There is no set in stone way to starting a fire with a bow drill. There are extensive videos on the internet showcasing the art of starting a fire with a bow drill, but quite frankly, they could make a person crazy. Any skill requires a lot of practice. It is highly unlikely anybody is going to pick up their new tools and walk right out and start a fire.

Your bow drill tool set is going to need a little fine tuning. You won’t find those tips in any of those videos. Mainly, because there are so many little things you can do to make your particular set a little better for you. Basically, to each their own. What works for you may not work for the next guy. That is why it is essential you keep practicing with your set and work out all the little kinks before you really need it.

One of the biggest mistakes people can make is relying too heavily on what that survival guy on TV said or did. It is imperative you tweak your training to fit your needs in any given situation. Don’t assume that just because the expert did it that way, you will be able to.

The following video and the comments below are some ways you can fine tune your own bow drill set.



Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

Hand Hold

  • First of all, you want it to be a hard material. Remember, your hand will be putting pressure on this piece and you don’t want it to splinter or split. Oak is a good hard wood. Antlers, bottle caps or even a stone would work.  You also want the spindle (see below) to spin freely with very little friction and/or “digging in”.
  • The dimple cut needs to be big enough to allow the spindle to twirl freely.
  • Lube the spindle. You can (don’t gag) use ear wax or snot, if there are no green acorns around.


  • Make it about as thick as your thumb
  • The bottom or end that goes into the hearth, should be round, while the other end that goes into the hand hold should be more pointed.
  • Aim for a coarse surface. Not too rough and not too smooth.
  • Length of the spindle should equal the distance between your thumb and pinky when you are doing the “aloha” wave.


  • Make the length long enough for you to put your foot on. Typically about a foot long.
  • Your hearth or fireboard should be about as thick as your thumb.
  • After you “burn in” the hole, cut a “pie piece” into the hole in your hearth. This should be about 1/7 or 1/8 of the circle and reach the middle of the circle or your “pie.”



  • Each person’s bow length will vary. A good length is from your armpit to the middle of your hand.


  • Cords are open to experiment. We have found that different people work well with different materials.  Make sure whatever you are using does not slip on the spindle too much rather, “grabs” it.

Craig Caudill is a regular contributor to Dan’s Depot, where you can get paracord and other outdoor supplies. When Craig is not writing for Dan’s Depot, you may find him teaching outdoor skills at the Nature Reliance school.

  1. Mary Jane says:

    Good tips. I like that there is no one set way. So one just has to get out there make a bow drill set and then practice and more practice. I think that this will be an excellent skill to learn.