Pump Drills

Trying to build a pump drill for the first time. Having trouble. Anyone done this?

Haha. I’ve seen them, but I’ve never used one. I’ve always just thought, “Handrill/Bow-drill works just fine, why bother with the pump drill?”

Do you know any advantages the pump-drill has over the bow-drill or hand drill?

Well I’m just building it because I expect to do a talk on that ethnobotany paper and what’s a talk without cool demonstrations. Although they take longer to construct they are easier to use than the bowdrill. I think you can use “worse” wood. Probably someone who has never used such a device before could pick it up and do it and not get worn out. I think the major advantage is that you can attach stone/bone points for drilling holes in hard material, like when making beads. That’s probably harder with a bowdrill and you would get tired quickly. Anyhow, I’m still working on it. Broke the main shaft yesterday.

A pump drill could be used for other things besides making fire happen too. You could use it to drill holes in wood or antler for buttons, or drill down into wood for starting a bowl, or make a pipe etc.

Scout- The reason i haven’t sent you a picture of the pump drill is because I wanted to make sure it worked first and I haven’t been able to make it work. If it is like totally the wrong dimensions and will never work that would be bad for someone reading the article. I’ve spent so much time on it that it is probably close to working but at the moment I hate it. I’m sick of the thing. I don’t ever want to see it again. I made it more or less following the directions in Primitive Technology: A Book of Earth Skills. But I actually replaced most of my initial primtive parts with nice straight non-primitve wood because they were causing me problems. At this point it is made of very few primitive materials but looks rather “primitive” as it is being held together with 6 different kinds of string and washclothes and hot glue. the current problem is a wobbly bit that I am not sure how to secure. I’m so bad at shit like this. Learning primtive skills requires a whole different attitude than the one that has served me fine for 24 years. I’m basically lazy. In order to save time I do things until they look “good enough” not until they look “as good as possible”. This means that something fails and I make it a little better. It fails again. I make it a little better. Then another part fails. I make that one a little better, and on and on. Then I get frustrated and give up, when basically if I had just done a nice job in the first place it would have taken a lot less time. You know what I wished I had learned at an early age? Carving. It would help with so many skills if I was better at carving.

You know what I think another problem is? I’m not used to doing things. I get discouraged so easily. I never learned to make things. I learned to read and write really well, but to actually do things? to make observations? To deal with failure? I wish I had learned real things in school like how to change the oil in my car, and build a table, and sharpen a knife. Damn! Why didn’t I go to vo-tech with the “stupid” kids. I hate failure. I avoid it at all costs. Especially when others are near. Now if we had mentors, of course, there wouldn’t be so much failure. No one would have to figure things out for themselves from books. Tom Brown might have you think so. He might say that no one needs a mentor, and that trying and failing and trying again is the only real way to learn, hence the bowdril with the green wood story. But I think that’s bullshit because a) you need to balance the amount of help you give someone with letting them learn for themselves. It’s probably different for everyone, the threshold, maybe TBJ was a maniac, but most people will just give up without help, and that doesn’t mean they are wimps. Maybe TBJ just has to say things like that all the time because of all the people whining “but you had grandfather to teach you.” b) the point of that story was mostly proper posture is the key, not that everyone should spend a lot of time doing something the hard way, though he has revealed that attitude elsewhere.

What do people think? Do you really learn more by doing something the hard way and teaching yourself? Or is that some sort of cultural or Tracker School myth? I say the key is the person wanting to learn more than anything. I remember reading Walden for school in 9th grade and I hated it. It meant nothing to me. I read it again my first year of college of my own volition and absolutely loved it. I remember learning about weather, and sun and the moon and wind patterns lots of times in school but I never really cared and I only just barely remember. Now I do care and am teaching myself. Such a waste of time and money to have learned all those things before I was ready. A lot of times I don’t understand something until I want to learn it and I have tried a little bit and then failed. But just a little bit of confusion is all it takes to get me interested not failure over and over again. Of course money plays into the equation. I’ll try something first myself to make sure I can’t just do it before I pay someone else to teach me.

Wow, Penny, you just struck on some of the philosphies of learning that I have been assimilating in my mind for the past 20 years.

I think the most powerful thing you hit on is that the learner’s attitude plays the biggest key. TBJ and Rick (was that his name?) learned how to tell whether a cigarette was crushed by a man or a woman because they desperately wanted to. They worked at making a fire with green wood because they desperately wanted to make fire. Determination and desire go a long long long ass way toward learning.

