Welcome to this week’s blog post. This week we’re taking an in-depth look at that most impressive tool for friction fire lighting – the bow drill. We will be teaching you about the history of the bow drill, the theory behind its use, the component parts of the bow drill and the woods you need to make it. We will also be taking a look at natural cordage, troubleshooting and the mental attitude that it takes to succeed when using the bow drill.

Remember, you can read the whole thing or skip straight to the part that interests you the most.


The best way to get started with friction fire lighting is by taking our one-day friction fire lighting course.
Click here for more information and to book your spo
t.
Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

An introduction to the bow drill – history and mechanical advantage

Bow drills date back about as far as the history of human civilisation. It’s believed that they were used as far back as the 4th and 5th millennium and examples of drills were also found in parts of the Indus Valley Civilisation (around 3300 – 1900 BCE in Northwest South Asia). Bow drills, one of the earliest forms of friction fire lighting were also used by native Americans, Eskimos and aborigines ins Alaska and Northern Canada.

While other friction fire lighting methods, such as the fire plough, potentially date back even earlier the bow drill gives the user a major mechanical advantage – in that the cord used with the bow turns the drill, rather than the drill being turned by the user’s hands.

If you’re not yet familiar with the basics of the bow drill then have a quick look at our blog –  introduction to friction fire lighting.

Why the UK focus? 

With this blog, we’re focusing on making and using a bow drill in the UK – where we are based.  That means the woods and cordage that we’re looking at will be readily available in the UK.

If you would like to learn more about friction fire lighting then sign up to our one day course.
Click here for more information and to book.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

The theory behind the bow drill

The theory behind the bow drill is similar to the theory behind all friction fire lighting methods.  That is, grinding two combustible materials together until the friction takes the material beyond its auto-ignition temperature – creating an ember which is then used to ignite timber.  

Making your bow drill – component parts and wood


In the section below we will teach you how to make a bow drill, covering the component parts, suitable woods (and how to identify them), how to carve the hearth, the drill, and the bearing block. We will also provide you with an introduction to using natural cordage.

The component parts of the bow drill

The bow drill is composed of four main parts – the drill, the hearth, the bow and the bearing block. Take a look at our blog on an introduction to friction fire lighting where we introduce you to these components. Don’t worry – we’ll cover them in more detail below.

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

The different parts of the bow drill.



The drill

The drill should be around 20cm in length and between 2cm and 3cm in diameter and as straight as possible. The end of the drill that will be in contact with the hearth needs to be carved into a blunt point; while the end that is in contact with the bearing block needs to be carved to a sharper point – this will help to reduce the friction between the drill and the bearing block.

The hearth

The hearth is essentially a rectangular block. It should be made of the same wood as the drill and about as thick as the diameter of the drill, around 40mm wide and 30cm long.

The bow

We will be looking at the cordage needed for the bow in more detail further on in this blog. The body of the bow itself can be made of any wood that you have at hand. Unlike the wood that you would make a hunting bow out of the wood for the bowdrill needs to have as little spring in it as possible.  It needs to be slightly curved and should measure the length of your fingertips to sternum.

The bearing block

Carve the bearing block so that it fits comfortably in your hand. It can be made of any wood that you have at hand, even a stone with an indent will do.

Suitable woods for your bow drill  

Choosing a suitable wood is key to success when it comes to using a bow drill. The woods listed below are not an exhaustive list but a small sample of those that might be suitable when practicing bow drill in the UK.

  • Elder
  • Field Maple
  • Willow
  • Hazel
  • Birch
  • Sycamore

Identifying suitable woods for your bow drill

Bushcraft is all about living with nature, not about surviving despite it. One of the key bushcraft skills that anyone can have is the ability to identify the surrounding flora and fauna. This is not an exhaustive guide but a brief run through of how to identify the trees listed above.  

If you would like to learn more about friction fire lighting then sign up to our one day course.
Click here for more information and to book.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft


A note on wood: don’t take live wood. Look for dead wood that hasn’t started to decay yet, it should break free from the tree with relative ease – no need to use a knife.


Elder (sambucus nigra)
 

Sambucus Nigra


Leaves are feather shaped with around  5 -7 miniature leaflets. The edge of each of these is serrated and there may be what feels like hairs on the underside. Bark, on the more mature trees, takes on a deeply furrowed and cork-like appearance.

Field Maple (Acer campestre)


Acer campestreNative to the UK Field Maple trees can grow to up to 2o metres and live for up to 350 years. A deciduous tree, the leaves of a field maple are small, dark green and shiny with five lobes and rounded teeth. These fade to yellow before dropping off in the autumn.  Their bark is light brown and flaky and becomes corky with age. The twigs are slender brown and in autumn have small grey leaf buds that grow on long stems.

Willows (Salices)

Salix fragilis

Willow (Salix singular or Salice plural for those of us who like Latin) is a varied and complex genus with many different species recognised.  The Salix fragilis crack willow (pictured) is one of Britain’s largest native willows. Mature trees grow to around 25 metres, the bark is dark brown and as it ages deep fissures appear. The leaves on mature trees are hairless and shiny on the top, catkins will appear before the leaves.  

Hazel (Corylus avellana)


Native to the UK, Hazel is one of the most useful trees out there for bushcraft. In ancient mythology, a hazel rod is supposed to protect against evil spirits and the tree itself was, in medieval times, considered a symbol of fertility.  Male and female leaves live on the same tree, yellow male catkins appear around February before the leaves do. Hazel is often confused with Elm, however,  the leaves of hazel are soft to the touch – while elm leaves are roughly hairy.  

