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View Full Version : Best Wood Types For Primitive Friction Fire (Bow/Hand Drill)



NoMoreOp4
10-10-2012, 09:53 AM
The recent "Your WORST skill" thread (http://bushcraftusa.com/forum/showthread.php/75922-Your-WORST-Skill?highlight=worst+skill) has prompted self reflection and found my lack of experience in primitive fire to be unacceptable :mad:. The biggest contributing factor for me has simply been not knowing what wood to try.

As an example, there are plenty of sources explaining what has worked "I used an ABC spindle on an XYZ hearth." That's great, but doesn't help much for a person somewhere else in the world where niether of those trees exist.

So I would like to create this thread and compile input in a central location to help those like myself who don't have a good idea of what wood types work best - I will do so by having those who have been successful post 3 things:

Spindle wood type
Hearth wood type
Location (state is fine)
(bonus points for pictures!)

I will compile this and just edit this original post with everyones input. Then people can reference by state what others have used so they know what to look for to get started.

I'll go first with an example:

Box Elder on
Eastern Red Cedar
New York





Location:
Spindle:
Hearth:


Arkansas
Yucca
Yucca


Arkansas
Horseweed
Yucca


Arkansas
Mullein
Sycamore


Arkansas
Sycamore
Sycamore


Arkansas
Empress tree
Empress tree



British Columbia
Western Red Cedar
Western Red Cedar


British Columbia
Broadleaf Maple
Broadleaf Maple


British Columbia
Red Alder
Red Alder


British Columbia
Balsam Poplar
Balsam Poplar


Kansas
Yucca
Cottonwood


Louisiana
Cypress
Cypress


Massachussetts
Basswood
Cedar


Michigan/Southern Ontario
Ash
Balsam Fir


Michigan/Southern Ontario
Willow
Willow


Michigan/Southern Ontario
Poplar
Poplar


Michigan/Southern Ontario
Poplar
Box Elder


Michigan/Southern Ontario
Plum
Plum


Michigan/Southern Ontario
Willow
Box Elder


Michigan/Southern Ontario
Ash
Cedar


Michigan/Southern Ontario
Pine
Poplar


Nebraska
Cedar
Cedar


Nebraska
Willow
Willow


Nebraska
Cottonwood
Cottonwood


Texas
Cypress
Cypress


Texas
Locust
Locust


Texas
Sotol
Sotol


Texas
Willow
Willow


Texas
Cypress
Red Oak


Texas
Red Oak
Red Oak


*At some point I will have to create an excel file to keep this organized.

Iz
10-10-2012, 10:06 AM
Generally speaking, I use the fingernail test to find the best wood in my area for friction fire. It saves a lot of hassle trying to find that specific tree or plant you "know will work".
Just my perspective, nothing is right or wrong when it comes to this sort of thing. That's just the way I do it when I'm out having fun in the woods.

RoadLessTraveled
10-10-2012, 10:10 AM
One of the best sources that I found as I began searching for materials is this one:

http://www.primitiveways.com/Fire%20Making%20Materials.html

In addition to this source, there are several folks on this forum who are rapidly demonstrating more and more materials that can be used for bow drill.

I like your idea of keeping a centralized list that includes region/state info. I always had to cross reference a list like the one shown above with a list of plants that are native/common to my area, and then begin learning how to ID those plants, find them, and learn when is the best time to harvest them and prepare them for use. I believe it will be just a matter of time before a list like you're suggesting is formed. There's a genuine need for it, now it just takes someone with the determination to create it.

Maybe if you keep updating your opening post, maintaining a table (one column of which is region), it would help kick start the list.

Good idea!

