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«By Alan Halcon Introduction Growing up, I had a fascination with the outdoors. Every summer my dad would take us camping. After each trip, I would ...»

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Alan Halcon


Growing up, I had a fascination with the outdoors. Every summer

my dad would take us camping. After each trip, I would find

myself preparing for the next trip by reading anything that I could

on camping and outdoor survival. I remember hopping on my bike,

riding to the local library, and sitting there for hours just looking

through all the books on camping. I would constantly beg my mom

to take me to the local sporting goods store in order to check out all the camping gear... She used to hate it. My mom knew she couldn’t leave the store without buying me something.

As time went on and I got older, my mind became distracted with other things and it just wasn't cool to go camping with your parents anymore. The times I spent camping with my father were now becoming a distant memory. It wasn't until later on in life, when I had kids, that my passion for the outdoors would resurface.

Early one spring, while I was clearing out some boxes from the attic in my mom's house, I came across a box full of old books. As I rummaged through the books, I came across a book I hadn't seen in years, “La Enciclopedia de Supervivencia de la Naturaleza”...The Encyclopedia of Outdoor Survival. Boy! did that book bring back memories. I remember purchasing that book in Spain when I was about 12 years old. I would not let my aunt leave the store until she bought it for me. It was the resurfacing of that book that sparked a whole new interest in outdoor survival. Once again, I quickly found myself reading anything that I could on outdoor survival.

It was in the summer of '99 that I came across the School Of Self-reliance while surfing the internet. I quickly signed up for one of the classes led by Christopher Nyerges, director of the school. The class was exciting. We learned about many plants, and how they could be used for tools food and medicine. We even made a small salad from some of the plants we collected throughout the day. Towards the end of the outing, Christopher gathered the class and began to demonstrate the bow-drill. I sat there in awe as I saw wisps of smoke come from the hearth and spindle. When he finally made the coal, I was completely astounded. How is it that you could get fire by rubbing two pieces of wood together?

It was that experience that led me to experiment with the hand- drill and ultimately achieve the... Six and a half second coal Table of Contents Introduction

Wood Selection

Base and Spindle

Using the hand-drill


Tips and Tricks

Closing Remarks

Wood Selection There are two components to the hand-drill. The spindle or drill and the base or hearth.

Not all woods are made alike...

While many different woods can be used, it is important to use ones that will give you the best result. Woods are made up in different densities. They range in degress of soft, medium or hard.

So what does density have to do with the ability to make fire?

Well, if the wood is too hard, such as oak, the ignition point is too high and that means that you will not be able to apply the pressure and speed needed to create dust and ultimately the coal. At best, you will get a little smoke and very fine dust... hardly enough to form a coal.

If the wood is too soft, you will wear the wood down before you have enough time to raise its temperature to its combustion point.

Yes, you will get dust, but it will not be hot enough to turn into a coal.

Well then how do you determine if a piece of wood is of the proper density or not?

Well if you don't have a way of measuring the density with sophisticated equipment, you can always use the tried and true thumbnail test. Simply meaning, you take your thumbnail and press it into the wood. If it leaves a nice identifiable mark, then the wood is suitable for use. If it barely leaves a mark or none at all, then the wood is too hard. If it crumbles under the pressure of your thumb or your thumb leaves an impression, then the wood is too soft.

Here are some woods of medium density to help you get started:

willow, ash, sycamore, cottonwood, alder, elderberry, mulefat, and cedar.

I personally like using mulefat for the drill and ash for the base.

Don't overlook plants as well. Some make very suitable spindles and bases, as they can be of the proper density.

Make sure your wood is dry!

Finally, one of the most important things to keep in mind is to make sure the wood you use is thoroughly dry. Any amount of moisture in the wood could prevent you from being successful at making a coal. Nothing is more frustrating than getting exhausted using the hand-drill and not being able to get a coal because your wood is wet or damp.

What if it is raining?... what then?

If it's raining and the wood is really wet.

Al I can say is “too bad!” No not really. There are a couple of things you can do. If you can afford the time, store the wood in a dry place. It should dry out in a couple of days. If time is critical, there is another thing you can do but I will go into more detail once we have assembled our pieces.

Base and Spindle Spindle The spindle is the essence of the hand-drill. It is the piece that will spin between the palms of the hands. The spindle is basically just a round straight shaft of wood made from a thin branch or the stalk of some plant.

Is that all there is to a spindle, a round piece of wood?

Well yes and no. Yes it is a round piece of wood, but no it is not just any round piece of wood. The ideal spindle should be as straight as possible, about 24 inches long, and have a tip diameter of about 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch.

Why does size matter?

If the spindle is too long, the top has a tendency to whip around as you're spinning the drill. It may also have a tendency to bend in the middle as you apply pressure. The diameter of the wood is also important because you want to be as efficient as possible when you spin it. I have found that the tip of the hand-drill is most effective when it is about 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch, because it provides the best transfer of energy when you spin it. If the tip is too wide, then the transfer of energy is expanded over a wider area, making it less efficient. If the tip is too small, then there is not enough surface area contact between the drill and hearth to provide you with the dust and friction you need to make a coal. Think of a magnifying glass if you will. It has a point where it is most efficient. If the beam is too wide, it disperses its energy over a wider area. That means it would take a lot more energy to create the heat needed for combustion. The same happens with a piece of wood whose diameter is too big. It disperses its energy over a wider area. When using a magnifying glass, you concentrate the beam into one point to make a fire. The same thing applies to the hand-drill. however, with wood you need surface area contact in order to create friction.