Birch – Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

Betula pendula

There are many types of Birch trees in the UK, one of the most useful in terms of bushcraft is the Silver Birch (Betula pendula). Mature trees can reach 30 metres in height, the bark is a white/silver colour and the leaves are small and triangular with a tooth edge – these are typically green but fade to yellow in the autumn.  

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus)

Acer pseudoplatanus

The sycamore is a non-native species to the UK. Though having been introduced at some point in the middle ages it is now naturalised. Mature trees can grow to around 35 metres and their lifespan can stretch to 400 years. The bark on mature trees becomes cracked and forms plates when it ages. On younger trees the bark is pinkish/grey and smooth to the touch.

Making your bow drill – carving

This next section is going to talk about how to carve a bow drill. Remember though that practice makes perfect – so keep trying even if it doesn’t work the first time around.

If you would like to learn more about friction fire lighting then sign up to our one day course.
Click here for more information and to book.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

Carving the drill

When carving the drill piece of your set be sure to start with the straightest piece of wood that you can possibly find.  It should be around 2-3cm in diameter and around 20 cm long. The end that will be in contact with the hearth should be carved into a blunt point while the end that will be in contact with the bearing block should be carved into a narrower point (though not too sharp).

Carving the hearth

Square off three of the four sides to form a rectangle around 4 cm 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.

Carving the bearing block

The bearing block should fit comfortably in your hand with a notch in which the top of the drill will sit.

Making the bow

The bow can, unlike the drill and the bearing block be made of any wood. It need not be springy, like an archery bow, but should be slightly curved.

Types of cordage

Cordage is key when it comes to your bow drill, earlier this month we looked at making a bow drill using paracord but today we’re going to look at using natural cordage.

An introduction to natural cordage


Natural cordage is, of course, the way that the bow drill would be have been used by people in primitive times.


Natural cordage from plants

Plants can be used for natural cordage with the bow drill. In the UK the stems of nettles can be used but creating cordage from nettles can be really rather labour intensive. However, making natural cordage from nettles can also be a rewarding experience. To learn more about how to make natural cordage have a look at our blog here . 

Natural cordage from animals

Sinew is one of the strongest natural cordages available. The tendon sinews of game that you’ve trapped or hunted, of course only in a survival situation, are are the most apt source of natural cordage. The sinew will need to be dried and prepared before it is ready for use. To learn more about natural cordage why not come on our weekend bushcraft course – click here for more information.  

Using your bow drill

Using your bow drill takes a lot of effort, both physical and mental but succeeding with it is highly rewarding. Here are a few tips to help you along your way.

Prepare your fire first 

Fire lighting with a bow drill should be approached in the same way as fire lighting with sparks. You need to prepare your tinder and kindling with the utmost care.


If you would like to learn more about friction fire lighting then sign up to our one day course.
Click here for more information and to book.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft


Troubleshooting

Making fire by friction takes a lot of time and a lot of practice, one of the best ways to learn how to make fire by friction is to get help from an expert instructor but if you want more advice read our blog on bow drill troubleshooting.


Mental attitude towards friction fire lighting

Friction fire lighting is not easy; maintaining a positive and strong mental attitude is key to success – this is particularly true when trying to light a fire by friction in the wet weather.  

 

Getting children involved with friction fire lighting

Friction fire lighting is a great way to get children started with bushcraft. While it might be a bit much to expect children to succeed with friction fire lighting from the off (or for anyone to do so for that matter) it can be a good way to show them elementary elements of friction fire lighting. For example, you could introduce children to tree and plant identification, cordage selection and even morals around trapping and skinning animals.

 

If you would like to learn more about friction fire lighting then sign up to our one day course.
Click here for more information and to book.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

Friction fire lighting might be one of the most important bushcraft skills. Along with shelter building and the ability to source food and water, friction fire lighting is one of the basic building blogs to not only survival but also living comfortably in the woods.

The best way to learn friction fire lighting is to sign-up for a course with an experienced bushcraft instructor. Wildway Bushcraft offers a one-day friction fire lighting course – we run these courses whenever you like – just get in touch and let us know when suits you. Find out more information here.

In this blog, we introduce you to friction fire lighting, provide a brief history of this age-old skills, teach you some tips for identifying suitable woods and how to get children involved in friction fire lighting. Feel free to read the whole blog or skip to the section that interests you the most.



Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

Friction Fire lighting the origin of civilisation

Friction fire lighting is nearly as old as humankind. Fire gave us the origin of our civilisation, evidence of deliberate exploitations of areas for fires dating back nearly 1.5 million years have been found in Africa, there are even suggestions that friction fire lighting could go back to an earlier date than this.

Two types of friction fire lighting techniques

Essentially, there are two types of friction fire drills, that is the bow drill and the hand drill. We will be looking at the bow drill in more detail later this month, so keep your eyes open for that blog post. In it, we will show you how to source wood, carve it into the shape that you want and it will even take a look at using natural cordage.


If you would like to 
learn more about friction fire lighting sign up to our one day course.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

 

What’s the difference between the hand drill and the bow drill

The bow drill is, as the name suggests, a technique of friction fire lighting which involves  ‘drilling’ one piece of wood into another by means of spinning it using a ‘bow’. A hand drill, again as the name would suggest, involves using your hands (as opposed to the mechanical advantage of the bow) to drill one piece of wood into another.

 

Woods for friction fire lighting

Friction fire lighting begins and ends with choosing the correct woods. Choosing an unsuitable wood will mean that your efforts are doomed to failure before they’ve even begun. In the sections below we look at suitable woods for the bow drill and the hand drill.

Woods for bow drill

In this blog, we’re only going to be focusing on European woods. The best ones for bow drills are;

Elder
Field Maple
Willow
Hazel
Oak
Popular
Yew
Sycamore  

(this is not an exhaustive list and there are lots of other woods that could be suitable for making a bow drill).

