All Primitive Bow-Drill Fire (Start to Finish-no modern materials)

How to make a fire bow with primitive tools only

Your good friend, elitemember, wrote the following section. I learned these things by watching the video.

 Start your journey by looking for a softer wood. A hardwood is going to make things hard to get the friction fire started. If you can avoid picking up your materials from the ground, you should do that because the natural moister that the ground will contain passes to the items sitting on it, such as sticks and wood.

The trick to making this easy is to make our own tools from the surrounding items such as rocks. In this case, we can grab a rock and, using flint knapping, produce a sharp blade to work the wood into the needed shape. You will start by making the drill part of the bow.


Get you dry ‘soft’ wood and break it down to around the length of your forearm. One end, you will make pointy, kind of like a pencil (but this stick should be much thicker than a pencil, at least as big as your thumb, but I often like to go as big as 3 or4 thumbs in size. 

On the opposite end, you want to round off and make it a little smoother, almost like an eraser. Counter-intuitive to you, what you might think is not the pointy end that will go into the hearth of our bow, sometimes called the fire gourd. Instead, you will put the eraser end into the hearth to produce maximum friction and, therefore, heat. You will put the pointy end up where you will place your socket, although I always knew this as the fire knot.

You will also want to make sure your drill is straight, and the sides are cleaned. Next, we will start by making the bow, and to do this, we will need cordage. 

Bow and cordage

I could write several articles on making wild cordage. The surprise many find when they are first learning about survival and prepping is how strong things like bark and some grasses can be. But I like what Tom does here. He shows us how to pick a good tree and swiftly use the bark. The trick is to pay attention to it!

Tom starts by breaking twigs and branches off different trees and then further breaking them to see which ones are strong and resist breaking easily. Once he finds a tree with nice strong twigs, he is going to harvest the bark. Not shown in the video, the easy way to harvest bark is to cut a line high on your tree you plan to use. I like to do it just above my head, so my arms are not stretching out too far, but I can still get a very long piece. Because we are making a fire bow, in this case, we actually don’t need one quite that long, but in a situation, you should use good judgment and try to conserve resources when you can. So take only what you need.

Next, you need to break the bark down so that it can become cordage. To do this, strip the inside of the bark out by rolling the bark and separating things. As you do this, fibers will start to appear, and you will be able to grab a large enough chunk to pull out your own cordage. The outside of the bark will be brittle, and the inside will be very fibrous and strong. One thing you will learn if you actually try this out is how it ‘feels.’ It is a strange thing to say, but it matters, and it is always a shock to someone that has never realized all of older rope and even some hemp rope are all made from plant fibers. They can be powerful.

Now that you have your bark, you will pick a piece that is about as long as your bow maybe just a tad longer. Tom, in this video, wraps his cord after attaching it to one end of the bow, and this is a great way to save time, but I often elect to do this beforehand because the fiber needs to be broken down a lot so that it is flexible enough not to break. If you elect for this, you can attach it to two sticks then twist the sticks to make your rope.

For the bow, you want a stick that is a little flexible. You want to stretch the bow and bend it so that it looks like a traditional bow. Attach the string to both ends. To make this easy, cut a notch in each end and tie overhand knots in the ends of the rope.

Hearth aka fire gourd and socket

The hearth is significant in function and design. Maybe I missed where Tom talks about it in this video, but I have seen two methods that seem to work each time. The first involves cutting a smaller hole all the way through the hearth. When I say smaller, I mean smaller than the bow. The idea is to have a pit for the bow end to sit in while we rotate it. Then the smaller hole lets the hot coals fall through below the hearth. With this design, you want to put your kindling under the hearth and make sure enough air is getting there. I typically dig a small hole and put the kindling in there.

The second method is to cut your hole next to where we will put the bow and pile your kindling next to where the bow will rub. This method allows for easier airflow and little more control over where the coals end up. You can also see better what is happening so that you can start tending to it and grow it as soon as you have a little spark of fire. Growing a fire is almost its own skill. 

For your socket (knot), you will want a rock or hardwood that is about the size of your hand. You have made the pointy end up for two reasons. 

  1. The pointy end will reduce friction
  2. The pointy end is more likely to dig in just enough not to slip from the knot

But be very careful here. You don’t want to slip and stab your hand or something else. In a survival situation, nothing can set you back more than injury and all the worse if the injury is something that could have easily been avoided by taking some care.

Putting it all together and making fire

Put your drill inside your bow by twisting the drill into the bowstring for 1 loop. The idea is to have the bowstring wrap around the drill. Then you place your hearth on the ground with the eraser end of the drill into the hole you made. Next, grab your socket, placing it on top of your drill to hold it down, and straight as you pull the bow back and forth, it will cause the drill to rotate and create the friction needed to start the life giving fire. 

Once you have some small coals started, you can start to grow your fire. However, this part really is something that I will cover in another article. 


I was forged in the wilderness and have seen dangers nobody knows. I hope you will not need the information I provide, but learning it could save your life.

2 thoughts on “All Primitive Bow-Drill Fire (Start to Finish-no modern materials)

  1. Could you help me with something if you have a second? Would you recommend a new hunter invest in a crossbow or a long bow? I know longbows are typically more accurate. I’ve heard though that a crossbow is much more powerful. I appreciate the help!

    1. This really depends on the regulations in your area. Crossbow is more powerful and can be easier. However, if you are planning on doing bow fishing I would stick with a long bow.

      -Edit: we are about to move servers and fix some issues on the site. This comment is showing as from the wrong person.


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