If the drill is too small in diameter, there will not be enough surface area to create friction. If the drill is too big, it will require you to physically work harder Base The base is the flat piece of wood that sits under the spindle. It is the piece the all-important notch is carved into.

The base should be about 8 inches long, 1 inch wide, and a 1/4 of an inch thick. I try to keep the base at 8 inches in length because it seems to provide enough room for me to get a good solid hold on it with my foot. The 1 inch width gives me enough room to make new notches on the backside of the wood, once I have completely filled up the first side. The thickness is also pretty important. I have found that a 1/4 of an inch thick seems to work best. If it is too thick, it takes longer for the dust to build up. If it is too thin, you will find that you go right through the wood faster than you can get a coal.

It took me a while to figure this one out, but when I finally did, I noticed that the amount of time it took me to get a coal was reduced.

The Notch The proper notch is important and quite easy to make. I know there are those out there that try to get over technical in the creation of the notch. Some even have figured out a mathematical formula for its proper size. Others suggest you should flare out the bottom in order to get proper air flow.

All I have to say is "Bullshit!"

You don't need a formula and it certainly doesn't have to be flared out at the bottom. Now, I am not saying formulas and flares don't work. I am just saying that you shouldn't over complicate it.

The notch is there to allow the dust that is created by the friction of the two pieces of wood, to accumulate in one location. Without this notch, the dust has nowhere to go and would be smothered by the spindle, along with any hope of making a coal.

How do you make your notch Alan?

First I figure out how far in from the edge of the base the spindle should be. In this case, if the diameter of the tip of the spindle is a 1/4 of an inch, I move in a 1/4 of an inch from the edge of the base towards the center. This new position will be where the edge of the spindle’s tip will sit. Once I have figured that out, I give the spindle some spins just so I leave its impression in the base. This will give me a visual reference when I start cutting out the notch.

Once I have a nice impression, it is time to work on cutting out the notch.

–  –  –

1/4” I normally use a pocket knife to make the notch, but my friend Dude always laughs at me and tells me I should use the small saw on his Swiss Army Knife. He says it would be easier.

I just shrug it off and say “no thanks. It's easier my way” I really do this just to piss him off.

Take your knife, saw, or whatever is best for you, and cut a vnotch in the wood as illustrated. The opening of the v shouldn't be bigger than about a 1/4 of an inch. It is important that the notch– where the v comes to a point– is not too wide. If that happens the spindle will have a tendency to slip into the notch and prevent you from spinning. The point of the v should come to a point about 1/16 of an inch into the depression where the spindle will be working.

Once you have finished making the v-notch, you are ready to start using the hand-drill.

–  –  –

The actual mechanics of using the hand-drill are quite simple. You place the drill in the base and spin it between the palms of your hands, until you have a coal.

Sound easy?

Well it is... kind of. You see, while the mechanics are easy, there are certain things you can do that will greatly improve your chances of success.

Speed x Pressure = Coal Speed and pressure are the two elements that you bring to the table. The human body however, is only capable of spinning the drill so fast. So... in order to make up for our inability to generate enough speed, we have to make up for it with pressure.

I have constantly demonstrated the effects of pressure by considerably slowing down the spinning, while increasing downward pressure. In all cases, I have successfully made a coal even though I have slowed the spinning.

So how do I increase pressure?

Unfortunately, God did not bless us all with the genetics of Hercules. In order to compensate for the lack of upper body strength, we have to make adjustments elsewhere to increase downward pressure. Those adjustments come in the form of body positions.

The right body position is especially important to those that do not have much upper body strength.

There are a few basic positions that most people take when using the hand-drill. The prayer position, the crossed leg position, the bow-drill position, the sitting position, and the squatting position.

–  –  –

This one is similiar to the crossed leg position but the leg is extended out instead of tucked.

Again most of the body weight is centered at the point where you are seated.

The squatting position

–  –  –

Now that we have seen some of the most common positions, lets see how they affect the ability to apply pressure.

Taking an ordinary scale, I placed the hand-drill on it And applied as much downward pressure as possible, while in the various positions. By doing this, I was able to measure the effect that body positions have in relation to pressure.

–  –  –

You can see that the short-stance allows you to apply more downward pressure than all the others. This equates to the ability to produce a coal faster than using the other positions. By doing this, you will also be less fatigued.

* I tried the prayer position also by getting up on my knees instead of sitting on my calves. This small change in position shifted my weight forward, closer to the action. The result: The amount of pressure applied jumped from 20lbs to 30 lbs. This position is great, but doesn't allow you to hold the base under your foot as the short-stance does.

Now that we have seen how a body position plays an important role in increasing pressure, we can go through the mechanics of making a coal using the spindle and base.

Putting the tools to work Before you get into position, you should place something under the base to catch the coal. You can use a leaf, a piece of paper, or whatever else under the notch of the base. This will facilitate placing the coal in the tinder. You should also have your tinder, kindling, and wood ready to go. The last thing you want to do is run around scrambling for fuel to feed the fire… Always think ahead!

I did not go into the explanation of tinder and kindling. This information can be found in many other places. The purpose of this booklet was to deal with the hand-drill… nothing more, nothing less!

Once all the elements are in place and your ready to go. Get into the short stance position and place the tip of the drill in the base.

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