It’s important not to use green wood when making your bow drill, these are too wet and won’t help you to produce heat. Ideally, you need dead wood that has not yet started to decay.

 

Oak tree for friction fire lightiing

Oak makes a good wood for friction fire lighting

 


Woods for hand drill

The following European woods are suitable for making a hand drill. Experiment with different combinations and see what works for you and of course, what is available in the environment in which you’re practicing.

Elder
Juniper
Pussy willow
Sycamore

Juniper for friction fire lighting

Juniper makes a good wood for hand drills

Getting started with the bow drill

Remember, practice makes perfect. One of the best ways of getting started or even perfecting your technique is to take part in a friction fire lighting course.

                                      Take part in our one-day friction fire lighting course – find out more here and start making fire by friction.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

Anatomy of the bow drill

Not including the bark slab on which to collect the embers the bow drill is essentially composed of four main parts – the bearing block, the drill, the bow and the hearth.

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


The hearth and the drill should be carved from the woods that we’ve discussed above, the bow and bearing block can be made of any wood that you want to use.


The drill

The drill should be as straight as possible and ideally be between 2cm and 3cm in diameter and 20cm or so in length. The end that is making contact with the hearth e.g. the end that is creating friction needs to be a blunt point in order to maximise contact. The other end of the drill e.g. the end that is in contact with the bearing block needs to be carved into a sharp point – this will help it to reduce the friction against the bearing blog, making it easier for you.

The hearth

The hearth is essentially a rectangular block made of the same wood as the drill. It needs to be about 5mm thick, 40mm wide and a minimum of 30 cm long.

The bow

The bow can be made of any wood that you have at hand. It shouldn’t have much spring in it, and should be a bit longer than the length of your arm. For the purposes of this blog we’re going to assume that you’re using paracord – but we will be looking at natural cordage in next week’s blog so stay tuned.

The bearing block

The bearing block needs to be carved to fit comfortably in your hand. As with the bow it can be made of any wood that you have at hand. Carve a small depression in it for the pointed end of the drill that we discussed earlier.

Preparing your bow drill set

The next step is preparing the hearth board. Carve a small depression into the board about 4cm from the end (it doesn’t matter which end). Using the drill (see the photo at the start of this section) rotate the drill until the depression that you have recently carved begins smoking.

Carving the notch

The next step is critical to success. Cutting a notch in the hearth enables the hot dust that you are creating in the depression of the hearth to gather and collect in one place. The notch should be a basic V shape, extending from the outside of the board to the depression.  Place a piece of bark under the notch, allow the embers to collect there and then you’re ready to ignite your tinder.

If you’re having trouble getting an ember with your bow drill then read our blog on troubleshooting your bow drill technique.

 

Getting started with the hand drill

As with the bow drill, practice makes perfect for the hand drill. One of the best ways of getting started or to perfect your technique is to join us on our one day friction fire lighting course.


Join us on our one-day friction fire lighting course – click here.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

The hand drill works on the same principles as the bow drill e.g. with friction. While the hand drill is easier to make than the bow drill,  it does lack  mechanical advantage and therefore is harder to master.


The drill

The length and width of your drill will come down to personal preference, experience and the type of wood that you are using. The drill should be around 40 cm to 75 cm long with a diameter somewhere between 9mm and 13mm. The drill, whatever the length, needs to be as straight as possible.


The hearth

The hearth should be made of one of the woods that we identified earlier in this blog. It should be made in a similar fashion to the hearth of the bow drill but made slightly shorter. Ideally, the hearth shouldn’t be too thick, around 1.5 cm should be enough.


The theory

Spin the drill between your hands applying a downward pressure into the hearth. As the smoke appears, increase the speed with which you are rotating the drill until you have produced a small ember.


If you want to learn more about friction fire lighting sign up to our one day course.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

 

How to practice at home

A garden then it is a great place to practice friction fire lighting before heading out into the woods. When walking, look for suitable materials – practice carving them into the correct shape and applying the techniques at home.

Children and friction fire lighting

Friction fire lighting is a fun way to introduce children to more advanced elements of bushcraft. This does’nt mean that children have to make their own bow drills but you can start by introducing them to the appropriate trees.

 

 

Learn more about friction fire lighting – sign up for our one day course here.

Friction fire lighting from WIldway Bushcraft

Over the next four weeks, we will be looking at fires, fire lighting methods, materials, and tips. In this week’s blog, we’re taking a look at fire lighting in the wind and rain. We’ll talk through what you can do to prepare before leaving home, show you how to make feather sticks and teach you how to use a fire steel and birch bark to get your fire going.

We’re not going to be looking at friction fire lighting this week – but keep checking back in as we’ll be teaching you all about friction fire lighting and bow drills later in the month.

Remember, you can read the whole blog or skip to the sections that interest you using the links below:

Before we look at how to light fires in the wind and rain,  here’s a quick recap of what you should know when fire lighting in the UK.

A quick recap – fire lighting in the UK – safety and the law

 

Fire lighting in the UK - what you need to know



Remember, whenever you’re practicing bushcraft or camping in the UK you need to abide by the bylaws of the area.


Fire lighting and the law – England, Wales, Northern Ireland

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you must have the landowner’s permission before lighting a fire.


Fire lighting and the law – Scotland

In Scotland, the outdoor access code states, “wherever possible, use a stove rather than light an open fire. If you do wish to light an open fire, keep it small, under control, and supervised – fires that get out of control can cause major damage, for which you might be liable. Never light an open fire during prolonged dry periods or in areas such as forests, woods, farmland, peaty ground or near to buildings or in cultural heritage sites where damage can be easily caused. Heed all advice at times of high risk. Remove all traces of an open fire before you leave.”

