drills have been thought to date back to the 4th – 5th millennium BC.  The ability to use a bow drill to generate fire as and when one wanted would have been key to ancient people’s survival. 

 

Bow Drill

 

bow drill being used in the woods


The bow drill is one of the ancient technologies that form the cornerstone of bushcraft. Our ancestors would have been able to use the bow drill to make a fire in all but the worst circumstances. It is also thought that people would have carried fire with them as they traveled. This fire would be carried by means of an ember bundle.  This is a glowing red ember in a tinder wrapped around in moss and carried like this. By carrying fire in this method ancient people would be able to light a fire in a new location without having to expend large amounts of energy.

 

Book your space on our intermediate bushcraft course today

 

Resources for learning the bow drill

Here is a list of resources that might be useful in learning the art of friction fire lighting:

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Using all of the kill

Bushcraft cooking in the UK with Wildway Bushcraft


For our ancient ancestors, killing animals was no easy manner. It was often dangerous and used up a lot of energy, something that would be hard to replace if you had to work for every calorie that you were consuming. This is why our ancestors would use every part of the kill for something. The skilled butchery of  large and small game enables every part of the animal to be used, from the hide for clothing to the sinews for cordage.

Food preservation

Primitive peoples would also preserve their food through methods such as smoking and curing. This would enable them to use all of the animal, and not waste any food. In our Intermediate Bushcraft Course we teach participants how to skilfully skin and butcher game as well as making pots and pans to cook their food in and, of course, transport it.

 

Book your space on our intermediate bushcraft course today

 

Our intermediate bushcraft course


Our five-day intermediate bushcraft course gives participants a chance to learn and to perfect these ancient bushcraft techniques. Running over five days, this course truly lets you live and breathe wilderness living. It will build significantly on any knowledge that you have gained on our weekend bushcraft course. The course will cover skinning and butchery of large game, food preservation techniques, the making of glues, tar and pitch. Additionally, we will look at long term shelter building, green woodworking, advanced fire lighting techniques, traps and snares, basket making and much, much more.

 

Book your space on our intermediate bushcraft course today

friction fire course

There’s nothing better than being outdoors, cooking over a fire with your friends or family. There is something almost primitive in sitting around a fire and cooking. It links us with our ancient ancestors who would have been doing something essentially similar since man first discovered fire.
In this blog, we are going to take a look at how to cook over an open fire with your friends and/or family. We are going to cover safety and responsibility, which type of fire to choose, and some ideas for recipes.

 

Safety and responsibility when cooking over a fire

Fire lighting damp conditions


The most important thing when setting out to cook over an open fire is doing it in a safe and responsible manner. Fires can spread, especially in the dry weather of summer, and easily get out of control.  There are several things that you can do to reduce the risk of your fire spreading out of control. Ultimately though, you have to make a decision as to whether or not it is okay to have a fire. Ask yourself, has the weather been dry? What is the state of the surrounding vegetation? What is the soil, is it a type liable to catch fire such as peat?

 

1. Clear the ground

Make sure that the ground where you intend to have your fire is clear of vegetation and debris. Be sure to look up and around and make sure that there are no overhanging branches, bushes or anything else that could catch fire. 

2. Keep water to hand

Keep a bucket of water nearby your fire so that should a gust of wind catch it or a log fall off you can extinguish it. You should always keep an eye on your fire to make sure that it is always in control.

3. Treat the environment with care

Bushcraft is not about overcoming your environment. It is about living in harmony with the natural world. This approach to bushcraft is important to keep in mind when cooking over a fire with your family and friends. Use only dead standing wood, never chop down anything or use any living wood. Ensure that your fire will not scar the earth by clearing the ground underneath it, as with point two. Practice principles of leave no trace, douse the embers of your fire after extinguishing it, check the ashes are cool and then disperse of them by scattering them in a large area. 

4. Keep it small 

Only build the fire to the size that you need. For cooking outdoors you don’t need a roaring bonfire, you just need something small enough to do the job. Make sure that any children you have with you don’t feed the fire unnecessarily, making it bigger than it needs to be. 