RangerJoe
10-10-2012, 10:17 AM
I had this logged from some time ago...
SPINDLE: FIREBOARD:
1.Ash 1.Man.Maple(root)
2.Willow 2.Willow
3.Ash 3.Balsam Fir
4.Poplar 4.Poplar(forked stick)
5.Poplar 5.Willow
6.Ash 6.Willow
7.Poplar 7.Poplar
8.Poplar 8.Man.Maple(root)
9.Plum 9.Plum
10.Willow 10.Poplar
11.Ash 11.Cedar
12.Pine 12.Poplar

zpstl321
10-10-2012, 10:22 AM
Look around your area to see if anyone has a yuca plant in their yard. Many times they plant them close to the road by mailboxes or telephone poles. Ask them if you can snap off the dried shaft that shoots up in the air to support the flowers, they grow new each year. They go to walmart and look for cedar plants in the outdoor/grill area that are used for cooking fish on the grill. That combo is about as easy as it gets. Use anything you want for a bow. Other than that just pick something and try it, they pretty much all work. The main difference is how long it takes, or effort expended to get a coal.

bodenhek
10-10-2012, 11:09 AM
I use yucca plant stems for all my spindles, work great. For the fireboard I mainly use cottonwood, but occasionally I find an extra large yucca stem that I can split and use as the fireboard. Works great but gets worn out quick.

NoMoreOp4
10-10-2012, 11:37 AM
Generally speaking, I use the fingernail test to find the best wood in my area for friction fire. It saves a lot of hassle trying to find that specific tree or plant you "know will work".
Just my perspective, nothing is right or wrong when it comes to this sort of thing. That's just the way I do it when I'm out having fun in the woods.

Thanks Iz.


Look around your area to see if anyone has a yuca plant in their yard. Many times they plant them close to the road by mailboxes or telephone poles. Ask them if you can snap off the dried shaft that shoots up in the air to support the flowers, they grow new each year. They go to walmart and look for cedar plants in the outdoor/grill area that are used for cooking fish on the grill. That combo is about as easy as it gets. Use anything you want for a bow. Other than that just pick something and try it, they pretty much all work. The main difference is how long it takes, or effort expended to get a coal.

Thanks for the tip on the Yucca. In regard to going to the store and buying a cedar plank... kind of defeats the purpose of what we are trying to accomplish here.


I use yucca plant stems for all my spindles, work great. For the fireboard I mainly use cottonwood, but occasionally I find an extra large yucca stem that I can split and use as the fireboard. Works great but gets worn out quick.

To verify:
Spindle: Yucca
Hearth: Yucca or Cottowood
Area: Kansas?

NoMoreOp4
10-10-2012, 11:37 AM
I had this logged from some time ago...
SPINDLE: FIREBOARD:
1.Ash 1.Man.Maple(root)
2.Willow 2.Willow
3.Ash 3.Balsam Fir
4.Poplar 4.Poplar(forked stick)
5.Poplar 5.Willow
6.Ash 6.Willow
7.Poplar 7.Poplar
8.Poplar 8.Man.Maple(root)
9.Plum 9.Plum
10.Willow 10.Poplar
11.Ash 11.Cedar
12.Pine 12.Poplar

All gathered and used in Ontario?

RangerJoe
10-10-2012, 11:46 AM
Yes, far, far south in Ontario, right next to Detroit Michigan

SemperFiHunter
10-10-2012, 12:35 PM
Texas:

Cypress on Cypress
Locust on Locust
Sotol on Sotol
Sotol on Cypress
Willow on Willow
Cypress on Red Oak
Red Oak on Red Oak


SFH

NoMoreOp4
10-10-2012, 03:15 PM
Thank you to those who have contributed, please continue posting to this so we can share the info! It doesn't work if those who have had success don't contribute!

rainforest
10-10-2012, 03:55 PM
not specific to your area but one of the best, most comprehensive videos I have ever seen on the bow drill, also has a ton of other info

http://bushcraftusa.com/forum/showthread.php/76448-How-to-survive-in-North-American-forest

This is member Cedrikg's video.

Mykos
10-10-2012, 07:21 PM
Here in BC I've successfully used Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), Broadleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum), Red Alder (Alnus rubra) and Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera). I generally always use the spindle and hearth of the same wood.

FishingJunkie92
10-10-2012, 07:27 PM
I like soft wood on soft wood and use the fingernail test as another member mentioned.

Jeremy

Scooter
10-10-2012, 07:42 PM
I tend to use less wood and more weeds, I have been successful with Yucca on Yucca, Horseweed on Yucca, Mullein on Sycamore, Sycamore on Sycamore, Empress[Paulowna/Princess] tree on Empress tree among others, I live in NW Arkansas. The Paulowna and the Yucca are both planted here as ornamentals though I have been told that some Yucca's are native to my area.

