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

– Fire is one of the most importantand powerful of the
primitive technologies. It unlocked all sorts of potentialsfor us on every level. My name is Bill Schindler. I’m a professor of
archaeology and anthropologyat Washington College and
a primitive technologistand experimental archaeologist. Fire probably started as some sortof a natural phenomenon,
like a lightning strike. A forest fire would have
drawn our attention,we would have seen it and probablystarted to realize the
benefits of fire over time. We could probably smell the cooked meatof the animals that were
trapped in that fireand not only died, but were also cookedas a result of that. We certainly would have seen the light,we would have experienced the warmthand the first sort of harnessing of firewas 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 combinationof things that will actually catch flameand hold that energy it can be wood,it can be dung, it can be grasses. What we really need to
focus on here is the heat. How is the heat generated
and where does it come from?Most primitive and
ancestral approaches to firerely upon friction to generate that heat. The first thing that you need to doif you’re going to start
a fire from scratchis 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 situationyou would have to create that sharp edgeby banging two rocks together to producethe sharp, durable edge and once you havethat sharp edge you can
cut the pieces of woodthat you need and most importantlymodify their shape to suit
them to make the fire. The two most common ways
of making a primitive fireare the hand drill and the bow drill. Let’s start with the most basic formof starting fire, a hand drilland this is where that saying,rubbing two sticks together comes from,but if you just grab two sticksand rub them together the only warmthyou’d be generating is your muscles movingfor hours on end, you’d
never create a fire. So in order to make a hand drill fireyou need two pieces,
you need a hearth boardand you need a spindle that spins insideof the hearth board. Both of these pieces need to be bone dryand made out of the right materials. The hearth board needs to
be made out of somethingthat’s not resinous, so it
can’t be from a conifer,it can’t be hemlock or pine or spruceand it also has to be from
a wood that’s somewhat soft. My test for finding out whether or notthis wood is the right type is to actuallyput my finger nail in it and
see if it leaves a dent behindif it does it’s probably
the right material. Here in the Eastern Woodlands I use woodfrom trees like basswood or tulip poplaror cedar they’re absolutely ideal. The spindle needs to not only be dry,but it needs to be straight and italso needs to be somewhat soft. Quick growing plants like cattailor horseweed or mulin or
even goldenrod work perfect. On materials like this horseweedthat have all these little knobs,these knobs are going
to tear your hands upand they need to be removed,so if you take your stone tooland hold it perpendicular
you can scrape them offand make it smooth. Once you’ve prepared the outsideof the spindle and cut it to lengthyou have to pay attention to the very end. This end, the larger
end is gonna sit insidethe hearth board, inside
the notch you createand you have to make surethat it is a very clean cut. These little frayed
pieces are gonna disruptthe dust pile that you’re spendingall this time creating,
it’s gonna disperse itand you’re not gonna be
able to start a fire. If it’s not, take that stone toolhold it perpendicular and
very gently scrape the edge. Once you’ve prepared your spindlethe single most important thingthat you have to remember
is not to put it downon the ground, even if you
think the ground is dryit’s not and if any moisture
gets to the end of itit’s gonna be a failed
attempt at making a fire. So once it’s prepared set it asidesomewhere that it’s gonna stay dry. The next thing that you need to do nowis prepare your hearth board. Your hearth board can be splitout of the proper size stick. I can split the end, I can carve it down,but what I’m really looking forwhen I’m ready to go is somethingthat’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 thisit can be split on both sidesor it can be carved down in orderto achieve those flat surfaces. After you’ve achieved that flat surfacewe need to create a divot in whichthe spindle’s gonna sit and
spin without hopping out. The last thing you want to
do is spend all your timeand effort so close to making a coaland then the spindle pops outand the entire thing has failedand you have to start all over again. So I’m gonna pick up
this flake that I madeand I’m gonna use it to create that divot. The nice thing about these stone flakesis that they have all
different surfaces on ’em,but I can start the divot with this partand I can widen it with this part. What I’m gonna do here is not actuallydo anything to start the
fire, I’m gonna actuallyuse this spindle for
