Fire Making With a Bow Drill – Part 1 – Making a Bow Drill

Making a Bow Drill

The Parts


  • Thumb to pinky in length
  • Any knots should be in the middle of the spindle
  • Thumb in diameter if using a string bow, thicker if using cordage
  • Pointed on the top end, that fits into the handhold


  • Flat on bottom
  • 2 spindle diameters wide
  • Foot long
  • 1 spindle diameter thick

To determine good wood for the spindle and fireboard, use the thumbnail test

  • If no print appears, the wood is too hard
  • If the wood is crushed by the thumbnail, the wood is too soft
  • The ideal is a clean thumbnail print

The Notch

  • The crucial component of the fireboard
  • Dig out a shallow cone a pinky width away from the edge of the fireboard, then burn in the starter hole with the bow and spindle
  • Cut a notch 1/8 of the spindle hole into the edge of the fireboard
  • Don’t cut the notch all the way to the center of the hole
  • The notch must be smooth and straight


  • Bow should be finger to armpit in length
  • Slightly curved
  • Bow should be rigid if using string, shorter and more flexible if using cordage


  • Large enough to keep hand away from hole
  • Harder wood than spindle
  • Make the spindle hole deep enough to avoid “ball and socket” motion – should not wobble

See Fire Making With a Bow Drill – Part 2 – Using the Bow Drill for Bow Drill usage methods, and Tinder for information on fire starting materials.

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