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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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While applying downward pressure, start spinning the drill between the palms of your hands. You will notice that as you continue spinning, your hands start sliding down the drill. When your hands work themselves to the bottom of the drill, grip the drill with one hand while maintaining downward pressure. Take the other hand and bring it back to the top and re-grip the drill, always maintaining downward pressure. Release the opposing hand and bring it back to the top to meet with the other hand, where you start the spinning all over again. It is important that you maintain downward pressure as you shift your hands back to the top. This will prevent heat from escaping at the point where the drill and base meet. I know it sounds complicated, but with a little practice, All these moves should flow into one smooth action.

As you continue, you will see the wood starts to wear away and dust starts to fill the notch. The dust that fills the notch is what eventually will turn into a coal. At first the dust will come out a light color, similar to the color of the wood. Then you will see the dust turn darker and coarser in texture. you will also notice that you start producing smoke from the base. As the dust continues to heat up, it will start to turn black and smoke will come out in plumes. This is when you should give it your all and really spin hard a couple of more times and stop. If the dust continues to smoke on its own you have successfully made a coal.

I'm tired. I can't go on!

If you get tired before you get a coal, don't worry. Just stop and take a break. However, do not get rid of any accumulated dust. I repeat, do not remove any of the dust. It was hard work to get that dust. The last thing you want to do is start all over.

–  –  –

Polished drill tip If you find yourself spinning the drill but not producing any smoke, take a look at the tip of the drill. Chances are it has been polished to a nice shiny black tip. If it happens to the tip, then it probably happened to the hole in the base as well. It occurs because you were not applying enough downward pressure to begin with.

So what do I do?

All you need to do is rough up the polished surfaces by scraping them with a knife or whatever else you have. Some people suggest dropping a few granules of sand into the hole in the base. I just assume scrape it off with a knife.

Wet wood If the wood is wet, you can still use the wood, but it is going to take some work. All you need to do is take a comfortable position and start drilling as you would when trying to start the fire. The big difference is you do it in a nice relaxed manner. Do not do it with extreme pressure. You just want to dry out the wood nice and easy by its own heat, generated from the spinning. Again, this will take some time so have patience. Just keep at it and rest periodically.

Once you have done it for a few minutes, try to make a coal. If it doesn't come with ease, like you know it should, then the wood is still wet. At which point, you should continue spinning with nice easy pressure in order to dry the wood.


Blisters are a common occurrence when using the hand-drill. The best advice I can give is if you get one, treat it as you would any other blister. Lay off of the hand-drill until your hands have healed, and then start back up. It will take some time to condition your hands. Just keep it up.

–  –  –

Partners If you have a partner or a group of people, you might want to try together. This will let you rest as the next person is spinning. All you do is continue as normally would. When you work your way to the bottom of the drill, say “go!”. The next person in line then starts at the top and continues spinning. When that person gets to the bottom, that person says “go!” So forth and so on, until you get a coal.

Thumb loops

Another trick you can try are thumb loops. Take a shoelace or a piece of twine about 18” long, and tie two loops big enough for your thumbs to fit through on either end. Then make a small slit on top of the drill and center the twine in the slit. Stick your thumbs through the loops-- one thumb per loop– and begin spinning. You will notice that by doing this your hands stay in one place. You can also apply more downward pressure by pulling down on the loops with your thumbs.

Floating Floating is one of those esoteric skills that is nice to know, but you don't need to have.

Basically, you spin the drill in such away, that your hands don’t slide down the drill while your spinning. In fact, you could even have your hands ride up the drill while your spinning it.

The draw back to floating is it doesn't allow you to apply maximum downward pressure. You primarily use it just to warm up the wood. Once you have warmed up the wood, then you continue as you normally would.

I never use it, but I know how. So for those of you out there that insist on knowing it, here goes.

Start in the position you normally would and begin spinning.

However, instead of your hands moving back and forth evenly across each other, move them in small circles with the hands at angles to each other... similar to pedaling a bicycle with your hands. This will definitely take some practice and getting used to.

Never take the ability to make fire for granted.

I was asked to do a segment on survival for a television show.

Everything was going great. We made shelter, found water, and scrounged up some wild food. The producer wanted to do a segment on fire making, using different techniques. I showed them how to use a busted out headlight as a parabolic reflector, in order to make a fire. I showed them the magnesium fire-starting tool as well as a few other things. Everything was going flawless. The last thing I wanted to show them was the hand-drill. I picked up my mulefat drill and my alder base, and started going at it. Smoke just started pouring out and I knew I was going to get a coal for sure.

After a few turns with the drill, I stopped...but no coal was produced.

“What the $#%^!” ran through my head. “I thought for sure I had it.” I started doing it again. Again I got tons of smoke, but still no coal.

By this time, beads of sweat were pouring down my face. I mean, here I am trying to show these people how to survive and I can't even get a coal. The camera was rolling, people were watching, but no coal. After a few more tries of this, I looked up at the producer and said “screw it!” I pulled out my ferro rod and sent a shower of sparks onto the little dust pile I had made with the hand-drill and immediately got a coal. Without missing a beat, I took the coal put it in some tinder and blew it into a flame.

When the show aired a couple of months later, I sat there glued to the TV, wondering what the hell they were going to show. When the fire scene came up, I started getting nervous, hoping they wouldn’t make me look like an idiot. Alas, through the magic of editing they made me look like I knew what the hell I was doing.

Next time I won't be so cocky!

Closing remarks Making fire with two pieces of wood can be a magical experience.

The hand-drill can be frustrating to master, as it requires practice and patience. I assure you that if you follow my instructions, your chances of making a fire will be increased.

There are no set guidelines for using the hand-drill. Many people use a lot of the postures that I deemed inefficient. But hey! If it works, then so what. Anything that works is worth using. Try different combinations of wood for instance. Try using plants for your tools. In a real world scenario, anything goes. Do not limit yourself to the things you have learned here. Experiment.

I know of a few people that are set on doing it their way because that is the way they were taught. Yet time and time again, they are unsuccessful in their endeavors. In a survival situation, those people will be the ones getting extracted in body bags because they were afraid to think out of the box and experiment.

Lastly, always have several ways of making a fire. You might be surprised as to how the cold has a way of limiting your coordination. Even the simplest of tasks can be challenging.

Remember, in a survival situation, there are two possible options...

Success or Failure.

In my book...

“Failure is not an option!”

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