a moment like a drill. I want to drill into that holeto ensure that it’s seated and
it’s not gonna pop anywhere. So very slowly, very deliberatelywith some downward force I want to usethis spindle like a drill. I’ve created the divot that I needfor this spindle, but you’ll noticeI’m also creating the
dust that’s accumulatingaround the outside of this hole. That dust will never
ignite if it’s distributedaround the outside of
that whole like that. I need to create a notch
where all that dustwill fall in and make one
single, solid, powerful hole. In order to do that
I’m gonna take my stoneand carve the notch and
what I’m looking foris just like this one
here, it’s gonna look likea slice of pie or a slice of pizzaand the center of that
notch should be aimingfor the center of that hole
and it should broaden outon an angle of about 30 degrees or soby the time it reaches
the edge of the wood. Your final motion after
you’re creating that notchshould always be downward
because you don’t wantany of those little fibers of the woodsticking up, it’s gonna
disrupt your abilityto form that really nice bundle. The next thing that I need to dowill determine the success
or failure of this fire. I need to make sure everythingthat I need after a coal is createdis at my disposal in the right place. So the first thing that we needis a tinder bundle that’s
gonna take that coalthat burning ember and
blow it into a flame. I love to use cedar bark, the inner barkof the cedar tree is perfect
for this application. This is what it looks like
when I pull it off the treeand in order to turn
it into a tinder bundleI need to make sure that I
increase the surface area,so that I can allow it to igniteat 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 betweenseparating this and allowing
a lot of air to get throughand making sure that
there’s not a big holein which the ember will fall through. Something around like this is perfectand just like with all my other materialsI don’t want to set
this on the damp ground. Once it’s done I’m gonna scoop upanything that’s fallen and
stick it right back in. Okay, I’m gonna start this fireright here in front of
me, it has been rainingfor four days straight. This is actually the worst conditionsin which to try to
start a hand drill fire. However, you know one of the thingsthat I do need to worry about,which is not as big of an issue nowis 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 downto the bare, mineral soil. The other thing I need to do beforeI even attempt to make my hand drill fireis to get all of my wood ready,so what I want to do is take this woodand sort the size of it and
I’ll start with the smallestand go to the biggest. Starting a hand drill fire in the woodsis an incredibly difficult thing to do,it requires a lot of
skill and a lot of energy. If you get to the point
where you actually get a coalthe last thing you want
to do is compromiseyour ability to make a fireby not having all your materials ready. It is worth the effort
to spend five minutesdoing this to your wood. Okay, I have my wood
ready the final two piecesthat I need now that I
have everything preparedin front of me is something
to catch the ember. This piece of birch bark works greatI could use a very dry
leaf, a small piece of woodand I’m gonna use this to put right underthat notch that I created and
it’s gonna collect the dust. Once that dust is collected and it turnsinto an ember I can
take that and pick it upand very easily transfer
it into by tinder bundle. The final thing that I need is to havea little piece of a stick readybecause that ember,
that dust is gonna workalmost like glue and
it’s gonna want to stickto my hearth board and I’m gonna usethis little stick to
hold that ember in placeas I remove the hearth
board, so I don’t disturb it. You need to make sure
that this hearth boarddoesn’t move, one thing
we’ve done to accomplish thatis we flattened the bottom
of the hearth board. The second thing that we could dois hold down the sides of it. If there’s somebody else with youhave them hold it, if there’s notyou’re gonna have to
hold it with your footor you could take stick
like this and kneel on it. The spindle goes in place and
you have to lick your handsespecially on a cold day like this,my hands actually have
to grip this spindleand the spindle has to moveand you start nice and gentle. Things to look for:Make sure that the spindle bottomisn’t popping out of the hole. Make sure that there’s nothingthat’s interfering with your hands,if you feel like your
hands are starting to geta little bit dry, stop right nowand make sure you lick ’em again. I want to make sure that
I’m drying out that board,starting to heat it up,
starting to generatethe dust and I can do that
by moving very, very slowly. The other thing I need to make surethat I’m doing is using my entire hand,every time that I spin my handsI’m rotating this spindle and
it’s generating heat and dust,as soon as I stop it cools downand I go back the other way. If I use my entire hand fingertip to palmI’m getting more rotations
