Fire Making Apparatus in the U.S. and Abroad


Yesterday I wrote about the Bow and Drill for fire-starting in North America and how in fact there is no evidence to actually support that, when in fact the only evidence is use of the hand-drill.
It was suggested elsewhere the Iroquois used the bow and drill, but I think the person authoring the comment was confusing it with the pump drill, which the Iroquois are credited with inventing, though reference indicates there may likely have been white man influence in the invention.

My buddies over at Master Woodsman—thanks guys—pointed me to another resource which I know many of you I am sure will find fascinating, as it details the firemaking apparatus of various tribes across North America, from the East Coast to the West Coast. From South America to Canada and across the ocean.

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The Bow Drill in North America


It’s been a long held belief that the Bow and Drill was used in North America, by Native Americans, as the principle means of starting fire. However, evidence, or lack there of, suggests that simply isn’t true, Not on the West Coast and Not on the East coast. In fact, the only historical evidence there is for it’s use is in Canada and above. So what was used then? The handdrill.

In 1934, Paul S. Martin wrote an anthropological article outlining how fire was started in North America. Much of the information came from historical documents of travelers as they logged their encounters with indigenous people and witnessed how these people indeed started fire.

From the document:

It has been generally agreed by various authorities that the bow and drill, whether used for fire fire-making or for drilling, was confined to northern North America. Wissler says,

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The Word Bushcraft is Trademarked. The Facts Broken Down

Rarely do such events occur in our small community that raise a nary eyebrow. On July 24, 2014 that all changed and a tornado swept through the bushcraft community, of such epic proportions, that it went international and people were banned from an online community because of it.

There has been so much clutter with messages going back and forth on forums and blogs, often hundreds of replies long, that it can get confusing just to follow. So I will do my best to pull out keypoints, but I encourage everyone to read this for starters.

In 2012, BushcraftUSA submitted for trademark (they received a service mark instead) the word “Bushcraft”, not BushcraftUSA, or Bushcraft outfitters, just plain ole BUSHCRAFT. That means THEY LEGALLY OWN the word, but to what end?

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The Story of Cedar

Cedar has a long time history. From a more contemporary standpoint, cedar is used to make chests to protect woolen garments and blankets, though it has been used in times past for that as well.

To Native Americans, cedar, where available, was used for other things. In this Documentary, Phil Ives does an excellent job of showing how the Cowichan Indians made cedar hats. It includes a walkabout with an elder who takes along a group of onlookers to collect cedar bark in long strips straight off the tree. In my opinion, this part of the video alone is worth the entire piece. From there the video moves on to cleaning the bark and finally weaving it.

The video is 30 minutes and is a bit slow to get to the meat of the topic, but it is worth the wait, as the intro is nicely done with voice over and music

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Two Winters in a Tipi

In 1989, a midnight August storm unleashed a bolt of fire, connecting heaven and earth through the mountain farmhouse in which I had been living for the past seven years. Crude columns of hand-stacked stones propped the old wood-frame building, built almost a century earlier, two feet above the ground. Its sagging interior wood flooring had at some point been covered with creaking linoleum, its roof nailed with tin. That roof, the fire investigator later told me, reflected heat downward like an oven, turning the fire into a blistering inferno. Nothing survived it, not even metal tools.

Everything I owned was incinerated in an unstoppable blaze that must have lit up the driving rain like falling diamonds. I don’t know because I didn’t see it. My dog, Elly, and I were fifty miles away, sleeping at the summer camp where I had just returned campers after a week-long wilderness program on this same leased mountain land.

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Ferro Rod vs. Bic Lighter


This article grew out of a post I started on and Facebook as a way to summarize and discuss some thoughts and findings on the often hotly debated topic of ferro (ferrocerium) rods, versus lighters— Bic during quick research.

It has been a commonly held belief the ferro rod is superior than a Bic lighter, because:

A ferro rod will not run out of fuel like a lighter will
A ferro rod is not affected by altitude like a lighter is
A ferro rod is not susceptible to a very cold temperature like a lighter is
A ferro rod uses gross motor skills (this is partially correct and is dependent on the size of the ferro rod)

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Fixed Blade Knife Comparison

I always find interesting knife comparisons, especially those that involve Moras stacked up against their more expensive competitions…

Here is a great article from one of my favorite blogs

I’ve noticed that my requirements for a fixed blade knife have changed over the years as my backpacking, hiking, and bushcraft skills have developed. I won’t be getting into a debate here about fixed blade versus folding knives. I have both and love them equally for different reasons. What I will be doing is comparing my three favorite fixed blade knives and describing their good and bad points based on my usage and general observations.

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PCT Bear Bag Hang Method


Looking through many outdoor recreation books, the recommendation of hanging your food from a tree to keep the bears from getting to it still persist. And while the suggestion is right, many of them show the wrong technique.

The common idea is to throw a line out over a branch and hoist your bear bag at least 10 feet off the ground, then tie off the line to the tree itself. Unfortunately, that is a prime example of what NOT to do. Bears are very smart, as are other critters. And tying off the line to a tree is inviting the bear or other animals to just bite through the line, thereby causing food bag to fall, giving the animals a free meal.

In response to this problem, the counterbalance method was created. Though much improved over the idea of just tying off the line to the tree, it still has it’s own set of nuances to get it to work right.

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Emergency Blanket

The ubiquitous mylar emergency blanket has been a main stay of many survival kits for many years. On the surface, the idea is to wrap yourself in it and it will help get you through a cold night. But the devil is in the details and not addressing one critical detail can bring more harm than good.

Many moons ago (years), I was travelling extensively for survival related reasons. Determined to reduce my pack load even more, I decided to use an emergency blanket in lieu of carrying a sleeping bag. So, for an entire year, I traveled around, from the Cascades in Washington to lowlands of Texas and many places between, using an emergency blanket. In the beginning I learned a valuable lesson, however.

My first trip to the Cascades would be my first attempt at using the E-blanket as part of my sleep system

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Homemade Oil Lamp

Whether or not we need a fire to keep warm, cook our food, or purify our water; it is still useful for illuminating our way when we find our selves without power.

The oil lamp is nothing new and has been used for centuries. There are many variations; from a bottle with a cork and wick on the end, to a dish with a wick laying partly in it.

While the two above mentioned methods work, they are not necessarily useful in an environment with even a mild breeze. Instead, I like to use a wick that can be suspended inside of an open jar—The jar acting as a votive to protect the small flame. The other added benefit of a wick in a jar is that the oil and wick can be secured and easily transported, without fear of spilling oil, when the lid is secured in place.

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