How to Start a Fire in a Survival Situation | Basic Instincts | WIRED

fire is one of the most important and powerful of the primitive technologies it unlocked all sorts of potentials for us on every level my name is bill Schindler I'm a professor of archeology and anthropology at Washington College and a primitive technologist and experimental archaeologist fire probably started as some sort of a natural phenomenon like a lightning strike a forest fire would have drawn our attention we would have seen it and probably started to realize the benefits of fire over time we could probably smell the cooked meat of the animals that were trapped in that fire and not only died but were also cooked as a result of that we certainly would have seen the light would have experienced the warmth and the first sort of harnessing of fire was probably making sure that that flame didn't go out we could take that fire and transport it somewhere else fire requires just three things oxygen fuel and heat the oxygen is already present in the air the fuel can be any combination of things that will actually catch flame and hold that energy it can be wood it can be dung it can be grasses we really need to focus on them here is the heat how is the heat generated and where does it come from most primitive and ancestral approaches to fire rely upon friction to generate that heat the first thing that you need to do if you're going to start a fire from scratch is to make or find a sharp edge if you have a knife that's a no-brainer but if you don't if you're in a survival situation you would have to create that sharp edge by banging two rocks together to produce the sharp durable edge and once you have that sharp edge you can cut the pieces of wood that you need and most importantly modify their shape to suit them to make the fire the two most common ways of making a primitive fire are the hand drill and the bow drill let's start with the most basic form of starting fire a hand drill then this is where that the saying you know rubbing two sticks together comes from but if you just grabbed two sticks and rub them together the only warmth you'd be generating is your muscles moving for hours on end you'd never create a fire so in order to make a hands real fire you need two pieces you need a hearth board and you need a spindle that spins inside of the hearth board both of these pieces need to be bone dry and made out of the right materials the hearth board needs to be made out of something that's not resinous so it can't be from a conifer it can't be hemlock or pine or spruce and it also has to be from a wood that's somewhat soft my test for finding out whether or not this wood is the right type is to actually put my fingernail in it and see if it leaves a dent behind if it does it's probably the right material here in the Eastern woodlands I use wood from trees like bass wood or tulip poplar or cedar they're absolutely ideal the spindle needs to not only be dry but it needs to be straight and it also needs to be somewhat soft quick growing plants like cattail or horse weed or Mullen or even goldenrod work perfect on materials like this horse weed that have all these little knobs these knobs are going to tear your hands up and they need to be removed so if you take your stone tool and hold it perpendicular you can scrape them off and make it smooth once you've prepared the outside of the spindle and cut it to length you have to pay attention to the very end this end the larger end is going to sit inside the hearth board inside the knot you create and you have to make sure that it is a very clean cut these little frayed pieces are gonna disrupt the the dust pilot you're spending all this time creating it's gonna disperse it and you're not gonna be able to start a fire if it's not take that stone tool hold it perpendicular and very gently scrape the edge once you've prepared your spindle the single most important thing that you have to remember is not to put it down on the ground even if you think the ground is dry it's not and if any moisture gets to the end of it it's gonna be a failed attempt at making a fire so once it's prepared set it aside somewhere that it's going to stay dry the next thing you need to do prepare your hearth board your hearth board can be split out of the proper size so I stick I can split the end I can carve it down but what I'm really looking for when I'm ready to go is something that's about a quarter inch or 3/8 of an inch thick it needs to be flat on the bottom so it can sit there without Rocking so if you start with a round stick like this it can be split on on both sides or it can be carved down in order to achieve that those flat surfaces after you've achieved the flat surface we need to create a divot in which the spindle is going to sit and spin without hopping out the last thing you want to do is spend all your time and effort and be so close to making a coal and then the spindle pops out and the entire thing is failed and you have to start all over again so I'm gonna pick up this flake that I made and I'm gonna use it to create that divot the nice thing about these stone flakes is that they have all different surfaces on them so I can start the divot with this part and I can widen it with this part what I'm gonna do here is not actually do anything to start the fire I'm gonna actually use this spindle for a moment like a drill I want to drill into that hole to ensure that it's seated and