before it cools down. The other thing you’ll notice is ifyou’re generating downward pressure,which you should be
you’re hands are slowlygonna move down the shaft,
when you get to the bottomyou’re gonna stop, hold it with one hand,continue to exert downward pressure,grab the top with the othercontinue to exert downward pressureand 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. Son of a spindle broke. Let me try this way out. 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 dampmy hands are dry though and I’m tiredfrom trying to do this the best thingthat I can do right now
is take a quick break. I’m gonna take off this shirt. This is much better to showand my hands are doing the entire. . . I got it. Okay, we have the coal. We have to use this stick
keep the coal intactand we’re gonna let this coal grow. The more this coal grows
the stronger it getsand I’m gonna need all that strengthto transfer this really weak coalinto this tinder bundle. My job is to keep it in one place,in one ball if possible
when I transfer it. I’m blowing very gently
to provide the oxygen. I’m holding it on the bottom becausethe 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 woodand lay them on top. Laying these sticks on top
naturally form a teepeethat’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 strongerand slowly I’m gonna 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 steroidsand a bow drill fire
requires both a hearth boardand a spindle, but it also requiresa bow which instead of your hands is usedto spin the spindle. The advantage to that is that when you’reusing your hands to generate the heat,to spin the spindle you only havethe length of your hand to spin ituntil it stops for a moment
and goes the other wayand that pause for that split secondallows this system to cool down. So if you can extend that distancethat you spin that spindle
without having to stopand reverse the direction,
it’s an incredible advantage. So if you take a bow, which is essentiallya stick with a string on itand wrap it around that spindleyou have the entire length of that stringto go in one direction
without having to stopand move in the other direction. The other part of the bow drill,which provides an advantage is a handpieceand that handpiece sits on topof the spindle and provides
the downward pressure,so immediately by adding the bowand the handhold you’re
increasing the speed,you’re increasing the amount of rotationsbefore you stop and let it cool downand reverse direction and
you’re increasing the pressure. It’s a lot easier to make that fireand 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 woodas long as you attach the
spindle on the right wayso it’s on the outside of the stringeven a straight piece
of wood will work fine. But what you really need to doto make this successful is make a stringthat wraps around the spindleand there’s a number of
different ways to do this,if you’re in a survival situationand you’re wearing shoes
or boots with lacesyou can obviously use the laces,but other options include things likenatural plant fibers
like this dogbane here,which produces incredible fibers. You can extract these fibers
and twist those fibersinto a really strong piece of cordage. The problem is there’s so much pressureand friction on this entire systemthat the natural vegetable fiberswear out rather quickly. My favorite way to make a bow drill stringis actually to use
rawhide or to use leather,this is a piece of brain-tanned deerskinand I’m gonna show you how
to quickly make a stringthat’ll not only make
this fire successful,but you can use for successful
fires into the future. I can take this razor-sharp flakeand use it to cut this piece of leatherin a spiral pattern and I can makea really long string out of it. I’m gonna fold it over
itself and I’m gonnamake a two ply cordage out of it,which is gonna more than
double it’s strength,it’s also gonna make
this string more roundwhich is gonna make it
more successful for meand it’s also gonna make a loop on the endwhich will allow me to attach
it very easily to the bow,so this is gonna be a two-ply cordageand in fact this is the way
that all ropes used to be made. I twist in opposite directionsjust like this and twist
until it kinks on itselfand I’m gonna hold that end. All that I’m doing is I’m takingboth of these twisting
them in the same directionand then twisting them
back around one anotherin the opposite direction
and it’s gonna hold it tightand I’m gonna go right down the line. Twist and reverse, twist and reverse. Here’s the completed piece of cordageand what I’m able to do is use that loopand send it right through
and I’m gonna stick thisright 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 notchgive 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 usefor the bow drill fire, it’s shorterthan the hand drill spindle
and it’s also bigger around. This end needs to be pointed,
this is the end that’s upand fits in the handpiece,
if this is pointedthere’s less surface contact
