Best way to start a fire using sticks only?

In other words, starting a fire using nothing but what nature provides us with.

After seeing Cast Away I have become determined to start a fire using nothing but sticks. Heh. Easy you say? My aching splinter-filled hands would tell you otherwise. At least hands attached to someone who doesn’t really know what he’s doing.

I have searched the net for tips but I can’t find a site that explains the most efficient methods, how to do it properly… etc.

Any help would be appreciated.

  • Doc.

I would say a bow drill. First, go to,1053,12589,00.html for instructions on how to make one. Then go to,1053,12590,00.html for instructions on how to use the thing. Best of luck :slight_smile:


Yep, the bow drill is the way. I learned it from the Boy Scout Fieldbook and I can personally attest that it works pretty well, without too much effort.

“Tie a piece of nylon cord from one end of the bow to the other, like a bow for archery. If you don’t have a nylon cord, you can use string, a shoelace, a strip of cloth or whatever is available.”

Nylon? That’s cheating!

I’m really looking to start a fire using nothing but what can be found on… hmmm… I don’t know… a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific!

Thanks anyway.

  • Doc

Did this in Boy Scouts as a youth. Check these out:

Being the good Eagle Scout that I am, I can tell you that the easiest way to start a fire with two sticks and friction is to make certain to use two stick matches.

Counldnt you make a string the way tom hanks made rope in castaway? Or tear a strip of cloth off of your shirt?

…or use your shoelace?

Yeah, but I really want to start this fire using nothing but sticks, rocks, bugs, anything that nature provides. I have examined the bark on near by trees and it wouldn’t really work as string to make a bow drill.

I just spent about another half hour outside trying methods provided in the above links, but to no avail. Perhaps practise will make perfect…

      • Bow and drill is the best way, but natural materials for the string can be hard to come by. A pal of mine once saw someone start a fire this way (for demonstration purposes, using all natural local materials which included cotton) and that guy’s trick was to make about a dozen bows and switch to another one when the string on one broke. He had done this trick more than a few times, and he used ten of the bows.
  • Good string/cord is very hard to make from natural materials, unless you’re down south during high cotton. In the interest of sportsmanship, you could make your own string/cord from cottonballs.
  • Or you can stand on a hilltop during a thunderstorm, before it starts to rain. Just hold some dry tinder and wood in your arms. - MC

If you could kill an animal, you could cut strips from its hide to use as a string. I think I read somewhere that people used to use ligaments, but not being a hunter or anatomist I wouldn’t know what one looks like.

I suppose if you were in the South Pacific you might be able to weave coconut husks together to make a string.

I have a very tiny “survival kit” (it fits in a compass pouch – about 3" square) in my Jeep. It has a piece of magnesium with a pice of hacksaw blade and a flint. Shave some magnesium off with the blade, then use the blade to light it using the flint. Another method of making a fire if you have a car is to use sparks from the battery. You can start a fire with a piece of steel wool and a 9v battery (the little square one like you may use in a radio). Just short the terminals with the steel wool and the metal will catch fire. I also carry a disposable lighter in the cubby.

Fire needs three things: Heat, oxygen and fuel. You can make the heat with friction from your sticks. Oxygen can be provided by fanning or gently blowing. Fuel should be right there, ready to use in an instant. Use extremely fine tinder at first. Fine tinder has the fuel and oxygen in close proximity. (For example, liquid gasoline in your engine is thoroughly mixed with air in your engine to make it burn. Also see the example of the steel wool.) Once the tinder is going, add a slightly larger combustible. Then a larger fuel, until you have a fire.

The trick is to get enough heat to start the tinder burning. The fire drill is the best primitive way, but as has been noted it takes practice. I like the idea of having many bows.

This is the key. I used to be an avid camper and Camp Fire Girl, and I’m a firebug (though I control my impulses). Too many people are impatient when trying to build a fire, and don’t take a little time to shave down the tinder. The tinder should be, ideally, bone dry. This isn’t always possible, but if you are faced with the choice of keeping yourself dry or your tinder dry, keep your tinder dry.

Cripes. Now I have to go light up a candle.

