Welcome to the November 2007 Alderleaf eNewsletter, the third issue of Alderleaf Wilderness College's free eNewsletter.
November 2007 Contents:
1.) Hand Drill Fire-Making Tips: Part One
Making fire using the hand drill method can be quite challenging. The following tips can shorten the learning curve...
2.) Now Accepting Applications to the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program
The online application form is now available for the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program...
3.) Back Issues of the Alderleaf eNewsletter Now Online
You can now browse back-issues of the Alderleaf eNewsletter on our website...
Hand Drill Fire-Making Tips: Part One
The hand drill friction fire-making method was a popular fire-starting technique of hunter-gatherers worldwide. It consists of two parts (a drill and fireboard), where the drill is made of a dead plant stalk, and the fireboard is constructed from a dead branch or piece of wood. At its most basic level, the technique consists of spinning the drill between your hands on a notched fireboard to create enough friction to create sawdust, extreme heat, and then a coal.
Although to the casual observer this method may seem quite simple, the process often depends on careful selection of materials, detailed construction/carving of the parts, and a highly practiced and refined drilling technique. Many survival books include a brief summary of the method, though fall short of providing enough detail to ensure success. Below, in Part One of Hand Drill Tips, we have included detailed information on the basics of the hand drill technique. Next month's issue (December) will include "Part Two: Advanced Hand Drill Tips".
-The Drill: Collect a straight section of a dead plant stalk or tree/shrub branch that is approximately the width of your pinky finger. The best woods to use have a small pith (soft section in the center). Some of the better materials here in the Pacific Northwest include: mullein, bigleaf maple, and salmonberry. Cut the drill down to a length of about 18 inches.
-The Fireboard: Collect a branch or piece of wood from a medium-softwood tree. A simple thumbnail test can be done to check the hardness of the wood. Press your thumbnail into the wood. If you can't make a mark, the wood is too dense. If your thumbnail easily makes a big deep mark, the wood is too soft. If your thumbnail makes a small indentation when pressed onto the wood, the density is correct.
Some of the better woods in our area include: western red cedar, quaking aspen, and black cottonwood. Cut the wood down to the same thickness as the width of the drill (approximately the same width as your pinky finger). Carve in a slight indentation to serve as a guide for the drill, about half a drill width in from the edge of the fireboard.
-Drilling Technique: The basic drilling technique is to put the large end of the drill into the indentation on the fireboard, clasp the drill between your hands and spin it by moving each hand forward and back while putting a lot of pressure inward on the drill and downward towards the fireboard (see photo below). This often results in your hands slipping down the drill as you spin it. The first step is to slightly burn in your drill into the fireboard. Once this is done the notch can be created.
-The Notch: Now that the drill has been slightly burned into the top of the fireboard you can carve the notch. The notch should extend from the edge of the fireboard to almost all the way to the center of the drilling hole (but not to the center). The width of the notch should be about a 1/8 pie slice shape (about a 45 degree angle)(see photo above). The size and shape of the notch is extremely important, as this is what allows the correct mixture of sawdust, heat, and oxygen to combine to create a coal. Take your time to carve the notch properly.
-Making a Coal: Now your kit is ready to make a coal. The drilling technique is now very important. The goal is to create sawdust and lots of heat. Success depends on creating just the right mix of speed and pressure.
Drilling at a high speed without enough downward pressure can cause the board to glaze (become shiny and slippery) with no dust being created and little heat created. Too much downward pressure can cause the drill to quickly bore through the fireboard without creating enough heat.
To successfully create a coal you want to begin drilling at a comfortable, jogging-like type of pace. You want to see some smoke coming out of the notch area, though your primary goal at first is to fill the notch with dust. Once the notch is filled with dust it is time to switch into a vigorous, sprint-like pace, where your goal is to increase speed and downward pressure (and thus heat), so that smoke billows out from the notch, extreme heat is created, and the dust ignites into a coal. Once the coal is created, it can be put into a tinder bundle and blown into a flame.
-Drilling Tips: Try to use the entire surface of both of your hands (from finger tips to the bottom of your palm) and use both hands equally. This gives you the most rotations before needing to change direction. Using just a portion of your hands to drill or primarily using one hand or the other can be a hard habit to break.
You also want to move your hands back to the top of the drill quickly without taking the drill out of the notch (this helps maintain heat in the notch). Learning this technique can take lots of practice. Be patient. Practice a little bit each day. Stop before you develop blisters. If you do get blisters, let them heal and wait a week or so before practicing again. This skill can take persistence.
Stay tuned for "Part Two: Advanced Hand Drill Techniques" in next month's issue of the Alderleaf eNewsletter.
Note: Though I think building your own hand drill kit is half the fun, you can also buy a professionally-made kit that has been tested from
Tom Elpel's Country Store.
Now Accepting Applications to the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program
You can now apply for the program using our
new online application form!
The Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program trains students in ecological knowledge and wilderness skills through rigorous, hands-on, field-based education. The program prepares students to work in a variety of environmental fields in positions such as naturalists, outdoor educators, wilderness guides, and environmental field technicians.
The nine-month program trains students in natural history, ecology, wildlife tracking, wilderness survival, ethnobotany, permaculture, and teaching / leadership skills. The course concludes with a naturalist evaluation to assess and certify each student’s level of skill and knowledge. The course is designed to stand alone as vocational training or fit into a multi-year academic degree.
We have also recently added a condensed course syllabus geared towards those seeking college credit for participating in the program.
You can visit the program's homepage at:
Back Issues of the Alderleaf eNewsletter Now Online
You now browse back-issues of the Alderleaf eNewsletter on our website. Visit the
Alderleaf eNewsletter homepage
and click on the "view back issues" link.
Stay tuned for next month's issue of the Alderleaf eNewsletter, including an article on advanced hand drill fire techniques.
Feel free to share the Alderleaf eNewsletter. You can email this issue of Alderleaf Wilderness College's monthly e-newsletter to someone you know who might enjoy the free nature articles and program updates.
If you received this eNewsletter from a friend, you can subscribe for free to receive future issues by clicking on this link and adding your email address.
The Alderleaf eNewsletter is only emailed approximately once per month. We pledge to never flood your account with emails.
Alderleaf Wilderness College
17921 175th Place SE
Monroe, WA 98272
Visit our website to see new program information and more: