Following my successful attempt yesterday, to coax an ember using the "Inuit" mouth drill strap drill method I have been asking myself "did the Inuit’s actually use the mouth drill for fire making ?" Yes using the mouth drill to coax an ember is possible , it isn't very pleasant though as you have smoke in your face which you can easily breathe, and it's not comfortable applying the pressure, you could damage your teeth and I nearly burnt my lips !
All of the pics I have seen have been Inuits using the mouth drill for decorating ivory. I can see the reason for using a mouth hold to decorate ivory as it frees up a hand to manipulate the ivory so to carve designs. I have seen a few similar pictures of mouth drill fire sets in museums but I’ve not seen a picture of Inuits actually using mouth drill to make fire.
So it intrigued me – was this technique actually used to make fire… did they use traditional bearing block for making fire (I have seen a picture of 2 Inuit's using the strap drill - see below) or because they were so skilled at using mouth hold did they also use for fire making? Or have us westerners assumed that; and are the sets in museums assumed replicas ?😀
I may do more digging – I do find the Inuits fascinating. Anyway the mouth drill does work for fire making if you wish to use it 😀
1 - Eskimo school boy drilling ivory with primitive bow drill. Little Diomede Island, 3/1942.
Pic 2- Man using a bow drill. King Island, circa 1920 by Edward S. Curtis, courtesy of the Library of Congress, 3a16199.
3 and 4 – Inuit bow drill set. Penn museum
5 Three sides of a ivory drill bow, 1880s. Lowie Museum
6 - icodemus, an Inuit man sits on a wooden sledge. He holds the two ends of a piece of string which is wound round a pole. Gusdiana, an Inuit woman, bends over and holds the top of the pole at knee height to steady it. 1930
7 –a Inuit fire drill thong with mouth hold – I have seen a few of these but no one actually using one to make fire . Science museum.
I can now say I have successfully used the mouth drill ! But I won't be doing it again!
The mouth drill is of Inuit ancestry, where the mouth holds the bearing block and you apply the downward pressure with your head basically! I used it as a strap drill and used a thinner spindle. I needed lots of wraps of the cordage around the spindle to get the tension. It did work very well but it wasn't very pleasant!
I’ve seen photos of Inuits using a bow drill and they hold the set on their lap whilst sitting (that has been more for drilling than fire making.) I carved a bearing block so I could hold it in my mouth but I have also seen Inuit bearing blocks which fit onto the chin rather than the mouth.
I think the mouth drill was used more for drilling (not fire making) - and they would use a bow so it would free up a had to do other things!