I think faiure is valuable. I think it rounds out learning. Even when we have mentors, we can still fail. A mentor can show us a way of doing things, teach us based on their own failures so that we don’t have to repeat them, and help us get to a certain point in the learning process. But learning is never over. Maybe a mentor could have helped me make fire with a yucca spindle on a cedar hearthboard. But if I’m stuck in the woods without any yucca around, what the hell am I going to do? I’m probably going to fail until I figure out another combination of woods at hand that will work for me.

But to start with failure as a way to teach something generally pisses me off more than anything. If grandfather had pulled that trick on me, I probably would have never made fire. A teacher has to know his pupil’s method of learning in order to really reach him. So when I started out to make a fire set, I wanted a wood that might not be the easiest, but that wouldn’t be so hard that I’d never get it.

You know what I think another problem is? I'm not used to doing things. I get discouraged so easily. I never learned to make things

My first reaction to that statement was “What the hell is she talking about?” This is the girl that could make a fort out of any combination of furniture or use a simple sheet to block out all the light. She built a canoe out of phragmites and giant slip-and-slides and snow chutes. This girl definitely knows how to “do”. Those were things you wanted to do. And you did them.

Some things take more determination than others. A pump drill is pretty complex for a primitive machine. Work on it when you can and leave it when you can’t.

I rememer in one of the “Julie of the Wolves” books, that Julie kept repeating something she heard from her father: If you’re frustrated, try something else. It has been a valuable mantra for me as a father. Sometimes my son and I just need to do something different in order for us both to not end up crying. But it also applies to rewilding experimens. Sometimes taking a break and getting away from a project is the only way to complete it.

I think your frustration with this is similar to my frustrations with e-prime, so I’ll share with you the wisdom Willem shared with me: learn to enjoy the frustrations. I know that that is not easy either. But if you can catch yourself in the middle of your struggle and appreciate it as something other than pain, it can help you over a lot of the roadblocks along the way.

Ha! I thought someone might point out that can I do a lot of things, maybe you because you read my old blogs or Scout 'cause I just sent him a bunch of stuff I made. I know, I can be pretty pessimistic about my abilities. That kind of sums up the problem. It’s not just the pump drill though. I have it pretty much every skill I try. I just feel so damn lost.

Like you said with the yucca, I always try to do things the easy way to first time, so I don’t get too discouraged. I learned that one really quick. Thank god for power tools, haha. I take breaks too. Definitely. Sometimes they last months!

This is off topic but-like I said before, mostly our parents didn’t care what we did but some of those great things I did when I was a kid like the waterslide and making sweatlodges I was actively discouraged from doing. My parents would try and tell me it would never work, but I persevered and it did. Unfortunately i’ve kind of lost my youthful perseverence and I’m really sensitive to criticism. I tend to hide everything until I’m done with it and I have this great finished product or perfected skill to show off. Even in elementary school I was a good drawer which prompted other kids to come up and peek at my work but I would always shield it with my arm until it was all done. Now most of the time I never tell people what I am doing cause I can’t stand their “helpful” critiques. If I want to walk thirty miles I’ll just do it and call someone to pick me up at the end rather than tell them my plans and let them say “You’re crazy. You’ll never make it before dark.”

I remember T3 at tracker school said that learning to make fire with a bowdrill is better therapy than seeing a psychologist and I suppose he was right because it pretty much brings all my issues right to the surface!


I feel your pain about failure.

I’ve failed so many times I just don’t care anymore. With some things anyway. I feel like a mentor is not someone who shows you “what to do,” but asks you questions that turn failure into inspiration. Think about all the tom brown stories… Tom Brown is always failing! Or thinking he has… then Stalking Wolf shows him how it was actually a great lesson. I think that is the key to mentoring; transforming the idea of failure to something extraordinary and powerful. Just look at my hot rocks article… I failed to accomplish what I set out to do, but I learned a hellova lot about fire, tipi, rocks etc. I’ll try again with the new knowledge.

I think an experience is only a failure if you “fail” to learn from it. People make mistakes. I think it’s how we learn… if we can learn from those actions. If we continue to make those same mistakes over and over… well we’re not learning from them, so they keep happening. I don’t plan to “succeed” with my year long project, but to try my best and fail beautifully as Martin Prechtel would say. Do you have his audio CD “Grief and Praise?” I’ll mail it to you if you don’t. Its great.

Blah blah.

This is off topic but-like I said before, mostly our parents didn't care what we did but some of those great things I did when I was a kid like the waterslide and making sweatlodges I was actively discouraged from doing. My parents would try and tell me it would never work, but I persevered and it did.