it's not gonna pop anywhere so very slowly very deliberately with some downward force I want to use this spindle like a drill I've created the divot that I need for this spindle but you'll notice I'm also creating the dust and it's accumulating around the outside of this hole that dust will never ignite if it's distributed around the outside of the hole like that I need to create a notch where all that dust will fall in and make one single solid powerful coal in order to do that I'm gonna take my stone and carve the notch and what I'm looking for is just like this one here it's gonna look like a slice of pie or a slice of pizza and the center of that knot should be aiming for the center of that hole and it should broaden out on an angle of about 30 degrees or so by the time it reaches the edge of the wood your final motion after your creating that knot should always be downward because you don't want any of those little fibers of the wood sticking up it's going to disrupt your ability to form that really nice bundle the next thing that I need to do will determine the success or failure of of this fire I need to make sure everything that I need after a coal is created is at my disposal in the right place so the first thing that we need is a tinder bundle that's gonna take that coal that burning ember and blow it into a flame I love to use cedar bark the inner bark of the cedar tree is perfect for this application this is what it looks like when I pull it off the tree and in order to turn it into a tinder bundle I need to make sure that I increase the surface area so that I can allow it to ignite at a lower temperature and air to come through so you can take it and move it like this I'm breaking up and separating those fibers I need to split the difference between separating this and allowing a lot of air to get through and making sure that there's not a big hole in which the ember will flow through something around like this is perfect and just like with all my other materials I don't want to set this on the damp ground once it's done I'm gonna scoop up anything that's fallen and stick it right back in okay I'm gonna start this fire right here in front of me it has been raining for four days straight this is actually the worst conditions in which to try to start a hand drill fire however you know one of the things that I do need to worry about which is not a big of an issue now is the potential for this fire to spread but I'm still gonna clear away some of these leaves you know I want to get right down to the bare mineral soil the other thing I need to do before I even attempt to make my hand drill fire is to get all of my wood ready so what I want to do is take this wood and sort the size of it and I'll start with the smallest and go to the biggest starting a hand drill fire in the woods is an incredibly difficult thing to do it requires a lot of skill and a lot of energy if you get to the you actually get a cold the last thing you want to do is compromise your ability to make a fire by not having all your materials ready it is worth the effort to spend five minutes doing this to your wood okay I have my wood ready the final two pieces that I need now that I have everything prepared in front of me is something to catch the Ember this piece of birch bark works great I could use a very dry leaf a small piece of wood and I'm gonna use this to put right under that notch that I created and it's gonna collect the dust once that dust is collected and it turns into an ember I can take that and pick it up and very easily transfer it into my tinder bundle the final thing that I need is to have a little piece of a stick ready because that ember that dust is gonna work almost like glue and it's gonna want to stick to my hearth board and I'm gonna use this little stick to hold that ember in place as I remove the hearth board so I don't disturb it you need to make sure that this hearth board doesn't move one thing we've done to accomplish that is we flatten the bottom of the hearth board the second thing that we could do is hold down the sides of it if there's somebody else with you have them hold it if there's not you're gonna have to hold it with your foot or you can take a stick like this and kneel on it the spindle goes in place and you have to lick your hands especially on a cold day like this my hands actually have to grip this spindle and the spindle has to move and you start nice and gentle things to look for make sure that the spindle bottom isn't popping out of the hole make sure that there's nothing as interfering with your hands if you feel like your hands are starting to get a little bit dry stop right now and make sure you lick them again I want to make sure that I'm drying out that board starting to heat it up starting to generate the dust and I can do that by moving very very slowly the other thing I need to make sure that I'm doing is using my entire hand every time that I spin my hands I'm rotating this spindle and it's generating heat and dust as soon as I stop it cools down and I go back the other way if I use my entire hand fingertip to palm getting more rotations before it cools down the other thing you're notice is if you're generating downward pressure which you should be your hands are slowly gonna move down the shaft when you get to the bottom you're gonna stop hold it with one hand continue to exert downward pressure grab the top of the other continue to exert downward