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When trying to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, what does one need to consider? I am assuming I can't just grab any two sticks and start rubbing...

  • Should they be dead or green?
  • Hard wood or soft wood?
  • Is spinning or scraping more efficient?
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4 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

There are many, many ways to make a fire. Some require more skill, while others depend on carefully prepared equipment.

enter image description here The closest thing to "rubbing two sticks together" is the hand-drill. You will need a fireboard (a small cedar board is good) and a thin, straight stick. A knife is good, too. This takes a lot of practice. Hand callouses help. YouTube has many videos: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=hand+drill+fire

enter image description here Even further on the skill end of the scale is the fire plow. Basically you push a stick along a groove in a board. I've heard that native people of the Pacific Northwest would walk up to a cedar tree, cut groove in the side of the tree, and plow up a coal right there. Again, see YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=fire%20plow

Successful friction fires requires both good equipment and good technique. If you are just starting out, and you won't know if your failures are caused by equipment or technique. This can make learning very difficult. One fix is to buy a good set from an expert. Learn to make fires with it, then make your own kit.

Making any fire requires multiple skills, which you apply in a sequence. A friction method will produce a tiny coal. Once you've mastered that, you still need to be able to make the coal in to a flame (with tinder). Once your tinder is going, you need to light the kindling. Usually you'll add progressively larger fuel to grow the fire for your purposes. Then you need to know how to put the fire out safely.

Each of these stages is its own set of skills to learn. Each is contextual (type of wood available, season, weather, etc.).

Wet weather is especially challenging, so start learning when it's not raining. However, watch out for your dry season, when runaway fires are particularly risky. Check with your fire department for burn bans.

There is no mastery of fire-making. Sometimes, when you're sure that you're doing everything right, you still can't get a good fire going. Consider it a spiritual practice.

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I suggest using a bow drill. It's a little tricky to start, but once you get the hang of it you can get pretty good at it.

For wood selections, you generally want to stick with the following:

  1. Obviously Dry.
  2. You should be able to press into the wood. If you can't at all then it's too hard.
  3. However, if you can make a fingertip-sized depression then it's too soft.
  4. Make sure there isn't any sap in the wood.

Types of wood to look for are sycamore, willow, and dogwood.

Here's a good site with step-by-step instructions for constructing a bow drill set.

natureskills.com

EDIT
A tip I learned from a buddy: put sap on the end of the spindle that is not doing the drilling. That way it doesn't make a fire in your hand piece.

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An alternative to putting sap on the spindle is to pack a waxy leaf (e.g. holly) into the hole on the bearing block. –  RichardAtHome Oct 17 '12 at 12:10
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You can't. Bring a lighter and matches :)

I've seen so-called fire starting "experts" who say they can start a fire with sticks using a spindle or bow, but it almost never works in real life. They usually have a board with special notches or holes (which you won't find in the woods) and special wood. If you're in a survival situation where you need to make fire, these methods are usually too complicated, require too many specific things you won't find in nature, and very time consuming to assemble and use.

Just pack a few lighters and keep them on you at all times.

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Or just use some magnesium sticks instead of wood ;-) –  Jasper Jan 25 '12 at 19:42
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Hm, that's strange. I suppose all the times I have seen people do it in a real life situation, I must have been hallucinating. Of course you need to know what you are doing, but frankly, if you cannot chop a straight piece of wood and cut a notch in it with a knife, what in the ... are you doing in wilderness? –  Jan Hlavacek Jan 25 '12 at 22:37
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I am down-voting this answer for the following reasons: --The original question did not say this was an emergency survival situation, but only asked for techniques. --Though perhaps difficult, it is possible, so "You can't" is just wrong. --"Bring a lighter" is not very constructive, nor germane to the question. –  LBell Jan 26 '12 at 2:43
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I admit my answer is a bit cheeky. But if a friend came to me asking how to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together, this is what I'd tell them. It's one of those "woah, I can't believe he did that!" novelty camping tricks, not something that should actually be relied on. –  Hartley Brody Jan 26 '12 at 4:16
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I do not agree with that. I know number of people who can do it reliably, in bad weather, rain, snow, etc. If you know what you are doing, you can rely on it just as much as you can rely on matches or lighters. there are obviously different camping styles, some people like to bring all sorts of modern tools and equipment, others prefer to "stay closer to nature", and for those, making fire in a way that people used for 100's of years may be of great value. –  Jan Hlavacek Jan 26 '12 at 14:15
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I have successfully made friction fires before, and it is possible. That said, it is not easy. I would reccomend leaning the bow drill. Use basswood, western red/eastern white cedars, poplar or cottonwood, among others. It is easier than other methods, but still requires a lot of practice. When I was learning the hand drill, I practiced EVERY DAY before I got my first ember. Practice often!

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