NoMoreOp4
10-10-2012, 08:30 PM
As the list gets more entries, I will try to attach an actual excel file as opposed to the table, which can get difficult since I have to input it as html code. Fortunately, I have a blog and am all too familiar with that nonsense. For the time being I will continue to use the table.

EDIT: From now on can we also include whether you use a bow or hand drill method? Thanks!

rolandsilvajr
10-11-2012, 01:34 AM
basswood and cedar in mass

Lg&m
10-17-2012, 05:51 PM
I do not have a lot of experience but here in Nebraska. I have had good luck with cedar, willow and cottonwood in any combination. I want to try as many as I can to improve my skill and find what works best. As a side note I find willow makes a great bow if you like a little flex in it as I do.
Here is my cedar & willow set.
51887
Cottonwood inner bark also makes a good tinder.
51888
I am still looking for a basswood tree.

Seeker
10-17-2012, 07:02 PM
Cypress on Cypress, Louisiana.

Capt Nat
10-23-2012, 07:48 PM
These are not local wood here in Florida but I got coals fairly easily using a hickory drumstick on a piece of scrap poplar board.

kcardwel
10-24-2012, 11:23 PM
Pinion pine on pinion pine. friend got it from Arizona and I did the bowdrill in Oregon.

kcardwel
10-25-2012, 12:43 AM
juniper on juniper in oregon
sage on juniper in oregon
sage on sage in oregon

Brian Smith
11-07-2012, 09:04 PM
Around here, Dallas Texas, my favorite hand drill thus far is prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola), and hearth, probably cottonwood. I have gotten an ember in 2 passes with this combo (and wouldn't doubt it's possible to do it in 1, although this hasn't been a goal of mine), and have gotten many an ember using a 5" spindle of prickly lettuce. Cottonwood has the added bonus that the underbark makes for great tinder, as in the example below, using these two. As far as bow drill goes, using yucca or sotol is like using matches.

Gathered materials for friction fire:
At the top is a branch dropped off of a cottonwood tree. I stripped the bark off, and you can see the underbark (the darker, more shredded stuff), which became my tinder bundle.
The leaves are cottonwood, to show for identification. I used one to catch my ember.
At bottom are several prickly lettuce stalks, one of which was lucky enough (well, at least part of it was in good enough shape) to be my drill.
54877
Prepared kit w/Mora
54878
Ember!
54879

54880
Fire!

SemperFiHunter
11-09-2012, 12:05 PM
Texas:

Cypress on Cypress
Locust on Locust
Sotol on Sotol
Sotol on Cypress
Willow on Willow
Cypress on Red Oak
Red Oak on Red Oak


SFH

Add to the list:

Cottonwood on Cottonwood
Cedar on Cedar
Red Oak on Cedar

SFH

Pitre
11-09-2012, 12:46 PM
I've had great success with willow on willow using the bow drill here in south Louisiana. Also, a willow spindle on what we call a china ball tree. Not sure the real name, haven't found it yet. But I'll keep looking.

Brian Smith
11-09-2012, 01:34 PM
I posted this list originally under the Friction Fire Tuesday thread. So far I've successfully used these for hand drill. Pretty much all of this was local (Dallas, Texas), except for the cedar, which I brought back with me from the Maine Primitive Skills School:

Yucca on Yucca
Yucca on Cedar
Yucca on Sotol
Yucca on Cottonwood
Yucca on Trumpet Creeper
Yucca on Ashe Juniper
Mullien on Cedar
Mullien on Sotol
Mulberry on Mulberry (bow drill)
Seep Willow on Sotol
Seep Willow (Baccharis salicina?) on yucca
Seep Willow on Ashe Juniper
Seep Willow on Cottonwood
Prickly Lettuce on Ashe Juniper
Prickly Lettuce on Sotol
Prickly Lettuce on Cedar
Prickly Lettuce on Yucca
Prickly Lettuce on Hackberry
Prickly Lettuce on Mulberry
Prickly Lettuce on Cottonwood
Prickly Lettuce on Palm
Prickly Lettuce on Rosevelt Willow
Prickly Lettuce on Trumpet Creeper
G. Ragweed on Sotol
G. Ragweed on Cottonwood
G. Ragweed on Rosevelt Willow
G. Ragweed on Yucca
G. Ragweed on G. ragweed (bow drill)
Sunflower on Cedar
Sunflower on Yucca
Ashe Juniper on Ashe Juniper (bow drill)
Cedar on Cedar (bow drill)
Sotol on Sotol
Lambs Quarters on Cedar
Rosevelt Willow on Rosevelt Willow
Horseweed on Cottonwood
Horseweed on Trumpet Creeper vine
Elder on Cottonwood
Elder on Yucca

