I've now decided it's time to learn the hand drill. I've been doing it for a week now. The first challenge is sourcing the right wood - from reading various articles Elder (as in elderflower) on Clematis is one of the best combinations in the UK. to start with There are many Elder trees near me but I've yet to find the perfect branch which needs to be about 15mm in diameter and as straight as possible and with little pith in the middle. Luckily my local woods have clematis but I've yet to identify it as Clematis Vitalba (only one native to uk) as the leaves are high up in trees. The Elder branch I'm currently using has too much pith (side walls are too narrow.) So I do need to do some more foraging!
At the moment I'm focussing more on conditioning my hands (very important) and muscles and learning the technique so not too hung up that my materials aren't perfect. I'm just doing a few minutes practice a few times a day - mainly since I'm finding it exhausting and it tires my arms out! I And it is important to bed your hands so main reason for only a little practice each day - I've got one blister so far! I've only just started so am just getting to grips with it. I'll post updates and any tips\pointers as I progress!
I've linked to a some articles and YouTube clips on the Links page, which I'm using to get started. So I won't repeat what they say as they are the experts rather than me!
However, a few things I've learnt so far from various sources:
•Position (updated 22Jun)- all the clips and articles I read showed people in a sitting position. I have found that I can't get enough downward pressure when sitting. I then tried a few various positions but still couldn't apply enough pressure. I then found an article which recommends either the shortened bow drill position or kneeling in prayer position but with upper leg extended (not resting on calves) - this allows you to apply more downward pressure. I am now trying the kneeling position as I find the shortened bow drill position too uncomfortable and can't move far enough down the drill.
•Point elbows down and use them to apply downward pressure
•Spindle needs to have thick side walls and as little pith as possible.
•Thumb loops can help when learning to understand downward pressure needed - I'm alternating with \without thumb loops as I don't want to get dependent on them (it's basically bit of string tied to top of drill with a loop either end to place thumbs in so you can apply downwards pressure without your hands moving down!)
•Start from top and when hands get so low that you can't apply as much pressure move back to top quickly - hold drill firmly down with one hand whilst you move other hand to top.
•I'm experimenting with how I spin the drill with my hands - will update once I've cracked it But by pointing hands upwards and elbows down I seem to get more downward pressure......
•The longer the drill the better so you have more time before having to move up again. Preferably at least 3 feet
•Diameter of drill - from reading different articles people seem to use between 6mm to 15mm in diameter at the business end . The smaller then the easier it is to generate friction to smaller surface area but the smaller the ember. I have now started to use smaller drill but you then get issue of thinner side walls. Update 8th-Jul: I did start getting smoke from using Teasel but side walls very thin so not able to create an ember.
•The straighter the drill the better!
•Keeping bark on drill helps hands to grip ( due to sweat etc)
•Spitting on hands and rubbing hands together helps apply more pressure on the spindle. (This does actually make some difference)
Update 20th June: Still not getting very far - after a few minutes my arms feel like they will drop off and still not getting much heat at all. I've tried Elder on Clematis using the bow drill and I get smoke within seconds (almost instant) so I know those 2 woods do work well. I'm just not applying enough downward pressure with the hand drill. I will keep up with daily practice to build up my muscles! I'm now trying an Elder plug (which seems to be of right thickness and deadness) on the end of a nice straight drill, to see if that'll help as I can't yet find the perfect drill which is long enough, straight enough, right deadness and thickness of walls! Sourcing the right materials is always the first challenge with friction fire, and the had drill is more fussier than bow drill! Due to my arm weakness, I think this will take a while!
Update 22nd June: Still can't get enough downward pressure and not getting very far. I have felt like giving up but now I am trying different positions to shift my body weight over the drill. Downward pressure is very important and so if you don't have very strong arms (like me) then you need to use your body weight as well. Lets see if this improves things!
Update 8th July: I had a few days off as I was getting a bit bored. After reading a few more articles I decided to try with a smaller diameter spindle and swapped to Teasel. I started to smoke and dust quite easily but due to the teasel being quite old and spunky that's as far as I got. The key with hand drill is having a perfect kit. With the bow drill youo can get away with not everything being perfect but the hand drill is more particular. Due to it being summer, I wil have to be patient and wait till autumn when things start dying off before I can harvest. My other annoyance s that I still can't go for very long before my arms give in, which is limiting the amount of practice I can do. I will continue practicing with my imperfect materials to work on technique, knowing it may take a while. I'm very impatient! I have heard some people practising for an hour a day for 5 months before they got an ember - hopefully I wont take as long as I don't think I have the patience!
Combinations that have worked for others:
•elder on clematis (vitalba only native clematis) - seems to be most common for learning
•teasel on clematis - There is lots of Teasel near me but it is mostly dead standing from last year so too punky. I will wait till this year's crop dies off before harvesting.
•mullein stalk on clematis
•cat tail (bulrush) on clematis
•burdock stalk on clematis
•ragwort stalk on clematis
•cat tail on ivy
•elder on ivy
•budleia (non native) on willow
•teasel on burdoch
•cat tail on teasel
•willow on willow
•other base boards - lime