pressure and reposition your hands to the top and continue again this may take more than one go but I would love to get it all in one so that would be awesome so son of a spindle broke let me try that for you so you don't want this hearth board to move so the easiest way to do that is with the side of your foot all right so it's cold it's damp my hands are dry though and I'm tired from trying to do this the best thing that I can do right now just take a quick break I'm gonna take off this this shirt this is much better to show when the hands are doing the entire I got it okay we have the coal we have to use this stick keep the coal intact and we're gonna let this coal grow the more this coal grows the stronger it gets and I'm gonna need all that strength to transfer this really weak coal into this tinder bundle my job is to keep it in one place in one ball it's possible when I transfer it I'm blowing very gently to provide the oxygen I'm holding it on the bottom because the flames are gonna go up and we have flame I'll put this on the ground I do not have a fire yet all I have is a flame I'm gonna take my smallest pieces of wood and lay them on top laying these sticks on top naturally form a teepee that's the shape it takes we're starting to get some of the smaller stuff lit right here the energy in that system is building it's gone from tinder to something bigger which means it's getting stronger and slowly I'm going to build the size of the sticks up then I'm done that's all I need to do a bow drill is sort of a hand drill on steroids and a bow drill fire requires both a hearth board and a spindle but it also requires a bow which instead of your hands is used to spin the spindle the advantage to that is that when you're using your hands to create to generate the heat to spin the spindle you only have the length of your hand to spin it until it stops for a moment and goes the other way and that pause for that split second allows this system to cool down so if you can extend that distance that you spin that spindle without having to stop and reverse the direction it's an incredible advantage so if you take a bow which is essentially a stick with a with a string on it and wrap it around that spindle you have the entire length of that string to go in one direction without having to stop and move in the other direction the other part of the bow drill which provides an advantage is a handpiece and that handpiece sits on top of the spindle and provides the downward pressure so immediately by adding the bow and the handhold you're increasing the speed you're increasing the amount of rotations before you stop and let it cool down in reverse direction and you're increasing the pressure it's a lot easier to make that fire and a lot quicker often to make that fire so to make a bow drill you need to make a bow this curved piece of wood works great but you can actually use almost any piece of wood as long as you attach the spindle on the right way so it's on the outside of the string even a straight piece of wood will work fine but what you really need to do to make this successful is make a string that wraps around the spindle and there's a number of different ways to do this if you're in a survival situation and you're wearing shoes or boots with laces you can obviously use the laces but other options include things like natural plant fibers like this dogbane here which produces incredible fibers you can extract these fibers and just twist those fibers into a really strong piece of cordage the problem is there's so much pressure and friction on this entire system that the natural vegetable fibers wear rather quickly my favorite way to make a bow drill string is actually to use rawhide or to use leather this is a piece of brain tanned deerskin and I'm gonna show you how to quickly make a string that will not only make this fire successful but you can use for successful fires into the future I can take this razor-sharp flake and use it to cut this piece of leather in a spiral pattern and I can make a really long string out of it I'm gonna fold it over itself and I'm gonna make a two-ply cordage out of it which is gonna more than double its strength it's also gonna make this string more round which is gonna make it more successful for me and it's also gonna make a loop on the end which will allow me to attach it very easily to the bow so this is gonna be a two-ply cordage and in fact this is the way that all ropes used to be made I twist in opposite directions just like this and twist until it kinks on itself and I'm gonna hold that end all that I'm doing is I'm taking both of these twisting them in the same direction and then twisting them back around one another in the opposite direction and it's gonna hold it tight and I'm gonna go right down the line twist and reverse twist and reverse here's the completed piece of cordage and what I'm able to do is use that loop and send it right through and I'm gonna stick this right on the end of my bow I've made a small little notch here that'll catch it I'm gonna pull that down to this other notch give it a little bit of slack so it'll wrap around the spindle wrap it around a few times this is my completed bow and string this is the spindle that I use for the bow drill fire it's shorter than the hand drill spindle and it's also bigger around this end needs to be pointed this is the end that's up and fits in the hand piece if this is pointed there's less surface