Guns and Gear

5 Methods Of Survival Fire Making

Guns and Gear Contributor
Font Size:

By Michael Janich, American Handgunner

Fire and the ability to create it and harness it is a key element of human survival. Whether it’s used to keep you warm, cook food, purify water or signal for help, its importance as a component of a sound survival strategy can’t be overstated. Given that critical importance, let’s take a look at some high-probability methods of making fire in the field with expedient means. Based on the old adage “Two is one, and one is none,” let’s stack the odds of redundancy in our favor and pick five.


Fire Plow

While not quite as simple as “rubbing two sticks together,” the fire plow method of fire starting isn’t far off. The base is a dry piece of soft wood about 18″ long. Using a rock, knife or other tool, carve a groove about 8″ long down the center of the base close to one end. The plow is a hardwood stick about a foot long with a point at one end.

Place the base on the ground and rub the pointed end of the stick back and forth down the groove until you create some sawdust in the groove. Tilt the base so the sawdust gathers at one end of the groove. Now repeat the process as fast and hard as you can, generating enough heat to ignite the sawdust and create embers. Transfer the embers to a well-prepared tinder bundle and gently blow on them to get the tinder to catch.


Hand Drill

Another primitive method of fire making, the hand drill is basically a long, straight stick spun between your palms to generate friction against a divot or notch in a base piece of wood called a “fire board.” Both pieces of wood must be dry and you must maintain constant downward pressure as you spin the “spindle.” Done properly, the friction between the two pieces will generate an ember, which you carefully transfer into a prepared tinder bundle and nurture into real fire.

I learned this method from a Shona tribesman in Zimbabwe many years ago. Although he made it look easy, it’s hard work and its success can depend heavily upon the types of wood you have available.


Bow Drill

Conceptually similar to the hand drill, the bow drill adds two pieces to the process to make it more efficient — a hand-held socket to provide a pivot bearing for the top of the spindle and a bow to spin the spindle more efficiently. The bow can be improvised from a shoelace or other cordage tied to the ends of a branch. Wrap the bow cord around the spindle, place the tip in the fire-board divot, and apply pressure to the other end with the socket, which should also have a divot or depression in it. While maintaining firm downward pressure on the handhold, draw the bow back and forth to spin the spindle.

While easier than a hand drill, the bow drill still takes practice, skill and appropriate dry woods to create fire efficiently. Like all fire-making methods, the ember it creates must also find a home in dry tinder and be carefully nurtured to become real fire.


Magnifying Glass

If you were like most kids — or at least kids with magnifying glasses — you are responsible for the crispy, sun-induced deaths of hundreds of ants. While you contemplate the gravity of those sins, remember a magnifying glass can indeed focus sunlight intensely enough to generate fire-producing temperatures.

Why would you be carrying a magnifying glass in a survival situation? If you’re the forward-thinking MacGyver type, it would be one of the many tools in your Swiss Army knife. If you’re not, you can still find that magnifying, sun-concentrating power in a simple plastic water bottle. The curved portion near the top of a full or partially full water bottle is functionally a bi-convex lens — just like a true magnifying glass. Find a piece of paper — ideally with some light-absorbing black print on it — to use as kindling and, starting with the bottle close to it, slowly pull back until you have a tightly focused spot of light. Maintain focus until the heat builds and the paper begins to burn.

If you aren’t lucky enough to have a water bottle, but were hoping for a different kind of luck by packing a condom in your wallet, you can still make fire (no, not that kind). Filled with water or other field-expedient clear liquid, a condom or balloon can also become a bi-convex lens capable of focusing sunlight, generating focused heat and ultimately making fire.


Gum Wrapper And Battery

If you can scrounge a gum wrapper (the kind with a layer of aluminum foil and a layer of paper) and a small battery (like a flashlight battery), you’ve got the makings of a quick, easy fire starter. Cut or tear a strip of the gum wrapper so it’s long enough to span the battery terminals. Then, trim the center of the strip to create a narrow section—about 3/16″ wide. With the battery close to your tinder, hold the foil side of the ends to the terminals at each end of the battery. The effect is almost like blowing a fuse — the narrow center of the foil will quickly heat up, igniting the adjacent paper layer and giving you the makings of fire. This happens quickly and doesn’t burn long, so have your tinder ready and close at hand.

Fire is a critical component of every survival plan, so fire making should be a top priority in your skill development. Learn several methods and make sure to practice them regularly in a variety of environments to ensure you have the skills you need when you need them most.

Thanks to the American Handgunner team for this post. Check out – click here. To subscribe to American Handgunner – click here to get the magazine delivered to your door.

Guns and Gear