 

Learn fin and fur preparation and campfire cooking on our weekend bushcraft course.

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Choose the best type of fire for cooking on

friction fire lighting from Wildway bushcraft


Not all fires are created equal. Some constructions are best suited for keeping warm, while others are best designed for cooking on. It’s the latter type that you will want to build.


Whatever type of fire you choose to construct, be sure to follow the basic principles of fire lighting. That is, ensuring that you have enough suitable tinder and fuel of progressively larger diameters close to hand. After all, you don’t want to be running around looking for fuel once the fire has started.

Remember, when cooking over a fire, use the embers – not the flames. 

 

The Hunter’s Fire 

One of the most useful fires for cooking is the Hunter’s Fire.  This fire can easily be adapted for different types of cooking such as baking and grilling. This fire works by building fire between two logs the same distance apart as your cooking utensils. Be sure to use green wood or, if none is available stones. If there are no stones to hand a trench will be equally as practical.

The Star Fire 

As its name suggests, the Star Fire is made with four or five logs arranged into a star shape sticking out of the fire. Each log should be 15cm or thicker. As the fire slowly burns, push the end of each log further into the fire thereby providing more fuel. This fire burns for long periods of time and the thick logs make them ideal for supporting cooking pots, such as mess tins.

The Indian’s Fire 

The Indian’s Fire is, essentially, a collapsed tipi style fire with long logs, about an arm’s thickness, sticking out of it. These logs which make up the collapsed tipi are then slowly fed into the fire to keep it burning. One of the differences between this and the Star Fire is that the logs used for this fire should not be as thick as those used in the Star Fire.  

 

Learn fin and fur preparation and campfire cooking on our weekend bushcraft course.

 

Ideas for recipes 

Here are some favourite campfire recipes from Wildway Bushcraft.

 

 

    • Bannock Bread
      One of the favourite recipes of Wildway Bushcraft pupils is Bannock Bread. This simple to make flat bread is a favourite of bushcraft practitioners and hikers the world over.  You can discover our amazing recipe for Bannock Bread in this post here.
    • Stews
      Whatever your dietary preferences, you can’t beat a good stew. Easy to make and scale up or down to feed as many people as you have camping with you, the stew is a campfire classic. If you are in a survival situation, or somewhere where hunting/trapping is allowed, then the addition of rabbits or pigeons can add an extra dimension to your stew.

    • Steamed Trout
      Steamed trout, cooked over a campfire, is an outdoor classic. It is the stuff that boys’  own novels are made out of. After gutting and cleaning the fish, stuff it with wood sorrel. Wrap the trout is sphagnum moss, big handfuls of it, then carefully place the trout on the embers of your fire. Keep an eye on your fish and it should be ready until you see steam rising from the moss.

 

Learn fin and fur preparation and campfire cooking on our weekend bushcraft course.

I had come up with every excuse of why we didn’t ‘need’ to go camping as a family, and yet the kids were still desperate to sleep outside in the great outdoors. I’d even tried “Why not just build a den or sleep in a tent in the garden? Your dad will sleep out there with you.” They did it. They loved it. Now they wanted more. My next response was, “Why don’t you go away to a campsite, your dad will take you.” They did. They loved it, but it was too tame, they wanted to experience camping in nature.

 

Would a few chilly nights under canvas put them off?

My plan really wasn’t working, I thought a couple of chilly nights out under canvas would really put them off of camping. It had certainly put me off when I was a child. I remember being freezing cold in a wafer-thin sleeping bag, on an even thinner excuse for a roll mat and waking up damp and miserable. “Never again,” I had said to my equally cold and miserable friend next to me. Needless to say, I never went camping again……until now.

Being a Mum changes you, and your kids have special powers over you it seems, in more ways than you often realise. “Please Mum, we loved camping, please come with us this time.” The look on their little faces, I couldn’t disappoint them and say no yet again.

