Making Survival Bowdrill Equipment

Bend down branch a little to facilitate cutting.

Twisting down HERE as you press up on your thumb.

Press up HERE to facilitate split.

Bend down branch a little to facilitate cutting.

Twisting down HERE as you press up on your thumb.

Overhand Knot

Tied off at the base of each split to keep string in place.

Press up HERE to facilitate split.

DO NOT press here. You may crack the branch!

Flexible 'Thumb-Thick* Bow

Will lose some flex as it dries! Tiller *beUy' side of bow by scraping off wood with a stone flake or by abrading.

Keep cord at least 1/4 inch to 'finger-thick':

but ONLY on working arecu Taper ends thinner so that the tying is easier; a more economical use of plants and time. (10-20 Dogbane plants per string, depending on plants' size and quality.)

By Barry Keegan ' ┬ęBarry Keegan 1996

This is what causes and steers the split. As soon as you can grab both halves of the split, pull each half away from each other at the same angle and with the same pressure to get an even split.

IMAMM

Standard spindle in fireboard.

Shouldered spindle. Note lack of sidewall friction.

Standard spindle in fireboard.

Shouldered spindle. Note lack of sidewall friction.

PROCESSING DOGBANE FOR CORDAGE:

Tied off at the base of each split to keep string in place.

Overhand Knot

Stand on Dogbane plant to crush whole plant flat

Stand on Dogbane plant to crush whole plant flat

Peel apart flattened halves carefully, starting at the thick, base end first.

RIGHT WAY TO TILT A BOW IN USE:

Bow is tilted so string won't rub itself.

RIGHT WAY TO TILT A BOW IN USE:

Peel apart flattened halves carefully, starting at the thick, base end first.

Bow is tilted so string won't rub itself.

Horizontal bow position, string wears against string!

NOTE: Last two steps also illustrate how a split tree branch, like Hickory, may be stripped of its bark year-round.

so woody tabs separate at^

a couple of inches, then, flip over so woody side now faces down.

so woody tabs separate at^

a couple of inches, then, flip over so woody side now faces down.

With left hand, pull this way.

  • D Finger acts as a wedge to strip bark.
  • D Finger acts as a wedge to strip bark.

Loosely allow bark and woody part to slide through fingers.

season. RETTING

Retting is a great economical way of obtaining maximum quantities of cordage from bark. You must peel the bark and soak it until it rots apart into layered strips. The glues that hold the layers rot before the bark fibers do. This is a tricky process and has a lot of factors that either speed or slow it down. This takes at least four days.

Survival fire making calls for immediate results so I won't get into details. Even if you don't know your trees, walk the shores of oceans, bays, lakes and rivers! Remove and peel bark from any submerged branches you find. I once received a Serviceberry shrub on the shore of an island that had no such plants that I could find. The bark peeled easily and made a strong bow drill cord. Check the dry branches too, they may have been under water for a while.

Cotton Wood and Tulip Poplar bark can be found retted and hanging in long strips from the dead branches of a live tree. These strips should be wet down before cording because they may be brittle.

ROOTS; The Wood Fiber

Most conifer roots are extremely strong! Not as strong as hickory bark but good luck finding hickories on mountain tops, deserts or tundra. Conifers are much more versatile, many deserts have junipers. Spruces, though tortured by wind, can be found on mountain tops and tundra. Most conifer roots of quality dimensions and selections will make fires but some are much better than others.

Larch roots are a weak exception. Hemlock and some others can vary in strength from tree to tree. Winter is a tough time to dig up a root. A sturdy chisel shaped stick can scrape one out of three inches of soil. You shouldn't have to dig any deeper than that for conifer roots. Use your heels to stamp the ground and loosen up light frost.