However, it is not just the law that needs to be taken into consideration when fire lighting.


Fire lighting – be wary of the conditions

Coniferous trees

Assuming that you’ve satisfied the above criteria then be mindful of your surroundings; note if the ground and surrounding area is particularly dry or going through a period of drought. Also look out for the potential of root fires. These are accidental fires caused by setting alight to shallow root systems – doing so can easily cause a fire to rapidly spread – this is a particular case with coniferous trees. We will talk more about location and preparation later on but try to clear the ground under where you’re about to have a fire, if the ground is peaty (such as on Dartmoor) then don’t light a fire at all – it has the potential to smolder underground and transform into a forest fire. Elevate your fire off the ground if at all possible and look out for any low-hanging branches above your fire which could ignite.
 

Fire lighting begins with preparation

The key to successful fire lighting, as with most things in life, is preparation. In this next section, we’re going to look at a few things that you can prepare to help you light a fire in the wind and rain.  

Preparing your fire lighting kit before your trip

Picture the scene, you went out walking the weather didn’t hold out and it has poured down. You had a great time but now you’re wet, your kit is wet and everything around you is wet. Luckily the rain has stopped and you’re back at your campsite (where you have the landowner’s permission to light a fire) and you’re keen to get the campfire roaring, dry out and start cooking your food. Here are some items that you can prepare at home to help you make this process much simpler.

Remember, preparation is not just about kit – practice these techniques and using this kit while in an ideal environment and you will be better prepared to use them in adverse conditions.

Tinder Boxes

Tinder boxes have a long and rich history. Flint and iron pyrites were used throughout Europe since pre-history. The famous  Otzi or Tyrolean Iceman, a well preserved natural mummy thought to date from around 3500 BCE,  was found carrying fungus (for tinder) and iron pyrites. Later, as we passed through the iron age,  basic firesteels came to replace the iron pyrites. Tinder boxes, which were used domestically as well as out on the trail, continued to be in common usage until the 18th century.

Preparing your tinderbox 

Here are some key considerations when preparing your tinderbox. Remember to choose a tin, look for the type that used to be considered an old cigarette tin. Make sure that it has a tight seal and will fit easily in your backpack. Remember, it is always worth carrying more than one method of fire lighting – consider taking matches (in a waterproof container), a firesteel and a cigarette lighter.


Producing sparks using a fire steel

A tinderbox should consist of a method of producing sparks and something to catch the sparks – e.g. tinder.
By far the best tool for producing sparks (in our opinion) is the LightMyFire Swedish firesteel – these can be picked up on Amazon for under a tenner. These firesteels, and many others, typically comes with a striker. If not you can fashion your own – part of an old hacksaw blade will work well. If you’ve a carbon steel knife then you can also use the back of this knife to strike your firesteel.


Catching sparks – natural materials

If natural materials are easy to hand then be sure to add them to your tinderbox before you set off.  If not, be sure to keep an eye out for them as you journey towards your campsite.  Some of the best tinders are dry grass, dead bracken and even bits of old birds’ nests (it should go without saying that you should only ever use empty birds’ nests – ideally those that have fallen to the ground). Other tinders include shavings from woods such as cedar bark, clematis bark and of course – every bushcraft person’s best friend – birch bark.

Learn how to light a fire using a fire steel and birch back

Watch our video here or click play on the video below. 


Catching sparks – other options

There are a few other things that you can put in your tinderbox to help you light a fire in the rain and wind. One of the favourites of which is cotton wool balls and Vaseline. Buy cotton wool pads and a small metal tin of vaseline (the type that you can use to treat chapped lips). If these are being stored in with natural tinder then it is best to prepare them at camp, however, if you wish to carry a separate tin for vaseline and cotton wool balls then you can prepare them before you leave the house. In order to prepare your cotton wool balls pull the cotton wool apart (to access the soft wool itself), then smear liberal doses of vaseline on the cotton wool; roll these into balls and you’re ready to go. These will easily ignite when showered with sparks from your fire steel.

Preparing your kit – matches

Matches are an easy and quick way of starting a fire. Choose strike anywhere matches (e.g. not the safety ones) when heading out into the woods. One of the best ways of keeping them dry is to remove the striking strip from the packet of matches, cut it into a circle and glue it to the inside of an old film canister (admittedly these are getting harder to find!) stick the matches inside the canister and seal it tight. For a belt and braces approach you can then put this canister in a zip-lock bag. It can be a good idea to carry several such canisters in different places – for example in your jacket pocket, side pocket and if there’s room in your tinderbox.

Practice makes perfect 

Remember, practice these techniques in as many conditions as you can while close to home – even if it’s just going out in the back garden. After all, practice makes perfect and you don’t want to be learning while you’re struggling to light a fire.

 


Practice your fire lighting techniques on a weekend bushcraft course with Wildway Bushcraft – find out more here.

Wildway Bushcraft fire lighitng course

Preparing your fire

For the purposes of this next section, we’re going to divide the blog into two parts- lighting fires using sparks (including matches) in adverse weather and lighting stoves in the same conditions.

Preparing your fire: location 

When it comes to lighting a fire in the wind and rain then the location is key. As we covered in our blog organisation in bushcraft, you should look for an area that is close to the materials that you will need for your fire. In addition, be sure to avoid shallow root systems and low hanging branches. In an ideal situation, you would also place your fire within relatively easy reach of a source of water.  Look for natural surroundings, such as rocks which could act as a shelter from the rain.

A note on rocks – if you’re placing your fire close to or on rocks then avoid flint and those that have been saturated with water (such as rocks from a riverbed) as these are likely to explode if they get too hot.