I’m always nagging my husband about the importance of family time, especially when he’s been working late, again. So they had me cornered on this one, they were asking to do something together, this is what I’m always saying we should do more of.

I hate to admit it but a family camping trip ticked all of the boxes as far as things I’d preached were important for our family; Quality time together- Tick Fresh air is good for you- Tick The kids need less screen time and to be more active- Tick I had no more excuses that I could use. “Please Mum, please can we all go camping together, as a family?” I caved, “Ok, I’ll try it one more time.” “Yay!” was the reply, accompanied by excited bouncing around, from the kids, not me. I poured myself a large coffee with a sense of impending doom, what had I agreed to. I reassured myself with the saying What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but actually, that wasn’t helping.

Family bushcraft courses

A camping experience…

My husband said he would sort the trip out for us and soon after said that he’d booked us an amazing camping experience where we’d learn new skills and have quality family time. The words camping experience got my heart racing, and not in a good way!

We made a trip to the camping shop, I’ve never seen my husband and children so excited at the prospect of shopping. There were lots of very enthusiastic families there buying all sorts of gadgets, I felt very out of place. My husband bought me a luxury roll mat and the thickest sleeping bag I’d ever seen, OK there was hope for this trip yet. Apparently, this gift was an anniversary gift, I did explain that I was happy with the usual flowers or chocolate option, but no, this year I was the lucky recipient of a roll mat and sleeping bag, yep, I’m a lucky lady! Now that I knew I’d be comfortable and warm, I tried to be more open-minded and excited about this trip, after all, it couldn’t be that bad, could it?

The fateful day of our trip away arrived. “It’s just one night away isn’t it?” “Yes,” was the reply from my husband who was now just as excited as the kids. They’d packed their bags the week before, without even being asked, I only usually get this amount of enthusiasm at the mention of Christmas or sweets. My kids clearly loved sleeping out under canvas far more than I ever did.

As we loaded our kit into the car the excitement levels grew, though my stomach was now churning, what had I agreed to? This feeling wasn’t helped by the following conversation. “Have you packed the tent Dad?” “No, we don’t need it on this trip,” …….what?! No tent? this clearly meant one of two things, either he’d seen sense and booked us into a hotel, yes I hope it’s that option. Or…. we are sleeping out under a shelter, full on Bear Grylls style! The colour drained from my face as my husband confirmed it was the latter option, yep, we were, in fact, camping out under a tarp! He’d booked us on to a family Bushcraft Course he announced proudly. “Yay!!!!” was the response from the back of the car. “You are joking right?” was the politest response I could muster. “It will be fun,” he said with a grin. “We’ll be having quality family time together and learning new skills at the same time, it’s a win-win. It will also help engage the kids in nature more and keep them off of their screens.” I couldn’t argue, these are things that I had said we needed more of as a family….

We arrived at a woodland where we were met by our instructors for the weekend. They were friendly and made us feel welcome. These guys were clearly used to excited children and anxious looking parents. With a couple of other families, we walked into the woods and found our camp area. The kids were very excited about this adventure, I’ve never seen them so keen to learn, which was echoed by my son’s, “I wish school was this exciting.”

family bushcraft courses

A family bushcraft experience

Once we were at our camp we sat around the fire as our instructors welcomed us and talked us through the weekend. Though still feeling out a place a little I was interested to hear what we were going to be taught and to

see what all of the excitement was about. I was also pleased to learn that it wasn’t compulsory to eat bugs or in fact drink our own urine as my son had joked on the way here, so things were looking up.

The first session was shelter building, who knew there were so many different types. Sadly a hotel wasn’t mentioned at this stage but when the instructor spoke about the importance of staying warm, dry and comfortable then I began to relax a little as those were definitely my priorities too. Having watched the instructor demonstrate and talk through the different shelter types it was our turn to try. The kids were straight into it, collecting all of the right vegetation needed to make a natural shelter, even making a bed area out of moss that was surprisingly comfortable. We then put up our tarp shelter, this was our ‘home’ for the night. Even I had to admit that once we’d set up our roll mats and sleeping bags ready for tonight it did actually look cozy and inviting, or maybe that was the fresh air affecting my judgment.