A steep hill side, erosion or a washed out river bank may have a nice display of live roots exposed for easy selection. Choose three foot long sections of pencil thickness with little to no taper or branching for the best results. Thinner roots may be corded or twisted as one bundle of pencil thickness. This is not as smoothly operated as one good root Do not twist the bundle of roots if they are of unequal thickness. This will cause much vibration or lock up in use. Just knot the far end and allow the roots to lay side by side down the length of the bow. The multi-root cord requires a steep angle of operation to keep the roots from rubbing on themselves. Thicker roots may be split in half (consult splitting separation under "Tree Barks").

Dig for your roots by scraping a trough in the soil around a large tree in a circular manner at least three feet from the tree so the trunk is the center of your circle. Conifer roots can be almost on the surface and are known for how long they grow with out branching or tapering. You probably won't have to scrape more than three feet around before hitting one of good size. If the tree is three inches or less in diameter, scrape from the trunk and follow the roots. This is a safe way to get to know a tree's roots. Other roots can really get tangled among the ones you want. Be sure you have the right one!

Lift your root of choice gently with your hand and scrape the soil away from it with strokes that start nearest the tree, scraping away from the tree. You may hook a root branch and tear into your own root if you scrape toward the tree. Go slowly and break off root branches carefully. A big fork in the root may be treated as one string but try to get a three foot section before or after the fork!

Keep any shorter, smaller, broken root pieces and root bark to tie off the splits in your bow. Spruce branches are springy, so are Hemlock and some otlier conifer branches for making good bows.

Take your root and buff it over a round branch as you would to remove only its back (see root bark section). This de-barks the root and wipes away excess gumminess from the root as well as breaking in its bending quality. You may need a sharper edged broken stick to scrape the remaining root bark off.

Next tie off one end and load it into the far end of the bow. There is no need to twist a single root, just load it tight into the handle end, as you would a bark strip.

A thick root may not want to be tied into an over hand knot easily. Split the root in halves then in fourths to the length of about two inches, then tie the knot.

The same well buffed ball of leaves, grass or bark that makes a tinder bundle also makes a mop to rub a pitchy, slimy root through to absorb and dry it out a bit. My first bow drill string of root cord was a spruce root. It was half as thick as it should have been. I kept it wrapped in a wet paper towel, sealed in a zip lock bag for a year before I used it to make 14 consecutive fires before it broke.

I've heard that a root can lose its elasticity if it is allowed to dry and then re-hydrated. Keep it wet by burying it or tying it to a rock and submerged in water till you use it If you can't get long roots, tie them together with a sheet bend (if both pieces are of equal thickness) or a double sheet bend (if they are of unequal thickness). Cut the ends to a 1/2 inch long and wrap them with thin roots and/or root bark to smooth out the bulge in the string where the knot is. Any loose ends that stick out will lock up in the twist of the string around the spindle.

You will be best off to tie this string to the bow in such a way that the knot is closest to the handle or grip instead of the center of the string (where the wear and tear is heaviest).

You may have a bunch of knots on your string. In taking long, slow, steady and delicate strokes with the bow, so as not to cause sudden jarring changes of direction you may see if the string binds or not. If you can get away with using the string until there's nothing worth saving within reason, you may get a fire instead of a sore back from digging for perfection.

Broken strings can be knotted and used with short strokes, avoiding the knot. These patches and rules apply to any bow drill strings.

Leaf cover, grass cover, ground moisture, rocks, sand, sphagnum moss and direction of exposure have a lot to do with the quality of soil, roots and even the amount of frost that binds up soil.

Most deciduous trees have roots that run deep and taper a lot with too many branches to be worth digging out but I certainly haven't tried them all yet! Mulberry, Black Locust and Willow roots are very strong! Some Elm roots can be barely strong enough for one fire, but American Elm may be the strongest deciduous tree root. Elm roots can be very slimy in summer. Black Birch, Sumac and Maple roots seem strong until bent, they snap before making any fires. Red Cedar (Juniper) roots are strong enough to make about three fires. Lets say that no matter what root combination has been used to make fire and all of your roots have broken and are too short to use for making a fire, there is still a last resort.

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