Then maybe what you need is to prove somebody wrong:

Emily, why are you wasting time on a pump drill? That thing is never going to work. I’m telling you this as a father (okay, not your father, but someones father, nonetheless) stop wasting your time on that foolish idea.

did that help? :slight_smile:

i understand the hiding thing too. i was just telling my son a bedtime story today about some of the crazy things i did as a kid. i was always afraid of getting in trouble from my dad for misusing his tools or wasting his supplies. but i just knew how things worked sometimes and knew that if i could sneak the right stuff, i could fix that old john boat or splice the throttle on the go-kart or build a fort with those left-over boards. but if i got caught, i’d be in big trouble.

my biggest beef with my dad was that he was always trying to protect me from making mistakes. he probably did it because he knew he was the one that would have to clean up my mess and set thing right. but i lacked the great learning that comes from screwing up. once i got to college and could screw up on my own, i felt like i was learning so much more.

i agree with peter, that failing is how we learn. if we get something right on the first try, then all we’ve learned is how something works when the situation is ideal. if it doesn’t work or if we screw it up, then we learn more of the facets of the whole thing and will know what to do when situations are not ideal.

try my best and fail beautifully

well put, mr bauer. that’s the perfect goal, i think.

and i love that we have this place where we can come and share our failures and successes. you guys got me through my first friction fire. and i want to be there to help you through your new experiments, too. and in the meantime, if we need to bowdrill all our issues up to the surface, then we can be there for each other in that, too.

Ah, memories…

In my senor year of college, I was taking a class called “Real Analysis” (did I ever mention I majored in math?). It was being taught by a theorhetical mathematician and the class consisted of 5 students (of which, I was the only American).

Just to give you a feel for what “Real Analysis” was about, so you can properly appreciate my struggles :wink: we spent the first month proving that the Real Numbers exist (you know, the Natural Numbers like 0, 1, 2, 3…; the Integers like -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3…; the Rational Numbers like 1/4, 1/2, 3/4…; the Irrational Numbers like 1/3, e, pi…; ).

Anyway, at one point, the prof found out that we were all spending somewhere on the order of 3-4 hours a day on the homework (and it wasn’t because we liked it!). So he told us that if we find ourselves working on it for an hour, and we’re stuck on something, to just stop and go for a walk or take a shower or something… then maybe come back to it and see if something has gelled in the downtime. That’s good advice, and it’s served me well over the years. If at all possible, don’t let things get to the point where frustration sets in, and definitely give your subconscious mind a chance to grind on things that you’re stuck on.

It was a rough class for me, I liked the prof, but we thought absolutely nothing alike (this is something I’m pretty much used to, for good or ill, I’ve got a rare MBTI). I failed every test except for the final, in which I was given a C (due to improvement), and subsequently given a C in the course. When I first saw the grade, I was pretty upset, not because it was only a C, but because it wasn’t an F! I ended up going back to talk with the prof about it, I was really angry…

When I sat down with him in his office, we had a pretty good talk (not the first, actually, despite the fact that we approached things in radically different ways, we got along fabulously). He explained that every question on the final was derived from problems that we had gone over in the class (but I didn’t quite understand the proofs for; did I mention I was really struggling with this course?) but none of my solutions even remotely resembled the solutions from class. They weren’t entirely correct either (none of them), but most of them were close, despite my having used a method we hadn’t talked about. Hence the C for the final. Then he started talking about how I obviously approached these problems from a different perspective and how he didn’t think it was right to fail me for that, he talked it over with the head of the department, and received concurrence; hence the C for the course.

I’d long before figured out that most people thought differently from me and that made some things easier and some things harder, but that conversation really cemented for me that sometimes people just really have to learn something their way, even if it’s harder and meets with more initial failure.

Having said that though, I do think it’s important to try the “easy” methods first, if only to build confidence. Ultimately, no matter who you are, you are going to run into some problem that there’s either no easy anwer/method for, or it’s one you don’t understand. Everybody has to learn to “learn the hard way”…

Ah, well, I seem to have a little farther afield than intended. Well, I hope it helps a little anyway…

Everybody has to learn to "learn the hard way"....

wow, i never thought about that before. thanks, jhereg.

Thanks for sharing my frustration everyone. It’s snowing and blowing like crazy outside so it looks like another work on the pump drill in the basement day. Today I carve a new bit and glue the damn thing into the shaft…I can only imagine what problems will come next. Wrong wood? I’m using yucca on aspen. Never tried it. Too slow? He said 3 lbs weight in the article but mine seems so slow compared to the pumpdrill videos: http://wildwoodsurvival.com/survival/fire/pumpdrill/index.html.

