Saturday, 13 May 2017

Fire Wood Bowdrills

My in-laws had a chimney fire last year and the whole episode has put them off a wood burner to the point where they've had a gas fire fitted as a replacement, but who would take all their logs off them, well me of course! I thought I'd lucked out on the first consignment that I had because I found some really impregnated fatwood in it. 

The latest batch arrived and as it was seasoned and dry I decided to prep it and stash it for later use. Most of it was either Lime or Silver Birch with the familiar birch bark in the background, and lime bark under my thumb. This gave me an idea to try and dig out any bits that I could utilise in a bowdrill set.

I've used Lime before and it's a really good wood but Silver Birch was one that I'd not got round to trying so why not make it doubly difficult and use firewood as my set?

The wood was of course going to be of a certain size and the drill was the biggest challenge, in fact I knew that it wouldn't be perfect even once I started working on it. The above picture is after it's had a rough shaping with an axe.

There was also a large knot at one end so I started shaping this to be the top hence the large tapered point, again roughly formed at this stage with a little axe work.

The baseboard was a little easier to sort but still needed a little work to get it to a stage where it didn't rock when placed on the ground. I only shaped one end to receive the drill as I wasn't going to be using the whole length.


And so my set was ready. The drill was ever-so-slightly oval with a very slight curve to it but I felt it was still usable...It was going to have to do! I grabbed a bow and it was the one that I used on my first bow drill from scratch in the woods trip. I used a laurel bearing block that I made when I saw Dave Watson for a friction fire 1-2-1 last year. As this was all happening in my back garden I grabbed the first leaf I could reach to lubricate the depression, and I had a faint whiff of Lavender for a while as I started.

The drill wasn't the best as predicted but was still serviceable and the set smoked quickly. I had a quick look at the powder and it was quite needle-like in shape.

I usually cut the fatter part of the notch out with a Swiss Army Knife saw, snap it out, and then finish with a blade. This removes a lot of meat fast bit then allows for a refined and controlled notch apex, if I'd progressed the saw cuts I would have been some way off the centre. 

I was bowing on a sunny/ cloudy day and typically the sun went behind a cloud and the wind picked up at this stage. I thought I'd made an ember but I was mistaken, despite the copious and very dark dust.

I made some adjustments and tightened the bow string a little and the second time saw me hit the jackpot. I wasn't convinced that the ember would sustain as it looked quite small but it persevered.

After a few minutes I tried tipping it onto the baseboard to see just how strong it was, I'd had it on the ember pan a while and it had adhered to/ started burning through it. As the baseboard was Lime it probably helped as the inner bark is good tinder.

That was pleasing to not only crack a new wood combination but to do so from a random load of fire wood. Whilst I was on a roll I decided to put the Lime through it's paces.

I couldn't find any Lime long enough for a drill so I resorted to an old and slightly thin Hazel drill that I'd consigned to my wood pile, as opposed to the slightly substandard Silver Birch one that I'd just used.

I purposely chose a piece of Lime that was slightly warped  just as an additional challenge but had integrity at one end, again I wasn't going to use all of it.

The Lime board did what Lime boards do and bed in really quickly, darkly and smoothly.

And a good ember soon followed. When I tidied the chopped wood away I found some superior Birch sections that I'll make a drill from and try with the Lime another time.

I also found what I think might be a pretty section of fruit wood and a nicely curved piece of Birch for a bit of future spoon carving. A quality afternoon, especially as I could now add another combination to my labour of love bow drill page.

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