Our next session was fire lighting. This seemed to be the one my son was most interested in, it seems he’s secretly a caveman, I’ve never seen him listen so intently. This was another hands-on session where we all had a go at lighting fires using different techniques. There was an edge of competition amongst our family to see who could light their fire the quickest amongst us. Seeing the look on our daughter’s face as she beat us all was priceless, she was so proud. Here she was, our usually shy little girl, asking the instructor questions, confidently lighting her own fire out in the woods and fully embracing this weekend. I could learn a lot from her.

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner, where had the day gone. We headed back over to the main campfire to be welcomed by fantastic smells of cooking. While we were learning about shelters and fires there had been an amazing stew prepared and bubbling away over the open fire. Obviously, it’s amazing to have a meal cooked for you at all. I hate the daily grind of prepping and cooking meals day-in-day-out at home. So to be presented with a bowl of stew cooked by someone else was a treat, but cooked over the campfire just made it that bit more special and taste even more amazing.

 

Spending time outdoors

family bushcraft courses

One of the things I have always loved about time spent outdoors and immersed in nature is how it relaxes you. You have that calm physical tiredness at the end of the day rather than that stressed and frazzled tiredness that comes from juggling work, home life, and general commitments. So here we were, sat together, calmly eating our stew around the campfire. There was no rushing, there was no arguing, no tv in the background, no homework to be done, no work phone ringing, no washing machine needing to be emptied. Just us, together, talking, laughing, eating, relaxing and reconnecting.

As the daylight started to fade we headed towards our shelter, our “home for the night. We made our own little campfire and sat down together to drink our hot chocolates before bed, then “Look!” our daughter whispered pointing towards the edge of the woods. As we sat quietly together we saw a herd of deer slowly making their way through the woodland. They obviously came through here regularly, this was their home. We sat still just watching them, not wanting to scare them, for their own benefit as well as our own. I watched the children’s eyes widen with wonder as they sat perfectly still and silently together, I realised they had never seen deer out roaming in the wild before. Yes, we’d read about them, but where we live in the city there was never a chance encounter like this. It was humbling, a far cry from being stuck in the office or battling the rush hour traffic, just us together watching these beautiful creatures wander through the woods.

Once the deer had gone on their way the kids willingly got ready for bed, this was some kind of miracle, the fresh air and our learning sessions had certainly worn them out. They snuggled down into their sleeping bags as the light began to fade, and drifted off to sleep listening to the owls hooting overhead. Seeing the children so cosy in their sleeping bags made me want to get into mine. Well, here goes, my first time sleeping out in nearly 30 years, I was apprehensive but my cosy sleeping bag soon engulfed me in its warmth and I drifted off into one of the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long time.

 

Waking up naturally

 

At home the sound of the alarm always gives rise from an impromptu groan from both my husband and I, dragging ourselves back into the daily grind with an element of rushing from the moment you force your eyes open, but not here. If you have never been gently woken by the sun starting to rise and the amazing sound of the birds singing, you really must try it. I felt like my body had naturally woken rather than being jolted awake by an alarm. I laid there in my warm cosy sleeping bag, listening to the birds singing and seeing the sun breaking through the trees above us, no rushing, no stressing, just gently easing our way into another day of outdoor fun. Yes, I think I’m liking this outdoor stuff a little bit more. We all had slept well and after getting dressed we headed over to the main camp area to find the kettle boiling on the campfire and breakfast being cooked for us, I can’t remember the last time breakfast had been made for me. As we all sat together eating our warm breakfast the instructors told us about today’s teaching sessions.

