Essentials of How to Make a Fire Using Sticks for Survival

A fire is one of the best tools you can have in a survival situation. Because fire is so important we are going to discuss making fire sticks.

When you enjoy spending time in the wilderness, you are taking certain risks.  One of them is that you may get lost or injured and have no way to safety. 

When this happens, there are certain things you need to accomplish to survive.

Making Fire Sticks

Quick Navigation
  Making Fire Sticks
    How does it work?
    Bow Drill Method
    Other Options

The rule of threes states that you can survive three weeks without food, three days without water, but only three hours without warmth from fire or shelter.  This can be true even in warmer climates.

Making Fire Sticks

A fire is one of the best tools you can have in a survival situation. With a fire, you are satisfying several needs while adding some comfort to a tense situation.

out in the snowThe real risk of having no fire is hypothermia.  This is a condition in which your internal body temperature drops to 95F or below.  When this happens, you can potentially freeze to death.  However, there are other complications.

You will become sluggish, disoriented, and confused.  You will shiver uncontrollably, and your hands and feet will go numb making survival tasks difficult if not impossible. These symptoms can cause you to make your situation even worse.

In many cases, you will not have enough daylight to build a shelter, or you might be injured and unable to collect materials for a shelter.  This makes fire your only option.

Be aware that many tropical and desert climates will have nighttime temperatures that can cause hypothermia.

In addition, being wet can cause hypothermia 20 times faster than if you are dry.  You can actually die from hypothermia in temperatures as high as 60F if you are wet.

Unfortunately, in many cases, you will not have a fire starter with you.  Every year hikers, campers, hunters, and fisherman get lost in the woods without a fire starter.

In this case, starting your fire by way of friction might be your only option. In this article, we will cover how friction fire works and review a few different ways to use friction to create fire.

How Does It Work?

There are many different ways to create a friction fire, but they all use the same principles.  When you create friction on a dry piece of wood using either cordage or another dry piece of wood, it does two things.

The first is that it creates super fine sawdust that is prone to combustion.  Next, the friction creates heat that should turn the sawdust into small coal.  You can then transfer that coal to a tinder bundle and supply oxygen by blowing on it.

This should cause the tinder bundle to burst into flames.  You can then transfer the flaming tinder bundle into your fire structure, and you are set.

pile of wood

You may notice I used the word “should” frequently.  This is because there are all kinds of variables that can ruin your opportunity for a friction fire.  The two most common issues are moisture and the wrong type of wood.

If any of your wood or tinder is moist from recent rain, snow, or even just humidity, you may have issues.  In addition, using wood that is too hard or too soft is also a very common issue.  To avoid these pitfalls, always look for wood that is up off of the ground.  It should also be dead and dry, but not rotting.

For your wood type, fruitwood and evergreen wood are both generally medium hardness.  This is ideal for a friction fire.  Using hardwood like oak or softwood like balsa is a bad idea.  I have seen experienced survivalists attempt friction fire for days or even weeks with no luck because of these issues.

Bow Drill Method


bow made of carved wood
bow made of carved wood – photo was taken from BlackScoutSurvival

The Bow Drill Method for friction fire is the one I feel is the easiest to learn and implement.  You will need to start by making your Bow.  You will need some cordage for this, and typically shoelaces work pretty well.

If you have no cordage, you can weave some with natural materials.  Find a strong stick that is slightly curved and between two and three feet long.  Then tightly tie your cordage between the two ends so there is no slack.

fireboard which is solid wood essential for making fire sticks
fireboard – photo was taken from BlackScoutSurvival

Next, you will need to build your fireboard.  Find a piece of wood that has a medium hardness.  Cut it or split it so that you have a board just under an inch thick that lies flat on the ground.

You next want to carve a divot near one edge and less than an inch across.  Finally, carve a notch in the side of the board so the end of the notch is in the center of the divot you carved.  The divot will create friction, while the notch will supply oxygen to the sawdust.

drill or spindle
Drill or Spindle – photo was taken from BlackScoutSurvival

You will next need to carve a spindle.  This should be a stick between ½ inch and one inch thick and between six and twelve inches long.  One end should be carved to a rounded shape, while the other end should come to a point.  Finally, you need a handhold for the top of the spindle.  This could be a flat stone with a dent in it.

