Welcoming the New Year
Bow Drill Using Oak on Oak
English Oak was seen to be sacred by both the ancient Celts and Slavs and used to light fires ritually within ceremonies (e.g. Beltaine, Samhain) at at times of distress. Even though Oak is a hard wood, it is possible to tempt an Ember using Oak with the Bow Drill. You need to ensure that the Oak is very dry and it may take some time to get used to using it, and it doesn't always work. You do need to apply as much downward pressure as possible, as Oak polishes easily. Here is a short film clip demonstrating Oak on Oak.
The use of Oak in Ritual Friction Fire
I’ve been lured by folklore that the mighty sacred Oak was used to kindle fire through friction. Sir James Fraser mentions Oak quite a few times in the Golden Bough. I always thought Oak would be too hard a wood to tempt fire out through friction, so I wanted to test the folklore to see if Oak could be used especially for ritual/ceremonial fire. I sourced some dead English Oak (approx 6 months old) from the local woods and was getting lots of smoke and black dust when using Oak on Oak with the bow drill but not an ember. I then tried a Hazel spindle and managed to tempt an ember.
I then doubted that it was Oak as the general rule in bushcraft is that hard woods aren't really suited to friction fire and Oak doesn't appear on the list of recommended woods. So I did a bit more homework, re-visited the fallen branch, double checked the bark, buds etc and confirmed it was Oak. I then attempted an ember again, and finally achieved an ember using Hazel on Oak. Not an obvious combination but I tried Hazel as Hazel works on a range of woods. It wasn't easy, and I found that Oak doesn't like being damp (unlike some other woods), as it had got damp in the shed. After drying the Oak out for a couple of hours I tried again and after a few minutes of bow drilling tempted out the ember,
Then a few days later I tried again., by carving a spindle out of a larger piece of Oak and eventually achieved an ember. I drilled through to the bottom of the hearth, so then took the pressure off and drilled fast and the friction ignited the pile of dust. and created an ember A day later I tried again and achieved an ember, much quicker and easier within a couple of minutes! So Oak is possible, but it does need to be seasoned and dry, and may take several attempts at first. I found it easier carving a spindle from a larger piece fromm than trying to use thinner branches - which tend to be not very straight! Oak does give a good strong ember though which lasts a while.
I’ve quoted a couple of different references to the use of Oak from The Golden Bough below. ( I've also seen references to Laurel and Ivy being used in Ancient Greece – another one for the to-do list.)
“The chief diety of the Lithuanians was Perkunas, the god of Thunder and Lightning, whose resemblance to Zeus and Jupiter has often been pointed out. Oaks were sacred to him, and when they were cut down the people loudly complained that their sylvian dieties were destroyed. Perpetual fires kindled with the wood of certain oaks-trees were kept up in honour of Perkunas, and if such a fire went out, it was lighted again by friction of the sacred wood.”
Of Teign-eign (Force Fire) …
….”The most primitive method seems to be that used in the islands of Skye, Mull and Tiree…A well seasoned plank of oak was procured, in the midst of which a hole was bored. A wimble of the same timber was then then applied, the end of which they fitted in the hole….They used a frame of green wood, of a square form, in the centre of which was an axle tree or wimble. In some places three times three persons, in others three times nine, were required for turning round by turns the axle-tree. (This describes the devices which I have written about here…. .http://www.bowdrillian.co.uk/blog/need-fire ... another future project ....)