Well, these and a few others I may have forgotten or that were not identified, other than using the thumb nail check.

kcardwel
11-09-2012, 04:16 PM
Guess you can add plumb on plumb since it has been a "go back to" wood always for me

LetsRock
11-10-2012, 10:27 AM
Hmmm, kind of a narrow scope as there's several other factors to consider such as weather, freshly found vs stored indoors, the wood's state of decay, branches vs sapwood (logs), set prep, wood availability, etc... Also, it's possible a wood combination works great in one instance and terrible in another so it's often not so black and white. There's usually grey area mixed in as well. But, to fit the scope of the spreadsheet, I prefer to use woods that are commonly found throughout the state that are fairly easy to use:

Florida (mostly central Florida)

Bow Drill
------------
Longleaf Yellow Pine on Longleaf Yellow Pine
Longleaf Yellow Pine on Sabal Palm
Sabal Palm on Longleaf Yellow Pine
Sabal Palm on Sabal Palm
Dog Fennel on Dog Fennel
Dog Fennel on Longleaf Yellow Pine
Dog Fennel on Sabal Palm
Willow on Willow

Hand Drill
--------------
Caesarweed on Caesarweed
Caesarweed on Sabal Palm
Caesarweed on Dog Fennel
Cattail on Caesarweed
Cattail on Sabal Palm
Cattail on Dog Fennel
Dog Fennel on Sabal Palm
Dog Fennel on Dog Fennel

Oak, Pine, Palm, and various wild weeds like Dog Fennel, Caesarweed, and Cattail are everywhere in Florida and all are reasonably do-able for friction fire-making. Chances are, folks won't have to go far to find usable materials. Generally, most wood combinations can be interchangeable. Meaning they can be mix-matched with other wood types as either a fireboard or spindle. Examples, Oak on Palm, Cattail on Yellow Pine, Elderberry on Coconut Palm, PIne on Oak, etc...

Believe it or not, just about any kind of wood can work (Exceptions: if it has too much resin in it or too soft/ brittle). jcl-MD and kcardwel have been proving it on a regular basis lately, ha ha. Generally speaking, as long as it's dead & dry, it's likely doable. I've also had success with these other wood types found in Florida:

Water Oak, Laurel Oak, Live Oak, Elderberry, Pignut Hickory, Cedar, Bay, Cypress, Slash Pine, Coconut Palm, Yucca, Red Maple

Pitre
11-10-2012, 01:49 PM
I've noticed a lot of people use cattail for friction fire. Are you all using them for the spindle? Just curious.

moa_shooter
11-10-2012, 03:10 PM
Bruce Peninsula in Southern Ontario - Eastern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) for both spindle and hearth is my favorite followed by Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea) for both spindle and hearth.

Will H
11-12-2012, 08:44 AM
Generally speaking, I use the fingernail test to find the best wood in my area for friction fire. It saves a lot of hassle trying to find that specific tree or plant you "know will work".
Just my perspective, nothing is right or wrong when it comes to this sort of thing. That's just the way I do it when I'm out having fun in the woods.

Sorry, new here. What is the "fingernail test?"

Lg&m
11-12-2012, 12:13 PM
If you can easily make a mark in it with your finger nail then it should be soft enough of friction fire. A lot of people can use hard woods. If I want to make a fire with bow drill I start looking for a cotton wood, always find dead/dry branches and it will give you all you need even tinder.

Will H
11-12-2012, 12:23 PM
Makes sense. Thanks.

borego
11-12-2012, 01:57 PM
Generally speaking, I use the fingernail test to find the best wood in my area for friction fire. It saves a lot of hassle trying to find that specific tree or plant you "know will work".
Just my perspective, nothing is right or wrong when it comes to this sort of thing. That's just the way I do it when I'm out having fun in the woods.

What's that? The fingernail test?