Preparing your fire: materials

When gathering materials for your fire in wet weather you may need to go slightly further afield from your immediate area to find kindling that is suitable.  Look around for kindling which may be drier, though being sheltered from the elements.

Feathersticks

One of the best tools for lighting a fire in adverse conditions are feathersticks. Being able to make these is a key skill which will serve you well in most conditions. Watch our video below to learn how to make feathersticks.

Learn how to carve feather sticks – watch our video here  

 


Kindling

When attempting to light a fire in wet and/or windy conditions it is worth doubling, or even trebling, up the amount of kindling that you would normally use to light a fire. Only add more wood when you see flames coming through the previous layer. If the wind/rain is particularly strong then it can be worth building a temporary canopy using materials to hand over the top of your fire.

Practice your fire lighting techniques on a weekend bushcraft course with Wildway Bushcraft – find out more here.

Wildway Bushcraft fire lighitng course

 

How to light a stove in the wind and rain

Lighting a gas or a meth stove in the wind and rain has some principles in common with lighting a fire in the same conditions. Look for natural features which can act as a shelter for your stove or try to construct a windbreak around it. If using rocks for the purposes of creating this windshield then avoid those that have been submerged in water or flint, as both of these are likely to explode if exposed to heat for a consistent amount of time – though this is a smaller risk with gas stoves than it is with fire.

If great care is taken then your stove can be used in the awning space of your tent – though obviously this is a fire risk and is not recommended by the manufacturer.

Tips for striking matches

Striking a match in the wind and rain is certainly a skill. Though it may be common practice to strike the match away from you when lighting candles and the like, it is better in bushcraft to strike towards you. This will allow you to cup your hands around the match and protect it from the wind.  Hold the match vertically, fire after all burns upwards, and then guide it carefully towards the flame.

 

Practice your fire lighting techniques on a weekend bushcraft course with Wildway Bushcraft 

find out more here.

Wildway Bushcraft fire lighitng course

Making Charcoal

Charcoal has a huge variety of uses, from purifying drinking water, building a fire, a dye, making your own ink and has even been used as medicine. You can also use it to dehydrate something in order to preserve it. In bushcraft of course, the most common use for charcoal is to build a campfire. But you don’t need to head to the shops to get it, making charcoal is quite easy.

What is charcoal?

Very simply, charcoal is wood that has had all the unstable compounds burned out of it, leaving carbon behind. Carbonizing wood requires fire and the ability to cut air off from that fire. This means the fire will go out after absorbing the volatile compounds, but will not entirely consume the wood. Once the fire goes out, you are left with charcoal.

You can make charcoal in different ways:

– By using a pit where the fire gradually builds up and then smothered.
– In a clamp or pile, which gradually smothers as it burns.
– Using a kiln with the charcoal wood in a container. Once surrounded by fire, the volatile gases go into the outer fire to improve the burn.

Charcoal making guide

Here is one simple method of making charcoal:

1. Choose a clear site with no stray roots nearby and build a fire.

2. Find a metal container with a loose-fitting lid. This will act as your cooker. Then cut a small hole in the lid. This is very important because as the wood burns inside the container, it will give off methane gas, which is highly flammable. If you allow the methane to build up too much, it could cause an explosion. Take a coat hanger and wrap it around the container with the hook on the top. This will create a cage, which you can use to easily move the container in and out of the fire.

3. Choose and prepare your wood. You might have to rely on what wood you can find nearby. However, you will need to think about what you plan to use the charcoal for. There are two basic kinds of wood, hardwood and softwood. Hardwood (oak, walnut, hickory, and beech) charcoals tend to burn hotter and hold together well. Softwood (pine, willow or poplar) charcoals are better at absorbing things.

4. You will need to chop the wood into small chips to put into the cooker. Use your axe to split each piece as many times as possible. When you’ve split the big pieces into thin pieces, chop them up into small twig-sized pieces.

5. Put the little pieces of wood into the cooker. Put the lid on and use a stick to move the cooker into the fire. You can also use the stick to make sure the cooker stays right in the flame. As it begins cooking, white smoke will come out of the top hole and under the lid. After a while, this smoke will become highly flammable. Once the smoke stops being flammable, your charcoal is ready. To test this, put a burning stick up to the hole on the top of the container.

6. Take it out of the fire immediately, but do not remove the lid just yet. If the charcoal gets exposed to the air too soon, it will become white ash. Wait for the container to become completely cool before removing the lid. Bend back the loose wire on the cage and pull the container free. Check the contents. There should not be any wood pieces left and very little or no ash. To test it, take a big piece and snap it. You want it to snap easily.
Find out more about making charcoal

To perfect your charcoal making technique, or you are a complete beginner, sign up to our axe skills and charcoal making course, where you will receive hands-on tuition from the experts at Wildway Bushchraft. Get in touch for more information or visit our courses page to find out what else we have in store this year.

 


Learn more bushcraft skills on our weekend
bushcraft course. 

Click here to learn more and book your space.

 

 

 

If you have caught the bushcraft bug and keen to get outside and set up camp, you should make sure you know how to bushcraft responsibly. Things like land ownership, laws and bylaws and regulations are all important to find out about, before you pitch your tent.

In the UK, there are no specific laws relating to bushcraft, but there are laws relevant to bushcraft activities like knives, fires, foraging, fishing, trapping plus access and camping. Here are our some things you should know to make sure you bushcraft responsibly.

Camping and fires

You must get the permission of landowner of the site that you are planning to use to camp or light fires. Most land in the UK is either privately owned or owned by local authorities. In many cases, landowner’s permission is needed to be able to even just go onto their land. The Forestry Commission may be able to help you find suitable campsites. If they don’t give you permission, then just keep trying to find somewhere until you locate a suitable area. It will be worth all the effort! You may find it helpful to familiarise yourself with The Countryside Code before you set out. There are many public foothpaths and bridleways criss-crossing England and these public rights of ways are marked on Ordnance Survey maps. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 also shows established areas of open access land where access by foot is allowed.