Although they are probably mentioned in the links some other pointers would be:

[li]Use a length of gut from a bird or small mammal for the bow string. Copra might be able to be used to fabricate a bow string but well cured gut would be the way to go.[/li]
[li]Use the very hardest woods for the drill and the receiver. This is necessary to generate the maximum friction and temperature.[/li]
[li]Closely match the mating angles of the drill stick’s nose and the receiver’s pit. This maximizes the contacting areas and increases heat generation.[/li]
As Lynn said, your tinder must be bone dry. Paper thin shavings of a resinous wood like cedar or pine are ideal.

Let me add, by the way, that shoelaces might not be your best bet for making a firebow, after all: My Boy Scout patrol once went through six consecutive pairs of shoelaces that way, and finally ended up just rubbing our hands on either side of the stick to get the fire going (yes, it did work, eventually, with three boys at a time continually rubbing).

If your goal is just to use natural materials, and not necessarily fire-by-friction specifically, there’s usually easier methods. I would recommend flint and steel, if available (not native to certain areas), or a lens/reflector if possible-- You may even be able to make an adequate lens or reflector from available materials, if you’ve got something shiny and bright sunlight. Of course, on some Pacific islands, it’s even easier than that, but I don’t think that you can count on there being an active, accesable volcanoe on the island you happen to wash up upon.

You can braid a lot of plants to the point that they become rope, if they have stems flexible enough to bend and tie. Bend one end of a long plant stem in a loop and tie it loosely to itself farther down the stalk. Hold the loop at the top in one hand while reaching through the loop with the other and grasping a piece of the stem. Step on or otherwise hold down the far end of the stem so it doesn’t pull all the way through. Pull the stem partway through the loop. You now have a second loop of stem protruding through the first loop. Switch your pulling hand to the new loop and reach through and grab some more stem, and use your other hand (the one holding the original top of the first loop) to tighten the loops as you go. Soon you have a sort of macramé of plant-stem, considerably shorter but considerably stronger than the plant stem in its original form.

With such a rope, you could do the bow trick, I’d think.

Another method I’ve heard of , but never tried, is to use a block of wood with a vee-shaped groove in it. Cut another stick to fit the groove at an angle, and rub it back and forth along the groove with a sawing motion, applying tinder as for the bow method. Use short fast strokes.

This way avoids problems with strings, and lets you apply a lot of pressure.

OK, there is another way, using the new requirement of “all-natural materials.” Try a spark from a flint. Of course, you’ve got to have a flint rock. I’ve done it, it’s fairly easy if you’ve got some kindling that is easy to light. Doesn’t even require two sticks.

Look around you! See if you can make some sort of rudimentary bow, or a lathe! :wink:

I decided to try making fire utilizing the Bow Drill method several years ago (What can I say, other than I had entirely too much time on my hands)

Among my first realizations on this matter was that primitive folks were a lot smarter than we might give them credit for today. You can bet I now make sure I have about 16 different modern flame producing articles available when I go to the bush after playing caveman in the Garage.

Additionally, I surmised the odds of some poor soul actually making fire with this method when they really need it, say under god awful survival situations i.e. cold, wet, tired, hungry and possibly in shock, are about ZERO if they haven’t ever tried it. It’s not something you can just read about in a book once and expect to be proficient. God help you if your sole source of knowledge on primitive fire making is from a movie.

Anyway the selection of the type of wood to use is important and of course depends on your location. In North America, I am familiar with Cottonwood, (Populus sp.) which is common even in desert areas. It works well for both the drill and the fireboard. I suppose other light, non-resinous woods would work okay.

Anyway, I too noticed that without a strong cord for the bow, you “ain’t goin anywhere” so to speak. I compromised intellectually by rationalizing that a bootlace is reasonably expected to be available in most survival situations. It’s an interesting exercise and certainly illustrates how dependent we can be on technology.

Ideally what I am aiming to do is start a fire using sticks, heat-by-friction method. Flint stones are hard to come by in my area.

I have experimented with a few techniques but I haven’t got so much as smoke yet, although I have a couple of times got a burning smell.

I might use some of the tips provided above to make a crude rope if I can.