Hey does anyone want to have a failure club? We can all fail together. I think it would be especially cool if we worked on the same projects at the same time. I won’t ask you guys to build a pump drill because it’s freakin hard, but something simpler. Ha! what a joke, nothing is ever simple. (Except adding to the wiki, everyone should try it). Scout seems the most organized. His goals this week on his blog are :

  • Try to kill another animal (Using traps?)
  • Bathe with water heated by hot rocks
  • Finish making spear
  • Gather more greens & write about them in the wiki
  • Make a burn bowl
  • Cook 4 meals over a fire (scrabble eggs on a hot stone?)
  • Work on Stone Axe
  • Gather lots of firewood

As founder and president of the Feral Failures club I vote we do whatever Scout is doing. We could decide on one thing, but perhaps leaving up the whole list will give people the flexibility to actually accomplish something based on their resources and interests so we will try that this week.

My questions are: I think you should try a trap but what kind of trap do you think you will use, Scout? A snare or deadfall? Or perhaps a Malaysian Hawk, the Andes Mountain Trail Trap, the Sheepeater’s Rock Fall or the Cuban Water Trap. Just kidding. Those are some of Ragnar’s mantraps. Nick was like, “I think he just makes those names up.” I’ve only made a figure-four trap before. My dad set it in the garage and squished a mouse.

Hot rocks: If it has been snowing and raining for days. Will the rocks all be too wet? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. I find that no matter what rocks I’ve used, even ones that were in the house for months, they tend to explode, must be because we have a lot of fragile sandstone, so I just make sure they are either in a pit or totally covered with wood and stay away from the fire when heating them until they stop. Of course if I was heating them indoors I would have to find the proper rocks. Seems like small and flattish or oddly shaped rocks explode the most while big and round ones do the least. Does reusing rocks make them more or less likely to explode? Or does that depend on if they got cracked?

Spear: What are you making a spear for? Do you have a model?

Greens: Greens is the one area I am confident at. I already gathered leeks yesterday. I didn’t enjoy it much because it was all muddy and my hands and feet got all cold from the icy slush on the ground, waah! but I did it, goddammit. I could write a lot of articles about plants but I’m kind of selfish or something. I care more about having non-plant related articles in the wiki since I already know about them and it’s boring to me. I like to use article writing as an excuse to learn something new and then record it as I go along, rather than put down what I already know or what is already in books. You’ll have to flatter that information out of me…as a Leo I’m very suceptible to ego stroking. Well anyhow I’ll at least do one on leeks and one on yogurt and one on cheese. Probably today.

Burn bowl- My big question about the burn bowl is it seems like most people start with a nice flat, sawed off round of wood or a nice big split trunk. My only experience is that I burned a shot glass from a nice little round right around my 19th birthday. But how do you get to that starting point primitively? Would you actually burn a section out of the tree trunk? Or can you get there with stone tools? It seems like whatever method you used to take a chunk of out a a trunk you would end up with ends that looked rather pointy and pencil-like, not the nice and flat or preferably a little scooped out platforms for beginning a burn.

Cook four meals over a fire-I have tried the srcambled egg on a rock thing. It was a very nice, thin piece of shale. Worked fine except a lot of egg stuck to the rock even with oil, so plan an using extra. I cooked a lot of meals in pots the other week when I was camping. i tried a tin can on a tripod system it took a lot of attention to keep the flames at the right height so they would hit the can but not burn the hanging rope and centered under the can the right place. Good maybe for two people who want to burn minimal fuel. I tried holding my pot up above the fire by placing it on two paralell logs like a grill but that narrowed the fire down to a little strip between the big logs and I was cold. So mostly I just stuck the pot in the fire and built up the flames around the edges. Probably won’t do four meals this week, but I might try something new.

Stone axe-This is something I am definitely interested in. When I am in the woods I feel stone cutting tools would be a top skill to know, especially if I lost my knife. And especially non-flint stones, since that is not very easily found in this area. Do you have stone axe instructions?

