Need Help: Fire drill wood combinations

I am hoping to get some first-hand information into the wiki Bow-drill article about different wood combinations. I have added a couple of new sections to the article under Tips/Wood Choices – one for “successful wood combinations” and one for “difficult wood combinations”.

So far, the only data I have is from my own experience and from the pictures Urban Scout added to the wiki article.

If you have experimented with fire-drills and would like to share what kind of wood combinations worked for you, just reply to this post with what you used for the spindle and fireboard, and I’ll add it to the wiki article. (Or if you feel comfortable adding to the article yourself, feel free.)


Think dry, like desert woods; sage & Yuccas.

Think Wet, like riprarian; willows, cottonwoods.

Soft woods without a lot of pitch in them, stay away from Conifers… Cedar works real well though, but it’s a conifer without the pitchy spots.

Martin Prechtel said at his ritual last year that the gods of fire hid their wisdon where no one would find it; in the water. He says this is why Willow is so great for making fires.

that’s an awesome quote from pretchel.

i’m looking for more empirical information for the wiki, though. like “i’ve had a hard time getting a coal from an X spindle on a Y hearthboard.” or “shit, man, i can make a fat little ember in 10 seconds with X for both the spindle and fireboard.”

but i definitely appreciate any insights into the mystery of fire.

Haha. Okay… Hmm.

I’ve never been able to get a coal with hazelnut on hazelnut. I’ve seen it done… maybe once or twice. I’ve heard it’s harder or as hard as oak. I used to use yucca spindles (they’re a dime a dozen in the city) on hazelnut fireboards. This way the fireboard would last a while, since its the most tedious (aside from making cordage for the bow) part of making a bow-drill set. I’d have a dozen yucca spindles or so for one hazelnut board.

I generally use cottonwood on cottonwood. Yucca spindle on cottonwood or red cedar board.

Good spindles for handdrill include, Yucca, willow, Salmon Berry, Mullien, Rose. Good fire boards for handdrill are cottonwood, cedar, yucca, willow.

Willow spindle plus Fomes fomentarious fungus works for me. The fungus is very soft and wears through quickly. It is a bit crumbly to cut a notch in, often it will break around the notch. BUT you don’t need a notch. I do my thing until the hole is smoking and then use the tip of my knife to flick a coal out. There is almost no danger of the fungus going out once it is started because the material is so good at holding a coal that it is nearly impossible to put out without water. The harder you blow the bigger the coal gets. This is because the fungus is made of closely packed hollow tubes. I assume it works for the same reason that Elpel prefers cotton wood roots and other tree roots.

Always good to know which woods work and which don’t, but because you may need to use the technique miles from any wood you are familiar with I think good advice is to use the same wood for the drill and the hearth.
It may not be ideal but it will work more often than not.