Family bushcraft course
The first session of the day was spoon carving. Personally, I was apprehensive about letting my children have a knife and do any kind of carving, but the instructors stayed near, taught them thoroughly and instilled specific rules to keep everyone safe. It wasn’t a skill I’d ever considered learning before but actually, once I started I found it really enjoyable and quite therapeutic. It was a peaceful calm session, sat around the campfire carving our creations. The session flew by and the kids loved the fact they’d made their own spoons that they could take home, oil and use themselves.

On each course you can ask for certain sessions, my husband had been keen to try game prep so had booked this for us. I wasn’t keen on the idea myself so I watched from the back of the group but I couldn’t believe how involved the kids were. They both got stuck in learning how to prepare, gut and pluck a pigeon ready to be eaten. Being as my kids were really getting stuck in I had to at least show willing, so I opted to help them with the fish, or should I say, they helped me. We all gutted and prepped fresh trout ready for our lunch which we then cooked on the fire. I truly didn’t believe my children would eat this for lunch, we’d had enough problems at home with fish fingers, let alone fresh fish that they had gutted themselves. But it seems that actually giving your child that connection with their food can work in your favour. They both squatted down next to the fire with an instructor and cooked our fish over the flames then promptly tucked in without hesitation. I silently stood waiting for the “Err I don’t like this” but actually the response was very different. “Wow, this tastes amazing. Food tastes much better cooked on the fire I think,” my daughter said as she demolished an entire trout fillet and then asked for more. I could take it personally that my cooking actually isn’t that great, but then I tried it too and definitely agreed with her, fresh trout cooked on the open fire is certainly the tastiest way I’ve ever eaten fish.

After lunch, it was time to start dismantling our shelter and packing our things. I know we’d only been here for twenty-four hours but we had done so much in that time and it had gone so fast, the sign of a good time. We’d had an amazing time together and learned some great skills.

 

Bonding as a family

family bushcraft course

We walked back out from the woods back to our car, we were all calm and content. My husband commented to the instructor how great it is to escape into the woods, and that really summed it up. We get caught up in the fast pace of daily life being pulled from one commitment to the next, never truly stopping or at least slowing down to have proper time together and explore new skills. The look of contentment in the kids as they put their bags into the car boot said it all, we’d all had a good time, yes, even me. This had been good for us, we had needed this time together, to reconnect. “So can we do this again Mum, as a family?” “Yes, I really think we should.”

 

 

Discover our family bushcraft course

 

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

In this blog, we’re going to be looking at knife skills for bushcraft. In particular, we will be looking at how to use a knife to make feather sticks. Feather sticks are a great fire lighting tool and can help you to get a fire started in damp or even wet conditions. Read on to learn more about the bushcraft knife skills needed to create feather sticks.

 

 

First, a word on knives

 

Knife skills for bushcraft


A knife is often seen as a key part of a bushcraft enthusiast’s kit. Topics on ‘which’ knives are popular on many bushcraft internet forums, and knives are often fetishized among certain groups of bushcraft enthusiasts. We believe though that a knife is a tool and, like any tool, a knife is made to be used – not locked away and only ever taken out to look at. Also, like any tool, you need the skills to use it. Read on to learn more about knife skills for bushcraft and how to make feather sticks. 

 

 

Making feather sticks

bushcraft knife skills

 

When it comes to knife skills for bushcraft, feather sticks, like almost everything else, doesn’t start with the knife, it starts with choosing your materials.  Whatever you are doing in bushcraft, you should be looking to be using standing, deadwood. Bushcraft is about being in harmony with nature, not overcoming it.

Choosing wood for feather sticks

The wood that you should be looking for when it comes to feather sticks should be standing dead wood. The wood should be around the thickness of your arm and about the length of your extended middle finger to your elbow.

 

Knife skills for feather sticks

The first bushcraft knife skill that you will need for making feather sticks is battoning. Battoning is splitting wood by placing your knife on top of the wood and then, making sure that about an inch or so of the tip of the blade protrudes over the edge of the wood. Gentle tap the blade, being sure to hit it along the centre, into the wood. Keep bashing the knife into the wood until it splits, then repeat the process until you have split the piece of wood that you have chosen into four. 