Gather firewood-Can’t help with this one. We’ve got abundant firewood. Perhaps in the city you could seek out pallets and factory scraps. Are pallets treated? You know I have a lax attitude towards toxins. So I would risk burning treated wood outdoors if it was abundant, especially for projects that don’t require being really close to the fire, but not in the tipi. Where I live we have a baseball bat factory that sells scrap wood pretty cheap. Also most national forests sell firewood permits. Here it is 20 bucks. So if you knew anyone with a truck and a chainsaw you could get enough for all year…but then you would have to split it all for your tiny tipi. Probably a bad idea. Squaw wood from a local park would probably be the easiest. Do you know anyone with a radio flyer? Oh what about lawn care people? Maybe you could put up an advertisement that says you will come pick up fallen branches for free.

Okay I don’t know about anyone else but I’m going to try at least one of these things this week.

I like that idea Penny.

perhaps we should start a “Primitive Project for the Week” thread. we could all do the same project, and compare notes. Or maybe have three porjects to choose from, based on skill level or interest. Would be fun. We could even take pics.

[quote=“23, post:13, topic:92”]I like that idea Penny.

perhaps we should start a “Primitive Project for the Week” thread. we could all do the same project, and compare notes. Or maybe have three porjects to choose from, based on skill level or interest. Would be fun. We could even take pics.[/quote]

I like it too. Having 2 or 3 options would be ideal, but even if we only have 1, that’d be fantastic…

Great ideas!

I’m planning on making a figure four and a paiute, and putting them in the field guide.

Hot Rocks:
I think as long as they aren’t river rocks, they won’t explode. They may pop and crack and crumble.

Spear: I’m using the bone blade I made and putting it on a hazelnut stalve, then I will use some pine pitch glue after shaving it down a bit. I plan to throw it at Geese.

Greens: I’m there with you on the not writing about what you already know. I think I’m going to focus on one NEW green a week for me and the wiki.

Burn Bowl: I think primitively you would find a fallen log and burn it on both ends, then shape it up. Check out Storms article on How to not make a burn bowl.

Fire meals: I think I may just have a bunch of barbecues. Haha.

Stone Axe: I’m kinda comfortable with stone and bone tools at this point. You just pound and peck and grind and sand them into shape. I’m planning on writing an article for it next week.

Gather Firewood: yeah I thought about doing some yard debris service but figured it would take too much of my time… maybe if I Craigslisted it…

Yeah, I had the primitive project of the week idea too before. I was going to do an article series, but then I thought well why not turn my failures into something I can poke fun at and perhaps accidentally turn into successes along the way rather than just another thing on the list I’m trying to finish by the end of the week.

That said, I’m still not totally convinced about this failure thing…I reckon the strong support for failure as a teacher comes from the fact that we are all pretty much do-it-yourselfers. Experimentation is all we’ve got. So yeah, I had better just get over it and look at this situation in a positive light. But if I had the choice I’d still want a teacher who knew what the hell they were doing. Consider for example the fact that there are some things that are just not good to learn by trail and error–driving, balancing a checkbook, cooking the thanksgiving turkey. Consider if you knew for sure civilization was going to collapse in one year and you only had that much time to learn all the skills to save your family. Consider that you can always go back and experiment with something that really peaks your interest later and figure out why it works the way it works.

Should we narrow this weeks projects down to three to ensure we all work on something the same? I vote for axe, hot rocks, and animal trap!

Oh, definitely. Being able to learn something from scratch (or close to) by trial and error and is a good ability to have (both for general confidence and for when things go seriously south), but I’m not convinced that it’s 100% preferrable either. It is true that you may be able to learn the topic/skill/whatever better that way, but it’s been my experience that you’re just as likely to develop bad habits or inefficiencies that way as well (this is compounded if you’re working alone, btw). Like I said, starting with the conventional and/or traditional, then branching out (or, if the conventional/traditional doesn’t work for you, then it’s time to break out the hardcore troubleshooting/“trial by error” methods…). Generally speaking, this is a much faster way of “bootstrapping” and you can always break out the “big guns” for improving from there…

Sounds good to me!

I made a wiki page for the pumpdrill that will give you further insight into my trials and tribulations. Now you will understand what inspired my initial rant!
Scout and Rix and everyone, feel free to edit for format, and linkage and there are probably typos and nothing is spell checked.

Nice work, Penny! It seems like you learned as much about modern tools as you did about primitive ones.

Your struggle has been really inspiring. Once I finish making some yucca cordage (my current project), I may take up the pump drill challenge.

I reformatted your pics and put in some paragraph breaks and links.

Looks good Rix.

Holy crap. I spent all day yesterday watching Mr. Show clips on the internet and then slept until 2:00 today. Not sure when I went to bed but it was definitely over 12 hours before. So now I’m going to get it together and head outside to fail at making a Paiute squirrel trap. Anyone else started an FFC project?