A Trial of Fire by Friction

Practice. Perseverance. Persistence: A Trial of Fire by Friction. “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

January 29th 2021. A red-letter day. The day I finally made a fire by friction.

A Trial of Fire by Friction

It is a journey I started along about three years ago whilst camping with a friend who is also a bushcraft instructor. I watched as he skillfully created an ember, first try, using only wood, cord and elbow grease. He was using a bow-drill.

Fire by Friction

For those who don’t know, a bow-drill is a simple, hand-operated type of tool, consisting of a rod (the spindle) that is set in rapid rotary motion by means of a cord wrapped around it, kept taut by a bow which is pushed back and forth with one hand. This prehistoric method of fire starting is great fun to watch.

As the wood rubs together and friction heats it up, you get lots of smoke and, if you get the technique right, an ember which can be blown into flames. It’s magical to see. And knowing that our ancestors did this thousands of years ago adds a sense of connection to a shared past.

Now, seeing an expert do it and then recreating it for myself was the challenge I set myself. With the help of my friend, we made a bow-drill set for me to use, and he showed me the basics. Then it was up to me.

Practice. Perseverance. Persistence.

The journey to getting it right was just one failure after another. But each failure was a step forwards. My muscle memory and technique improved each time. I would ask my friend for tips, then have another go. Sometimes frustration made me quit, but then the times I got a small result spurred me on.

Practice. Perseverance. Persistence.

And so to 29th January 2021. The technique, the tools, the weather, my state of mind all fell into place and I made fire by friction. Three times in a row! I was elated. My hard work had paid off. Not only had I achieved my goal, but as with many things in life failure is just a stepping stone to success if we just practice, preserve and persist.