Foraging

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 covers all of the UK and states that it is against the law to remove any wild plant if you do not have the prior permission of the landowner. There is special protection for plants in areas known as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and National Nature Reserves. In areas that you have legal access to, you can pick fungi, flowers, berries, nuts and leaves, but you still need permission from the landowner to dig out roots, or to remove an entire plant. You should only take foliage and flowers from large areas of a plant, and you really must only pick what you actually need.

Trapping and snaring

There are legal restrictions with using snares. You must always get the landowner’s permission beforehand and follow the codes of practice set out by Defra. Even with permission from the landowners, you may still not be outside the relevant legislation for some activities like trapping animals and removing protected plants.

Knives

Before you head out anywhere with a knife, you should familiarise yourself with the current law. The laws can vary depending on the particular type of knife, your age and the circumstances you want to have it for.

Don’t let the regulations put you off enjoying your next bushcraft experience, there is no better place than the great outdoors. Before you head out, check out our Top 10 bushcraft kit essentials.

Natural Cord Bushcraft

Bramble Double Twist, Bramble, Yucca and Nettle

Natural cordage is both vital to survival skills and a satisfying and rewarding process in itself. For those wanting to develop their wilderness skills, the process of making natural cordage is an essential step to the further construction of fishing line and bowstrings for hunting, for lashing poles for shelters and bundles and thousand other uses that can make the difference between a pleasant bushcraft experience and a miserable one. Whilst foraging is often seen as simply the art of gleaning food from nature, bushcraft skills such as producing cordage from the natural environment allow for a far wider range of foraging experiences, as well as providing the opportunity to develop an amazing ability to make a cord or string from unlikely appearing materials.  

Plants

Brambles and grasses offer a good range of cordage possibilities, although the preferred plant-based cordage in the UK is probably nettle, partly because they are so readily available for so much of the year and partly because nettle offers a superior cordage owing to the length of fibre available and the ease of working with the nettle fibre. Nettle makes a cord or braid that can be used effectively for most purposes and can even be woven to make a durable if coarse fabric – as is proved by the fact that World War I knapsacks were woven from nettle fibre!

Nettle-based cordage

Remember that if you’re working with nettles you need to avoid the stinging hairs which are found on the underside of the leaves and the stem. You can rub these off the plant completely while wearing gloves, then tear off the leaves.
Crush the stem along its length using your fingers, but don’t use a stone as this can damage the fibres. Using your fingernail or a knife, slide into the end of the stem and open it up like a book so it can be laid flat.
Scrape out the inner fibres to leave the outer fibres of the nettle which will serve as your cordage. This can be used straight away, or you can thin the stem down by tearing or slicing it lengthways to create a narrower fibre.
Allow your cordage to dry either in the sun or by putting it near a camp fire – this is vital as nettle, in particular, shrinks when dried and you need that process to happen before you use it.
Nettle cordage may then need to be soaked to prevent it becoming brittle, and to strengthen it further you can twist your nettle fibre. Simply find the half-way point of your cordage and fold it in two. By twisting one half of the stem with your free hand and then allowing it to twine itself round the other half of the stem you’ll massively increase the tensile strength of your cordage.

IMG_0883

Tree-based cordage

Complete stems from a range of trees can be used as withies – the most successful trees for this purpose are hazel, willow, birch, elm, poplar, and ash – however any tree that produces thin pliable stems can be used; where such stems are short, withies can be woven together to make a relatively pliable withy which is good for lashing or adding structural stability to structures.

Inner bark, known as bast, is a more substantial product but requires a greater range of skills and more time. The plus side of tree based cordage is that it lasts longer and is much more durable. Begin by locating a suitable tree: goat willow (aka pussy willow), crack willow, oak, elm and lime are great trees for bast cordage. Lime was in fact the the chosen fibre for cordage and was used across Europe until hemp became more readily available in the 15th century. Even roots can be used to make bindings – Scots Pine is superb for this purpose, but of course you need to take care that you’re not going to damage the tree if you grub to extract some of the smaller, younger roots.

If you’re going for bast-based fibres you’ll have the best raw materials for cordage but to actually produce the finest cordage you need to use a softening method such as beating, boiling, heating, retting or smoking.

Begin by stripping the bark from your chosen tree stems by slitting the bark down the centre and peeling it off carefully. Then prepare the bark using one of the methods describe above – retting and smoking in particular require more expertise and hands-on demonstration than we can cover effectively online, so why not book one of our Dorset bushcraft courses and discover the best techniques for yourself?

IMG_0886Once made, bast cordage is great to work with and we can show you how to use it in a hundred ways to add to your survival skills experience.

 

On our Bushcraft courses we teach game preparation and get students to prep their own food so they know how to, should the need ever arise in the wilderness.

This is a walk through guide on how to skin and butcher a rabbit for food. You can learn more techniques like this by signing up to a Wildway Bushcraft courseUsing this method will also allow you to keep the pelt in the most useful condition so you can use it for making items such as slippers and bags.

We will start at the point where you have got your hands on a rabbit. Assuming the rabbit looks fit and healthy, you will need to kill it.

You will want to do this as quickly and as painlessly as possible, showing the utmost respect to the animal. You are aiming for a humane dispatch, this can be achieved by giving the rabbit two sharp strong blows to the back of its head. This can be done with either your hand in a chopping motion or by using a good solid round of timber. Take your time and be firm to ensure you get it right the first time. To check the rabbit is dead, check the corneal reflex. You do this by poking the animal in the eye. If you get any reaction from the eye, the rabbit is not dead. If this is the case, hit it again, hard.

