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Friction fire making troubleshooting

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I've been trying to get a fire going with a bamboo fire saw and a bow drill recently. I actually got an ember from the fire saw the other day but haven't been able to reproduce that success. Furthermore, I have no clue why it's not working.

In both cases, fire saw and bow drill, I get a bunch of smoke and lots of black dust but no ember. Is this enough information to tell me what I might be doing wrong?

The fire saw, I am using thoroughly dry, standing dead bamboo.

For the bow drill, I am using a bamboo spindle and I have so far tried two kinds of wood: bamboo, and a 2x3 of "mystery wood". In both cases, lots of smoke, lots of black dust but usually the spindle drills right through the fire board without creating a coal. I read that one should use a hard spindle and a soft board. Bamboo seems to be pretty hard, but it is often used for fire saws on youtube and I have had my one single success from bamboo on bamboo so I assume it is not extremely hard. The "mystery wood" is very soft, perhaps even TOO soft which I would assume is the case if i weren't also failing to get an ember from the fire saw.

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Location: Central Texas zone 8a
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I've never done it so keep that in mind. I remember seeing a show where the bottom piece was a seashell. I concluded that the stick is where the ember came from and not the bottom piece.
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Location: Soutwest Ohio
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Are you at all able to get a video of it up? It might be materials or it might be technique. Hard to say without being able to see what is going on. Bow Drill fires are what I mostly do and having watched others learning, one of the biggest pitfalls seems to be maintaining the right pressure and keeping the pace steady. Lots of black dust, no coal formation. Sounds a lot like what is happening here to you, but also I have seen some really bad wood that had issues holding a coal as well. Poor wood is rare though. Most of the time if it is a softwood that isn't punky, green or high in pitch, it works.
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Hi Dan, et al,

First I would second the observations of D. Logan...a video would be very useful...

Friction Fires are rather challenging to all, even to those of us with advanced Indigenous Life skills. Yet, perhaps, challenging isn't the correct term? Proper "knack" is more like it.

So what may I add that may be of use? I would suggest (as I am sure you have read much and watch many) that it is a "collective knack" which is missing. So, to set a foundation of "knowns" let us assume you have selected good materials for the friction kit; but is it dry enough? This is a major challenge to many, and leads to frustration. Many don't realize that "fire kits" are a precious thing and not something that one just "magically produces" out of thin air when all the "knowledge" of fire is understood. Quite the contrary, as one must acquire the knowledge through effort and mentorship...and even then, the kit must be built and well protected. So let's get that material really dry, so we know the foundation is proper. Take an oven (or open fire with heat safe stone, if doing this fully in the field modality) and place the materials in the oven for at least thirty minutes (or on the stone.) Do not exceed 350 degrees. This will often yield workable friction materials from even lesser wood and/or plant material.

Now the next part...Pace, Pressure, Patients and Rhythm...

The "pace" is not overly fast...but...Rhythmic. The Pressure is almost an explosion of force of both physicality, and will of mind. Patients, is the only way to achieve consistency, as one must develop a concert within yourself of these elements of effort.

With good materials all that is needed is a spindle and your hands (bow is almost cheating.) Saw I feel are perhaps faster, yet again it is preference. Though I think just the spindle is the most elegant and least effort of methods...When the system is mastered; it should take no more than 5 minutes and when well-heeled 30 seconds.

If I may additionally suggest... get a piston starter...which is ancient and perhaps my favorite. I like my students to study the "soul" of fire which is the "coal." By studying "coals" and how they burn (and don't burn) you learn much. Coals need patients and not to be "fussed over." Many trying to start traditional fires "fuss over," things a wee too much. Create the "coal,"...."nest it" and leave it be for a while. If the life of fire be there it will reward you with flame...if not start again.

Good luck, and let us know of your progress, as many here I am sure can help.


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