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Bow-Drill Troubleshooting Guide

(Suggestions for right handed users using nylon rope)


Begin with this sequence and modify for individual wood combinations

Start nice and easy with moderate pressure and speed to “warm-up” kit.

Then increase downward pressure.  Should see billowing smoke.

Build up dust.

Then lighten pressure and increase speed until you cannot physically continue or can sense or see the slight change in smoke shape indicating a coal has formed.  Give it all you got!

The spindle flies off fireboard:

Practice perfect form and take time to carve perfect kits.

Keep bow level with ground.

Do not use an arcing motion, watch your backstroke.

Keep spindle perfectly straight. Envision a line from your collar bone to your knee, to the center of the handhold, to the center of the spindle, and down to the fireboard.

Keep the arch of your left foot centered on the fireboard, adjust only when you are familiar with your tendencies of poor form.

Grease handhold to reduce friction.

Keep handhold flat, do not tip up or down.

Take smooth, slow strokes at first and slow your inner self down too.

Avoid short, fast strokes.

You need more concentration on form.

Stop cursing.

String moves up on spindle:

Keep bow level, no arcing motion.

Spindle wobbles:

Find a stiff bow, one that does not bend and is not deeply curved.

Carve a deeper hole in the handhold or use a softer wood.

Keep curve of left wrist perpendicular against your shin bone in a tight lock.

Use a larger handhold that fits your hand and has a good grip.

Feel awkward/no balance:

Swing right foot left or right to correct form and act as tripod.

Take shoe off for proper placement on fireboard.

Kit squeaks:

Grease handhold.

Grind with clean sand or carefully scrape off black glaze in bowl or on spindle.

Use extreme downward pressure to burn through glaze.

A nipple forms at end of spindle:

Your notch is cut too far into the bowl.

Your spindle is not held straight and is moving the bowl towards the edge of fireboard.

Spindle skips turns/does not rotate/cannot use much downward pressure:

 Tighten string so it’s an effort to twist spindle around rope.

Find rope that does not stretch.

No Smoke or Dust:

Use entire length of bow in long, smooth strokes to increase surface area.

Increase downward pressure from your handhold, use not only your left arm but whole chest to help.

“Circle” around spindle is inside of rope.

Find a softer wood.  Use your fingernail to test for softness, it should easily puncture.

A hard glaze has formed.  See squeak section.

No Coal/Lots of smoke:

 Inspect dust for color and form.

Light Brown: not enough downward pressure.

Black long shards: too much downward pressure.

Ask the wood what it needs.  Don’t believe all cedar for example responds the same.

Coal forms and then goes out:

Do not blow on it.

Let it grow and “harden” before you try to move it.

Carve a wider notch to allow more air.

Carve a curved V-notch instead of a pointed one.

Cultivate patience and gratitude.

Smoking handhold:

Use more pitch in handhold.

Use a harder wood than spindle or fireboard.

Too tired to get coal:

Don’t squeeze your hand on the bow.  All you need is a gentle grip.


Rest a few seconds before speeding up, keep spindle resting in bowl to retain heat.

Find a partner to help.

I have seen skinny 11 year olds start a fire.  I have also seen stiff adults who can barely bend over start a fire by raising the kit off the ground.  Much of our ability comes from our hearts not our physicality.

Natural Cordage keeps breaking:

Keep cordage from touching itself.

Angle your bow across your body.

Use an arcing motion.

Work through as many problems as you can with synthetic fiber.  Blindfold yourself. When you finally do not have to be present in every aspect of fire-making, then try using natural cordage.  Concentrate solely on your cordage not touching itself.


 Dandelion Recipes

Dandelion Delight Drink

3 cups petals (remove all green parts of flower)

1 gallon orange juice

juice of one lemon

1/4 cup sugar


Warm orange juice and lemon and add flowers on low-med heat

Stir in sugar until dissolved

Chill and Serve with a frozen blossom in an icecube


Dandelion Salad Dressing

Pack a quart jar with all parts of the dandelion, excluding stems

Cover with apple cider vinegar and let sit for 6 weeks

Use plastic lids or cover top first with saran wrap to avoid rusting metal tops


Dandelion Coffee

Gather fresh roots and scrub well.  Cut into 1/8 -1/4″ rounds

Roast in pan without oil, preferably cast iron, over low heat

Stir often and watch for any smoke indicating it is starting to burn not roast.

Roast for about an hour and roots are a dark chocolate brown

Grind or pound and filter through lichen with boiling water

4 1/2 tsp per 2 1/2 cups