So we now have a dead, healthy looking rabbit. Now what?Bushcraft rabbit

Empty the bladder of the animal by pushing down on the rabbits belly and moving downwards as you do so. You may see urine being expelled; if the rabbit went to the loo before you caught it you may not!

Take a knife, place the rabbit on its back and using the tip of your knife, carefully cut upwards from the rabbits belly button area to its ribcage. Be careful not to nick the rabbits guts, this is a sure fire way to taint the meat.

Once you have made the cut, use your hand to remove the offal and guts of the rabbit. Good. Job done!

Now snap the rabbits back legs at what would be the knee on a human. Once you have broken the bone cut it off with your knife.rabbit skinning

Do the same with the front paws. You now have 4 lucky rabbits feet!

Turning the rabbit on its back, use your fingers to separate the skin from the meat. Keep pulling and working the skin away until you have got to its back. Now do the same from the other side. You will now have a rabbit hand bag!DSCF0476

Continue removing the skin towards the back legs and pull the skin off the back legs. This can be quite tough so be firm.

Once you have done this, do the same with the front. Again be firm and and it will come off.DSCF0479

You should at this point have a naked rabbit with its own fur as a cloak. Remove any last bits of skin until you are up to the neck area. When you are, firmly twist off the head and pull it away. You will now be left with a rabbit hand puppet.DSCF0481DSCF0480

 

 

 Using your knife, cut the shoulders off of the rabbit. They are not attached by a bone or joint so they will come off easily.

Next, spread the hind legs and break the ball and socket joint. Cut the animals “bottom” out using a V shape cut where the tail was. This will remove the anal passage and any droppings yet to be passed plus the scent glands which if left in can smell foul when the meat is cooking. When you have done this, you will be able to cut off the legs at the joint just as you did with the front legs. 

Remove the skirts from the animal –  these can be turned in to rabbit jerky by adding salt and drying them out over the smoke of your fire. You will now be able to break the spine just after the rib cage and cut though the rabbit to remove the loins – these are the best bits in my opinion!

Use the ribs to create a stock and slowly boil up the joints to create a rabbit stew.DSCF0486

I hope you found this useful. If you wish to learn more about game prep and other bushcraft skills then check out our bushcraft courses held in Dorset and Hampshire.

 

Learn more bushcraft skills on our weekend
bushcraft course. 

Click here to learn more and book your space.

An essential survival skill and a great learning experience

Four thousand years ago the ancient Egyptians were using hearth sticks to light their domestic fires. This long history of friction fire lighting continues to the present day, through Tamil Nadu fire drills and the foot-powered drills used by the Lhota Naga people in India. The average Masai warrior won’t just hunt his dinner, he’ll use friction fire lighting to cook it – a skill that most modern people have never developed.

Fire lighting has become easy: matches and lighters make it straightforward to start a blaze wherever we are, but suppose you didn’t have the necessary supplies to hand? Learning how to light a fire with only naturally available materials is not just a life skill, it’s a superb way of exploring how your body functions, because it requires using tiny motor skills that many of us lost sight of when our playground days were over.

This combination of skills, expertise and selection of materials is called bushcraft and it’s what we specialise in teaching. Our fun and relaxed environment in the beautiful countryside of Dorset and Hampshire makes a great natural classroom. Joining us for a bushcraft course will give you an amazing insight into how our environment can provide us with everything we need to survive, even if our modern lives have not given us the chance to develop key bushcraft skills.

Learning to make fire is what separated the human from the animal, and may have led to all the great innovations our race has made since, from developing language to landing on the moon! Wildway Bushcraft can teach you how to prepare and use a fire starting bow drill in a single day – so that you can experience the thrill of creating fire from nothing.

A bow drill is the most efficient tool for friction fire generation, and we’ll teach you how to select the right materials such as Hazel and Ivy which occur naturally in the wild and are easy to work with. There’s no point developing a skill that you couldn’t actually use if necessary, so we focus on teaching with commonly available native trees and plants.

We teach you how to identify the right wood, what the difference is between standing and lying dead wood and why it matters to your fire-starting abilities and how to make a spindle and a hearth from dry dead wood to maximise your ability to create fire. After that we help you determine how to measure your bow and which woods to use to make it strong but light, so you can operate it for the necessary length of time.

Making a bearing block and gathering tinder are also key skills and help you build your aptitude for basic natural engineering and foraging.

Is it starting to sound complicated? It’s not. Our expert survival skills tuition will help you find your feet in the wild and our bushcraft students find they easily come to grips with their surroundings and find ways to use what nature provides, including their own bodies, you’ll find the same as you develop your own bushcraft skills.

Why not call us today to sign up for one of our friction fire lighting days?

photo 1

In the bushcraft world, fire is one of the main things people want to master. This is easier when its nice and dry and sunny but much more difficult when it is chucking it down with rain. There is a paradox with making fire. The greater the need, the harder it is to achieve.

This is where feather sticks come in. They require quite a lot of practice to perfect but a good quality feather stick will light from a simple spark and can be a life line if you are short on dry tinder and kindling.

So how do we go about producing a feather stick? First of all you will need a sharp knife. Here at Wildway Bushcraft we use the Bear Blade 4’’ Classic. These are a great all round bushcraft knife, made by a local guy in Dorset. We try where ever possible to support bushcraft in Dorset, working closely with local partners, Wildway Bushcraft believe our bushcraft courses are extra special because of this. But I digress!

Once you have a sharp knife, you need to find some dead wood. Wood from a dead standing tree is ideal. You will need to find a knot free piece approximately 30 to 40cm long and 5 cm in diameter. Once you have a suitable bit of wood you need to access the dry wood inside.

