Hand drill fire starting is fast and effective. Get a roaring fire started from supplies you find on the trail. It’s an ancient technology that’s lasted because it works!
- What’s inside
- Hand Drill Fire Starting
- 4 Videos to make sure you get this working
- One cause for most hand drill fire starting failures, and how to fix it
- The most important piece of the hand drill kit, and how to find the best materials.
Using a hand drill to start a fire is a skill that every prepper and survivalist should learn and practice. Fire is a lifesaver, literally, and having as many ways to get one going (and keep it going) should be a top priority. Take off your shoes, get comfortable, and get ready for some top-notch info.
Let’s dig in!
Hand Drill Fire Starting
When I did the Top Survival Website Owners Interview Series, one topic that came up repeatedly was the challenge of building a fire and keeping it going.
There are a number of great hacks to make fire starting easy, but what if you’re on the run and don’t have anything already made?
Enter hand drill fire starting.
From a survival perspective, successfully using a hand drill to start a fire is a great skill to have. With some dry materials and a little know-how, you can get a fire going pretty quickly.
Let’s See A Hand Drill Make Fire!
IHatchetJack demonstrates exactly this, with materials he finds that day on the trail.
His video is a great primer to see how it’s done, that it really CAN be done just from the things nature has provided (and a knife), and done fast.
There’s no voice. No music. Just fire-making.
Check his video out, then keep reading, because we dig deeper into how to make this work.
He makes it look very easy. But there are a few tips to make this much, much easier if you’re just starting out.
So keep reading.
Although he makes it look simple, he’s done this before.
Many times before.
He already knows which materials to look for.
Let’s dig a little deeper, and break it down to its core elements.
Moisture Is NOT A Hand Drill’s Friend
If there’s even a little dampness in your wood and/or tinder, this will not work.
There’s a bit of science as to why ANY dampness will make this method a bust — more on that below — but if you’re caught unprepared and on the run, this should be one of your first thoughts.
Assess if there are dry materials available to you.
If there are, make sure to grab them up now.
Store them someplace where there’s absolutely no moisture. Under your jacket, for example, is better than nothing, but not ideal.
Keep them dry, for use later.
The base must be softwood. The spindle rod a hardwood.
There’s a good deal of info on wood selection at PracticalSurvivor.com:
Most people refer to the different densities of wood and a hard wood or soft wood.
One common way to tell how “hard” the wood may be, is to run your fingernail across the wood once you cut it.
If it makes an indentation in the wood without much effort, chances are this is a softwood.
The base wood should be soft, but not so soft or brittle that it will come apart with a little pressure and friction.
Practical Survivor talks a great deal more about wood selection in his video.
But if you can’t identify wood by its variety (oak vs cedar, for example), then this video might be a bit confusing.
The most two important things to remember about your base are: Dry and soft.
Notice how Practical Survivor uses his hands on the spindle?
Back and forth in short, quick strokes?
This is effective, but not as effective — or as efficient — as the “floating technique” you’ll see in a second, in a video below.
The Science Behind Moisture And Heat
Pathwaysschool has a great tutorial on hand drill firemaking, that covers what you’ll need to know to make this work.
IHatchetJack found very dry materials in his video.
As Pathwaysschool describes, this is key.
We get a little chemistry lesson in his video which serves anyone surviving outdoors.
When something changes a physical state, like from a liquid to a gas, it either gives off heat or absorbs heat.
When water changes from a liquid to a gas (as happens when water evaporates), it absorbs heat.
So, if you’re trying to start a fire with a hand drill and use materials that contain even the slightest amount of dampness, that water will absorb much of the heat you’re working so hard to produce.
You’ll never get a fire going with damp materials.
His solution is to bring with him a dry kit.
From a survival perspective, this is a massive limitation.
If you’re required to bring something with you, then a pack of BIC lighters is more durable, smaller, and doesn’t need to be kept dry.
That said, hand drill fire-making is a skill every serious prepper should know and be able to do.
You can never have too many methods to make and sustain fire, and as IHatchetJack demonstrated, with dry materials it can be done easily enough and quickly.
Get Everything Ready First
When thinking about hand drill fire starting, it’s a good rule of thumb to always treat the ground as if it’s damp.
Having something dry, like a dry small flat rock or dry piece of bark (or even a knife blade), as a barrier between your hand drill set and the ground will help a great deal.
Also, you’ll use this barrier item to transfer your coal to the bundle, so it should be easy to pickup and move.
IHatchetJack used his knife, and it worked pretty well.
Before you start, get your tinder bundle ready.
You’re looking for dry, wispy material that will let air pass through it. A leaf, for example, won’t work because air can’t get through it very well.
Make your tinder bundle into a little bowl shape, almost like a bird’s nest, and about the size of your fist.
Don’t compact your bundle. Keep it wispy.
Once we have hot coal from our hand drill, we’ll put that coal into the bundle and get that fire started.
Prep Your Hand Drill Base
Take your knife and burr a well into the flat surface of your base, about 1/4 inch in from the edge.
Doesn’t need to be very deep, maybe 1/4 inch deep into base.
Next, cut a “V” shaped notch into the side of the base, so the point of the V reaches the well.
When you look at it from above, it’ll kind of resemble those very old-style keyholes from the last century.
Lastly, use your knife to strip off any nubs or branches from your spindle, to make it as smooth as possible.
You want the spindle to spin easily between your hands. Any big bumps of branches, etc. will slow that down.
You are now ready to get things moving!
Remember the way PracticalSurvivor used his hands? In short, quick strokes?
This might be ok if you’re young and rested.
But what if you’re older, or tired, or injured?
There’s a better, easier, and more efficient way to use a hand drill to make fire.
Using Your Hands – The Floating Technique
In the Pathwaysschool video, he covers what he calls the “floating technique” to using the spindle.
This is a more efficient and effective way of using your hands to get this thing going.
In a nutshell, he emphasizes you use the entire length of the flat of your hand, to get the longest stroke and greatest control while applying downward pressure.
You’re making your palms into a slight ‘V.’ He describes it very clearly in the video below.
This method works off friction, so a little bit of downward pressure has to be used.
With his floating technique, you get both.
Downward pressure and a more complete, more efficient stroke.
Get Started By Warming Your Set
He starts by warming up his set. The tempo here is less intense than when you’re going for that hot coal.
What he’s doing is building up some wood dust in the notch while he’s getting things warm.
Once you start to see dust building up and see some smoke, it’s time to increase your tempo and pressure.
The Home Stretch
Now it’s time to increase your spindle speed and apply a bit more downward pressure.
Smoke should start to come more freely.
It only takes one minute (or less) to make your coal at this point.
Once you see a good lump of smoking dust, you’ve done it!
You have a coal!
Congratulations! You’re almost there!
Lift your base wood up off of the coal, making sure to keep the coal together, and transfer your coal into your tinder bundle.
Wave the tinder bundle through the air (or blow on it) until you have a flame.
Add a little bit of bigger tinder to your flame and you are good to go!
Here’s the Pathwaysschool great tutorial video, including a description of the “floating technique:”
And here’s a close-up of the notch and well in this video:
Hope you found this useful.
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