contact and there's less energy loss and I can shape that again with this rock the bottom end needs to be flat or as flat as possible the reason I'm making it flat is because I want that broad flat surface against the broad flat surface of the hearth board and there's more surface area there's more contact there's more friction and there's more heat the only other piece of the bow drill set that you need is the handle this handle needs to be as frictionless as possible which means it should be made out of a hard material it can be made out of a strong hard piece of wood like this Osage orange it can be made out of a shell a hard bone or even a rock that has a divot in it so I need to create this divot inside of this handpiece so it can accept the far end of the spindle if I'm making this on a rock I can take another rock and peck the hole into it if I'm making it on this piece of wood I can use my flake and twist it just like this to create this hole now I'm gonna make that coal with a bow drill the similarities between a hand you're on the bow drill that both have a hearth board and they both have a spindle but the difference is that I'm going to exert my pressure using a handhold on top of the spindle and I'm gonna rotate that spindle using a bow instead of just my hands the advantage here is that that spindle can travel the entire length of the string of the bow without stopping and cooling down as it reverses direction the advantage of the handhold is that I can exert a lot more pressure and I can use a lot shorter spindle positioning here is really important the first thing I'm going to do just like with a hand drill let's put something underneath the hearth board to catch the Ember the second thing I'm going to do is position my body so everything's locked in place and nothing is moving around and I'm gonna take my left hand which is a hand that's holding the top of the spindle and lock it in around this knee and into my shin and just like with the hand drill when I move this bow I also want to reduce the friction on the string so you see if I tilt this bow a little bit it separates those strings and if I do that that means they're not rubbing against each other my string is gonna last a lot longer so I kilt it down just a little bit but I'm still moving my right hand parallel to the ground start out nice and slow but all of a sudden you can see this smoke faster than there was with the hand drill okay I need to stop now and remove something because what happened is that it's slipping out because there's this split in the wood so I'm going to take two seconds and I'm gonna make another notch real quick so that my spindle doesn't pop out [Music] you see there's smoke coming from the dust pile so I'm gonna take this stick put it into the back hold the Ember in place and remove the hearth board this ember is what I'm gonna use to transfer to my tinder bundle and then blow that into a flame and there's my coal the way you build your fire is largely influenced by what you're trying to accomplish if you want light or heat my go-to fire is a by default teepee fire if you take a tinder bundle put it on the ground and slowly begin to lay increasing sizes of wood on top of it it naturally forms a teepee if you want a fire for light you want large flames you have wood that is organized in such a way that there's a lot of air between it and a lot of air between that wood allows for not only introduction of a lot of oxygen but there's a lot of individual pieces of wood that are acting like individual pieces of wood and they're all burning up extremely quickly and that's generating a lot of heat and a lot of light it's not generating a lot of coals in most situations when you want a fire for cooking you want a good bed of coals I found the best way to build a fire to cook with is using the parallel log method this method is something that I learned while living with the hodza in Tanzania what they explained to me this accomplished was it created a bed of coals in the quickest way possible so they would start off the same way they begin to start the fire they lay sticks on top of it it would superficially look like a teepee and talked about going and then they'd lay all their logs down on top of one another in a parallel fashion and they oriented the direction of the logs with the direction of the wind so the winds coming up through the middle you can only do this once you've already built up enough coals to rearrange the fire this is an ideal fire lay to build up the largest bed of coals as quickly as possible and the reason is because I've actually closed down that air gap I'm laying these logs in close enough so close instead of burning up in huge flames they actually burn a little bit more slowly and produce those coals but I do have just enough of an air gap and allow the wind to blow through between these that is staying lit I've built up this incredible bed of coals in no time using the parallel fire method in order cook on this fire I need to spread these coals out gets a nice hot bed of coals and in this spot over here I'm gonna put the meat directly on top of the coals okay so the meats done even though you may never find yourself in a survival situation I firmly believe that learning and practicing these primitive skills are an essential part of connecting with your past your environment and everything that it means to be him you

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