You do this by splitting the wood into quarters. Use your knife to batten though the wood. You should now have a triangular shaped piece of wood to create your feather stick.

Now comes the hard bit! I find it easier to sit down at this point and place the wood to my right side as I am right handed. Put one end on the ground or chopping block and place the other end close to the top of the outside of your thigh. I found this to be the best position for me but you will want to tweak it a bit to make yourself comfortable. Lock off your arm at the elbow and use your knife to shave down the wood by bending at the waist. This will give you steady smooth pressure and prevent the knife getting stuck in the wood.

You are aiming to create large curls of dry wood but be sure to leave them attached to the stick as you are going to be building the curls up over and over again until you have a large amount of large curls. When you are happy you have enough large curls, make some smaller ones further up the stick getting smaller and smaller as you move up the stick. At the end, you should have something that looks like this IMG_0081

You will want 2 or 3 of these to give yourself the best chance of getting your fire going. Remember maximise you chances when ever you can!

You should now have the makings of a good fire collect all the small sticks you can and prepare your fire as you would normally. The small curls will now take a spark and catch a flame. This will then light the larger curls and so on and so on, giving you a nice warm fire.

It is really rewarding to light a fire this way. The guys at Wildway Bushcraft are always carving feather sticks when they are not teaching lessons on our bushcraft courses as this is a skill that is often over looked. Once you have mastered this skill you will have a great tool in your bushcraft armoury and the confidence to create fire in the wettest of conditions.

All our bushcraft courses are held in Dorset so why not join us in the woods to learn much much more. After all, Wildway Bushcraft is about more than just survival!

Coming from the Gaelic bannach, bonnach or bhannag meaning ‘morsel’, Bannock Bread is a simple flatbread that originated in Scotland.

There are other opinions on where the word bannock came from, such as from the Latin word panicium which is thought by some to mean “baked dough”, however the actual translation means ‘to panic’. Now this could have some foundation in the fact that bannock is and was commonly used as a survival food. The other, and slightly better translation is from the Latin word panicus, which means ‘millet’ (a small seeded grass commonly used as a crop). However, the word

However, the word panicus was not thought to have been invented until the 1500’s, so you make up your own mind.

Bannock is not to be confused with Australian Damper. Bannock refers to any large round article baked or cooked from grain, whereas damper, is traditionally baked or cooked from wheat flour and water.

Bannock was taken to North America and Canada by the Scottish explorers and fur traders. Flour was a highly used commodity by the Hudson’s Bay Company and also the Northwest Company. This inevitably meant that the indigenous peoples of Canada and the Northern Great Plains eventually adopted bannock into their own cuisine.

Today there are an almost infinite amount of variations on this simple recipe of what is essentially flour and water. Bannock is a great source of carbohydrates, and often complimented high protein meals such as pemmican. More recently baking powder has been added to make the bread lighter and more suited to the changing palate of the modern world.

Bannock can be made entirely from foraged natural resources in the wilderness, if you are lucky enough to be in the right area and have the knowledge of which seeds or roots are safe to use in the correct way. Then seasonal fruits, nuts and maple, birch and also sycamore sap, can be used instead of, or with water for binding the ingredients.

The traditional way of cooking bannock is on a clach bhannag (Gaelic) which is a D-shaped flat-topped piece of sandstone that is put next to, and angled toward the fire. The stone was also sometimes heated directly on top of the hot coals.

Nowadays, bannock is more commonly associated with us bushcrafters, hikers and campers (sometimes used as a great survival food) also it’s a great food to get the kids onto campfire cooking, the next step on from marshmallows. The ease of preparation and the ability to use all manner of ingredients means that bannock is not only a simple, fun and communal food to make, but is a great source of nourishment. Bannock is as popular as ever in Canada too, even to the point where they have bannock restaurants over there, which is fantastic.

Here is the recipe that I have used as a base for many years. It is slightly elaborate, but I like it. I like to add seasonal fruit or nuts etc where possible, or just lavish it with luxurious ingredients such as chocolate chips, raisins and the like. As birch tapping season is practically upon us, I am going to try making bannock with the birch sap using different reductions I think.

Bannock:

  • 3 mugs of flour (any type)
  • 2 mugs of milk powder
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Enough water to make a nice thick dough
  • A little bit of fun.

The great thing is, you can add whatever else you like to the mix. I tend to add syrup, honey, raisins, nuts, or just about anything seasonal I can find around me.

Once you have a thick dough, make your patties up to roughly about the size of a scone, or you can fill the bottom of your pot if you prefer. Put them in your mess tin, fry pan, pot or whatever you have available (you can even make a board from some green wood if you wanted to and put it next to the fire, tilted up using a small log etc) put the ‘pot’ on some good embers and make sure you keep turning the bannock whilst cooking. Times will vary enormously, so just keep checking for a golden brown colour and that hollow sound when you tap them.

Let them cool for a while and then break them open being careful they’re not too hot still never cut them open with a knife, as this is said to bring bad luck.

A variation on this recipe, although some people would argue that it is actually damper, is to twist the dough around a nice thick green stick (about the thickness of a permanent marker) and cook above the embers or near the fire until golden brown with a nice hollow sound when tapped. When cooked and cooled, remove the stick and fill the void with some nice hedgerow jam, yummy!

One other way of using the ‘twists’ is as an amazing hotdog bap. Go on ….. you know you wanna try it!

Our favourite way at Wildway bushcraft is to bake it then pour loads of Maple Syrup on and leave it to soak in!

Anyways, hope you take away something from this article and practice your fire lighting so that you can have fun coming up with some impressive recipes of your own. 

 

Learn more bushcraft techniques on our
weekend bushcraft course. 

Click here to learn more and book your spot.