 

Using your knife to make feather sticks

The next knife skill that you will need involves making the curls that form the feather sticks. To learn how to do this, watch the video below.

 

 

Weekend bushcraft course

Sharpen your bushcraft knife


On our
weekend bushcraft course we will introduce you to some basic knife skills. We will show you several knife techniques that you need for basic bushcraft skills and how best to put these into practice.  Our Intermediate Bushcraft Course will introduce you to more advanced techniques in a way that enables you to live out in the woods for a week. 

 

The ability to light a fire by friction is one of the fundamental skills of bushcraft. It is a skill which our ancestors perfected over millennia, before, sadly, losing these skills in the face of industrialization. Mastering this skill though can give you a huge degree of freedom. Once you are truly comfortable with bushcraft, you will be able to go into the woods with nothing other than what you are wearing, and live comfortably. As we like to say here at Wildway Bushcraft, it’s about more than ‘just survival’.

Read on to learn more about the origins of friction fire-lighting, what you can learn on our weekend bushcraft course, how to perfect your technique, and how we can help you.

 

 

Origins of friction fire-lighting

Learn friction fire lighting on our course

Friction fire-lighting is a skill that has been around as long as humans. There is even evidence of fire being used by Homo Erectus around one million years ago. The fact that our ancestors were able to light fires and, importantly, replicate this technique whenever they were called upon to do so, ensured the survival of our species. There is a range of academic theories that believe fire lighting began with exploiting natural fires, such as lightning strikes. This then evolved into our ability to transport embers, then, eventually master the art of friction fire lighting.  

 

Friction fire-lighting on our weekend course

Friction fire lighting UK

Our weekend bushcraft course, held in beautiful woodland on the Dorset/Hampshire border, introduces you to the basics of friction fire-lighting. If you already have a degree of knowledge around friction fire-lighting, then our instructors are willing to work with you to help you to develop your skills further.  

 

Introduction to bow-drill

Bow drill ember

 

 

On our Weekend Bushcraft Course, we will introduce you to the basics of bow-drill techniques. Having shown you how to use a knife in a way that enables you to make the cuts needed to construct a bow-drill. From there, we will show you how you can use your bow-drill to hopefully get an ember.  If you’ve never heard of a bow-drill before, have a look at our blog on perfecting your bow drill technique.

 

Develop your technique further

Our courses are very flexible. As we’ve said, if you have a basic level of understanding, then we are willing to work with you to help you to get the most out of our sessions.  If you would like a specialist fire lighting session then book on to our one day friction fire lighting course.

 

Let us help you!

friction fire lighting from Wildway bushcraft
Have a go at making your own bow drill and practice your technique at home. Upload photos to our Facebook group here and let us know how well you are getting on with your bow drill. We will try our best to help you from a distance!

We at Wildway Bushcraft are excited to announce the dates of our courses for 2019. It’s an exciting year ahead with highlights including our River Spey Canoe Trip, Women’s Only Bushcraft Course and our Intermediate Bushcraft Course to name but a few. Read on to find out more about our courses and click on the links below to book your space!  

Foundation in Bushcraft Skills and Wilderness Living Course Level 2 – Weekend Bushcraft Course. (IOL Accredited Course).

Course dates for 2019


8-10 February
8-10 March
12-14 April
24-26 May
7-9 June
26-28 July
9-11 August
13-15 September
18-20 October
22-24 November

One Day Bushcraft Course

Weekend bushcraft courses UK Dorset Hampshire

9 February
9 March
13 April
25 May
8 June
27 July
10 August
14 September
19 October

23 November

Spoon Carving Course

Sharpen your bushcraft axe

30 March
21 September

River Spey Canoe Expedition

Seawater into drinking water
Takes your breath away.

27 – 31 May

Women Only One Day Bushcraft Course

Friction fire course

16 March
17 August

Friction Fire Lighting Course

family bushcraft course

17 March
18 August

Intermediate Bushcraft Course

Clothing for winter camping

28 September – 2 October