Fire by Friction




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Traditional Fire-Making
Starting Fires
Cooking Fires
Fires in the Ground
Baking Fires
Camp Fires
Fire Construction
Fire by Friction

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By Dudley Winn Smith

World Champion Fire Lighter

Fire by Rubbing Sticks (31). "I have experimented in fire-making for several years and am delighted to do a special scout Good Turn by describing my method, which differs very little from the one described in the Boy Scout Handbook for Boys. The author has asked me to tell you how I established the records, so I'll do my best. The illustration below is from an exact duplicate of the rubbing stick set that I used.

"A few minutes before the start of the contest in Kansas City, I prepared a fire-pit by rubbing it with a drill just as I would in actually making a fire. Then I laid aside my apparatus, taking care that nothing came in contact with either the charred end of the drill or the fire-pit. Next I worked a small handful of absolutely dry red cedar bark tinder into a thick round pad and placed it directly under the fire pit of my American elm board. When the starter said 'Go' I drew my bow back and forth with long complete strokes. In about three seconds a little pile of smoking black charcoal issued from the pit. Then I stopped rubbing, picked up both the board and the tinder and blew directly onto the smoking pile, which immediately turned into a red ember. In 7.2 seconds after I drew the first stroke the tinder burst into flame. Luckily for me the three timers all agreed.

"The suggestions below are given in hopes that they will help you make fire rapidly. I worked a long time before I was able to produce a blaze in less than a minute. Do not get discouraged if you fail at first ; keep trying and you are sure to succeed.

The Bow. "I find a long bow by far the best. Mine is twenty-nine inches long and has a three inch bend. The easiest way to secure the thong so that it can be adjusted quickly is to drill two holes in the end of the bow, as illustrated. When using the bow, hold the board very firmly with your foot, or you, will never get a spark. When you stop bowing, do not let the drill fly, but lift it out of the pit.

The Drill-Socket. "A very hard substance must be inserted in the drill-socket to prevent excessive friction. I use the glass knob of a coffee percolator top. The pressure on the drill socket must be increased gradually.

The Fire-Pit. "When a new fire-hole is made, the pit should be drilled before the notch is cut. The end of the drill should be pointed only for starting a new hole; after that it should always be kept round. While bowing the spindle must be held exactly perpendicular to the board. A 'U' shaped notch is better than a 'V.' A spark can be produced more easily by putting a little sand in the pit.

Woods for Fire by Friction. "Of the common woods of the United States I have found American elm decidedly the best for both the board and the drill. Since establishing my record I have discovered that yucca (a wood found on the desert) is even better than elm. I have repeatedly produced an ember yucca by two complete strokes of the bow.

The Champion in Action

It requires nearly three seconds to do it with elm. These are the only woods I have tried that produce an ember that you can blow into the. instant you stop rubbing. Other woods must be allowed to stand a few seconds or must be fanned gently with the hand to produce the spark. I have tried the following woods and have listed them in the order in which I prefer them: yucca, American elm, red elm, balsam fir, red cedar, willow root, cypress, basswood, sycamore, cottonwood, poplar, soft maple, white pine.

"A thin fire board is superior to a thick one for both speed and ease. I use boards from a quarter to three-eighths of an inch thick and get from six to eight fires out of one hole. A small drill is also better. I use octagonal drills a half to nine-sixteenths of au inch in diameter, and nine inches long.

Tinder. "I have not found anything superior to red cedar bark for tinder. To prepare it, pound a piece of bark into a fluffy mass with a club , then the tinder remains in a mass and does not fly into your face when you blow it. The following sorts of tinder are listed in the order in which I prefer them: red cedar bark, white cedar bark, inner chestnut bark, cottonwood bark, inner red elm bark, miscellaneous bird and field mice nests, crushed spruce needles, beaten rope fibers. It is not generally known that the quickest way to get flame is to put milkweed silk in the center of a pad of red cedar bark."

Fire by Flint and Steel (32). "The following materials are required to make fire with flint and steel:

(1) A very hard substance that will produce a spark when struck with steel, such as flint, quartz, agate, chert, jasper, and petrified wood.

(2) A piece of hardened steel, the back of a knife blade, or a file.

(3) Highly inflammable material that will ignite from a single spark, such as charred cotton, cigar lighter wick, candle wick, or fuse rope.

(4) Tinder similar to that used for making fire with rubbing sticks.

"The materials that I used in establishing my record consisted of the following: piece of quartz, flat file, charred cotton flannel, cedar bark. I have experimented with several methods of producing fire with flint and steel, and have made the best time with the one described below.

"Place a few flakes of black charred cotton flannel on a round pad of cedar nark. Hold the steel in your left hand about an inch 6bove the cedar and perpendicular to it. Now strike the steel a glancing blow with a sharp edge of the flint held in the right hand. When yon acquire the knack of striking the spark, it is very easy to catch it upon the charred flakes, and then to blow the pad of cedar into a flame. 

"To char the cotton flannel, set it afire and smother it when it is well ablaze between two pieces of paper or cardboard. Pick out for use only the black pieces."

Dudley Winn Smith, Eagle Boy Scout, of Independence, MO, is the holder of the world's record for making fire by friction. Time for Flint and Steel: 4.6 seconds; for Rubbing Sticks: 6.4 seconds. 

Traditional Fire-Making


Part I: Starting Fires


Part II: General Cooking Fires


Part III: Fires in the Ground


Part IV: Baking Fires 


Part V: Camp Fires


Part VI: Fire Construction Work & Handicraft

Traditional Outdoor Skills






Additional Information:

Peer- Level Topic Links:
Traditional Fire-Making ] Starting Fires ] Cooking Fires ] Fires in the Ground ] Baking Fires ] Camp Fires ] Fire Construction ] [ Fire by Friction ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.