and there’s less energy lossand 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 becauseI want that broad flat surfaceagainst the broad flat surfaceof the hearth board and
there’s more surface area,there’s more contact,
there’s more frictionand there’s more heat. The only other piece of the bow drill setthat 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 had a divot in it. So I need to create this divotinside of this handpiece so it can acceptthe far end of the spindle. If I’m making this on a
rock I can take another rockand peck the hole into it. If I’m making it on this piece of woodI can use my flake and
twist it just like thisto create this hole. Now I’m gonna make that
coal with a bow drill. The similarities between a hand drilland a bow drill are that
they both have a hearth boardand they both have a spindle,but the difference is that I’m gonna exertmy pressure using a handhold
on top of the spindleand I’m gonna rotate
that spindle using a bowinstead of just my hands. The advantage here is that that spindlecan travel the entire length of the stringof the bow without
stopping and cooling downas it reverses direction. The advantage to the handhold is thatI can exert a lot more pressureand I can use a lot shorter spindle. Positioning here is really importantthe first thing I’m gonna do just likewith the hand drill is put somethingunderneath the hearth
board to catch the ember. The second thing I’m gonna
do is position my bodyso everything’s locked in placeand nothing is moving aroundand I’m gonna take my left hand. Which is the hand that’s
holding the top of the spindleand lock it in around
this knee and into my shinand just like with the hand drillwhen I move this bow I also want toreduce the friction on the string,so you see if I tilt this bow a little bitit separates those
strings and if I do thatthat means they’re not
rubbing against each otherand my string is gonna last a lot longer. So I tilt 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 suddenyou can see there’s smoke fasterthan there was with the hand drill. Okay, I need to stop
now and remove somethingbecause what happened is
that it’s slipping outbecause there’s this split in the wood,so I’m gonna take two secondsand I’m gonna make
another notch real quick,so that my spindle doesn’t pop out. You see there’s smoke comingfrom the dust pile so I’m
gonna take this stick,put it into the back,
hold the ember in placeand remove the hearth board. This ember is what I’m gonna useto transfer to my tinder bundleand then blow that into a
flame and there’s my coal. The way you build your
fire is largely influencedby what you’re trying to accomplish. If you want light or heat my go to fireis a by default teepee fire,if you take a burning tinder bundleput it on the ground and slowly beginto lay increasing sizes
of wood on top of itit naturally forms a teepee. If you want a fire for
light you want large flames,you have wood that is
organized in such a waythat there’s a lot of air between itand a lot of air between that woodallows for not only introductionof a lot of oxygen, but there’s a lot ofindividual pieces of wood that are actinglike individual pieces of woodand they’re all burning
up extremely quicklyand that’s generating a lot of heatand a lot of light, it’s not
generating a lot of coals. In most situations when
you want a fire for cookingyou want a good bed of coals. I’ve found the best way to build a fireto cook with is using
the parallel log method. This method is something I learnedwhile living with the hods in Tanzania,what they explained to
me this accomplishedwas it created a bed of coals
in the quickest way possible. So they would start off the same waythey’d begin to start the fire,they’d lay sticks on top of it,it would superficially look like a teepeeuntil it got going and then they’d layall their logs down on top of one anotherin a parallel fashion and they orientedthe 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 alreadybuilt up enough coals
to rearrange the fire. This is an ideal fire lay to build upthe largest bed of coals
as quickly as possibleand the reason is because I’ve actuallyclosed down that air gap. I’m laying these logs in close enough,so close that instead of
burning up in huge flamesthey actually burn a
little bit more slowlyand produce those coals, but I do havejust enough of an air
gap and allow the windto blow through between
these that it’s staying lit. I’ve built up this incredible bed of coalsin no time using the parallel fire method. In order to cook on this fireI need to spread these coals out,gets a nice hot bed of
coals and in this spotover here I’m gonna put the meatdirectly on top of the coals. Okay, so the meats done. Even though you may never find yourselfin a survival situation I firmly believethat learning and practicing
these primitive skillsare an essential part of connectingwith your past, your environmentand everything that it means to be human.

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