Sunday, July 25, 2010

An Ember a Day...and a class invite...

"Why don't you just use a lighter or some matches?"...I am asked almost every time someone watches me attempt to make and ember using the hand drill or bow drill methods of fire starting.'s hard to explain. Perhaps the wonder that inside of a few dried sticks lies a glowing ember that can be coaxed out and transformed into a fire to cook my food and keep me warm...just never wears out. Perhaps it is just a weird way for me to live out my boyhood pyromaniac tendencies I never realized. Or maybe it is the intensely deep satisfaction that comes with knowing how to make a fire with no gadgets of any sort...the ultimate of self reliance. Maybe I just need to get this one more survival skill checked off my macho survival guy checklist. It could be the exhibitionist in me that enjoys people looking at me like I'm some sort of magician. Or perhaps it is born out of an inner desire to shed the trappings of "modern" society and grow a greater kinship not only with the people that lived where I do in generations past...but also with a multitude of world cultures that have started fires the same way for 1,000s of years.

Whatever it is...I am compelled to master it.

In my quest to become proficient with the hand drill method of friction fire I have been attempting to make an "ember a day". I have collected spindles and hearth boards of various local plants...and daily spend a little time learning what variations work best for me...and which end in failure. And I'll tell you...I do fail a lot. Not all woods will work. Sometimes I just don't have the stamina to get the heat generated. Sometimes my spindle is too bent and it walks all over making the process difficult. I learn from each failure and success.

I generally work at it until my hands feel as if they will blister...and then I stop. By the next day...they are toughened up and will be ready for another go. If I fail to make an ember with the hand drill...and my hands are just to hammered to continue...I often just bring out the bow drill set...which I can make fire almost 100% of the time with...and call it a night.

If you have no idea what I am talking about...go to and put in "hand drill fire" and "bow drill fire" and watch some videos.


If this sounds like something you would be interested in learning more about...

I will be doing a class on friction fire next month. It will be in two parts. We will go for a relatively short walk and I will help the class to identify some of the best plants for making fire. We will go over selection of woods and preparation of the materials for fire making. Then we will find a shady spot and try our hands at twirling up some embers...and making those into fires.

When - Saturday August 21st from 8am-10am.
Where - Hinkle Creek Nature Center at 7000 Baldwin Dam Rd. just below Lew Howard Park in Folsom CA.
Cost - $10 (That's the lot's of people have no job super special price!!)
Bring - Sun hat, water, pocket knife, a fire making attitude.

If you would like to come or have questions email me at

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