It can also be a harder piece of wood with a dent carved in it.  Be sure you have all of your fire-building materials with you before you get started.  This means you want a dry tinder bundle shaped like a bird’s nest, a bundle of kindling that you can wrap both arms around, and a stack of fuel logs about knee-high.

bow drill method in making fire sticks
Create friction from the spindle to the fireboard using the bow – photo was taken from BlackScoutSurvival

To get started, assemble your kindling and fuel logs in whichever fire structure you prefer.  Next, lay down something flat like a piece of metal or bark to catch your ember.

Put your fireboard down with the divot and notch facing you and on top of the ember catch. Kneel down with your right knee on the ground and your left knee up.  Place your left foot on top of the fireboard so the divot is exposed.  This will hold it in place.

Place your spindle against the cordage on your bow and spin it so that it is wrapped tightly by the cordage and the dull end faces down.  Place the bottom of the spindle in the divot and hold the handhold in your left hand.

Press the handhold down on the top of the spindle so it will rotate but has good pressure on the fireboard. Start to drive the bow back and forth until you see smoke.

ember or coal from fireboard and spindle - making fire sticks
ember or coal from fireboard and spindle – photo taken from BlackScoutSurvival

Do not stop when you first see smoke.  You can have smoke and still not have an ember.  You will want to keep going for a while to be sure you have a good ember when you stop pumping the bow.

When you are ready, gently tap the fire board out on your ember catch.  If you gently blow on the ember you should see it light up.

tinder bundle was used to cover up the ember - making fire sticks
tinder bundle was used to cover up the ember to light up the fire – photo was taken from BlackScoutSurvival

Grab your tinder bundle and gently tap the ember into the center.  Carefully curl the tinder up around the ember, hold it above you, and gently blow on the ember.  The tinder should start smoking heavily just before it ignites.

Once you have a flame, quickly move to your fire structure and place it inside.  You will need to continue to add small kindling and blow on the tinder bundle until the whole structure including fuel logs is on fire.

Other Options

hand drill method
hand drill method by BlackScoutSurvival

You do not have to use the bow drill method to create a friction fire.  I just find that it will wear you out less than all of the other methods.  Many people prefer the hand drill method.  This is the process of using your hands to rotate the spindle on the fireboard instead of a bow.

The fire plow method is the process of pushing the end of a stick down and across a board over and over.  You start by carving a long valley down the center of your fireboard.  You will then use a larger spindle with a rounded end.  The rounded end should press down on the valley with the spindle at a 45-degree angle.

You will place an ember caught under the end of the board.  Over and over you will push the spindle across the fireboard running along the valley.  You should only be pushing the spindle a few inches before you retract it and do it again.  In theory, it should create an ember at the end of the fireboard.

rope friction method
rope friction method by Honza J

Finally, you have the rope friction method.  This process creates friction and the ember from cordage running across your fireboard.  You will want to cut notches in the fireboard so that the cordage will stay in place as you pull it back and forth.

Tie loops for handles on both ends of the cordage.  Place your fireboard notch down with one end on the ground and the other raised up about an inch on a spacer.  Place an ember catch under the notch and stand on both ends of the fireboard.

Finally, wrap your cordage under the fireboard and grip with both hands.  Run it back and forth until you see smoke.  When you have an ember, pull the fireboard off of the ember catch and proceed as mentioned above.


Fire making is a skill that must be learned. When you think you finally have it all figured out, that skill may falter. Never get too comfortable in your skills, keep practicing, no matter how good you think you are.

More so than just about any survival skill, friction fire requires lots of practice. Start by making a friction fire kit with ideal materials at your home. You do not need to build a full fire, so just practice getting flames out of a tinder bundle.

Next, try going on a hike or camping.  Collect materials that you have available in the area.  Practice getting flames once again.  Finally, practice collecting materials in the rain or snow.  If you can get to the point where you can build a friction fire in these adverse conditions, it might just save your life.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here