Being able to light a fire with friction must rank right up there as an ultimate bushcraft skill. Using a fire bow to create an ember is very challenging, but acquiring the skill is immensely satisfying and hints of a certain perseverance in its mastery.
I had my first attempt last week while on a bushcraft skills course. I was astounded that ancient people discovered that it was possible to light a fire with friction, never mind actually getting all the different elements into place to allow them to put theory into practice. There are so many things that can go wrong!
A fire bow set consists of a number of items: the bow, the drill, the hearth plate, the bracing block and the ember collector. The drill and the hearth need to be made of very dry, well-seasoned wood (ivy and sycamore are good). The hearth plate needs to sit flat on the ground; the notches need to be cut in it at exactly the right size; the drill and bow need to be the right size for the user. The user needs to keep the bow level, put exactly the right pressure on the bracing block and have huge stamina to keep bowing when their muscles are screaming! The user also needs to be able to tell when an ember is gathering in the notch and then be able to transfer it successfully to the ember collector. At this point, if you have forgotten to prepare a nest-like tinder bundle, it's game-over, unless you have something to make your ember last longer, like a piece of horse shoe fungus or King Alfred's Cake fungus. Finally the ember is delicately transferred into the centre of the tinder bundle, where, with some delicate wafting, it may ignite the dry grasses and leaves. Or it may fall through and you have to start again....
For me, the technique remains elusive - I can create the hot, black dust, but not in sufficiently quickly or in the amounts needed to create an ember yet. I'm practising, perfecting, building up muscles and stamina, and learning to be patient.
Abraham Lincoln said: I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.